If you’ve been around any liberation movements, you know that there are high times and hard times. But we don’t make progress by chance. Liberation is not outerwear to be sloughed off when things get heavy, tight, or heated. Liberation is medicine that works best from the inside out as a daily practice. Let’s look to some of our greats…Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps, Michelle Kwan, and Simone Biles…to show us how to condition ourselves to be at our best.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the Cowlitz, Columbia, Grand Ronde, and Siletz people as the stewards of the area where I live and thank them for their leadership. I also want to acknowledge the people who have cultivated me. I would not be here without my family – by birth and by love – and the wisdom and leadership of Jomo Greenidge, who transitioned to ancestor in December 2020, as well as countless people who have challenged, strengthened, guided, invited, and loved me to a more whole version of myself. I honor you all.
All elite athletes have at least one thing in common.
They all imagined themselves at their best.
And spent hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.
Muscle memory formed over time, and eventually being at their best became so common that we mistook it as innate.
In the 5th grade, I desperately wanted to play basketball. The only trouble was that I was terrible. No fancy ball handling. No ability to jump vertically. No shot. As an adult I measure 5 feet 2 inches. Not exactly basketball material.
But that year was the first time I learned that my legs were built for sprinting. My coach taught me to be ready for the pass from someone taller down in the paint, push off quick, and speed down the court to an easy lay up.
Over. And over. And over.
All of a sudden, I was an asset to my team.
What it took was learning to see myself more accurately, catching a vision for how I could contribute to the team, and lots of (I bet you guessed it)…practice.
The only way to win was when each of us put in the effort to be at our best.
We don’t question practice for 5th grade basketball hopefuls, or the greatest athletes of all time – so why don’t we practice liberation in the same way?
Our best intentions aren’t likely to help us get there, nor will waiting around for the next peak in our movement cycle.
One thing is holding us back more than anything else. More on that in a minute…
Many of us know a whole lot. I mean a lot. We’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, watched the movies. We know the hashtags, what words to say, and who to follow on social media. High five. Seriously. It’s a lot of knowledge we’ve stored up. If we were a cup, we’d be full. In some cases, overflowing.
Knowing how the system of racism functions is necessary learning. But knowing how a thing happens is not the same as being able to stop it. Knowledge is not enough.
I’ve spent years studying. Relearning history. Stalking social media conversations about race (most of which went off the rails). Learning the language of racial equity. Calling out white people. Competing for a trophy that doesn’t exist.
At some point, I looked around and noticed how isolated I’d become. It was me on my lonely little island with only my knowledge to keep me company. I began asking myself…
- Who are my people?
- How can I contribute?
- What will it take to really make a difference?
- Where do I need to grow?
Are these questions you are asking yourself? If not, close this window and go grab a cup of tea. This isn’t for you. But if you found yourself saying “YES” to any of the questions I’m asking myself, then keep reading.
Let’s jump back to 5th grade for a second.
I thought the only way to be an asset to my team was by being able to shoot, dribble, and jump. What I learned all the way back then has informed how I view our liberation spaces today.
We all have a role.
You cannot be me, and I cannot be you. Yet together…that’s where the magic happens. It’s where we stop waiting for doomsday, and instead, we all show up and co-create a world where every living being can flourish.
Remember that one thing I said is holding us back?
It’s the thing that’s keeping us from being at our best and reaching our liberation goals.
Very low skills.
Knowledge will make you feel like you can do a thing. But just imagine if Serena Williams read 1000 books about tennis but never touched a racket. We must pick up the racket. And swing it a million times.
Daily Practice is about unleashing you to be the best you can be for the sake of all of us.
And now more than ever, we need you at your best.
This isn’t about being a busy, busy bee for liberation; it’s about personal transformation that takes determination to keep at it, day after week after month after year.
One of my favorite quotes is from an interview where Ahmad Rashad asked Michael Jordan about practice. Mr. Rashad asked, “Was fear of failure a motivator?” Mr. Jordan responded:
I never feared about my skill because I put in the work. Work ethic eliminates fear. So, if you put in the work, what are you fearing? You know what you are capable of doing and what you are not.
Work ethic eliminates fear.
I love that line for our liberation movements because my experience tells me that fear is the biggest obstacle to contribution. We are terrified of looking bad, being called a racist, getting canceled, having to give something up, and any number of other things. Fear is blocking us from experimenting with ways to contribute that bear fruit toward our goal of ending racism.
Here’s what Daily Practice means here at Better Neighbor Lab:
Reckon with damaged connections, without shame or blame, and seek to make whole what is not.
Strength in the face of challenge. Generosity. Willingness. Even when costly. Fueled by belonging.
Reflect, slow down, look around, listen, read, and cultivate an eager, humble, openness.
To feel is to be human. Not any particular feeling; just feel. Body, mind, emotion, intuition, and spirit.
Laugh, cry, sigh, sweat, shake, yawn, and talk are all ways to heal old hurts and loosen patterned behavior so we stop passing our pain on to someone else.
Central to well-being, connection, and imagining a just future. Joke, tease, move, explore, create, tell stories, act it out, etc.
A human right. May be physical, mental, social, sensory, creative, spiritual, and/or emotional.
Is it what you thought?
I’ve noticed that many white people on a liberation journey get stuck for a time in thinking that everything we do should be “work.”
If Michael Jordan had only practiced dunking but never cardio, defense, strength, flexibility, or studied the game – he would never have known what he was capable of and not.
We don’t yet know what we are really capable of because we don’t practice cultivating the full range of our humanity yet.
You may have noticed there are 7 Practices which means there is one for each day. Some days we may touch on one, several, or all of them.
Although Daily Practice is an ethic that begins in private, it is evidenced in public.
Whether we realize it or not, performance is transparent because it exposes how little effort we’ve put in.
The point is: don’t skip the workout.
Get your reps in every day.
Ready? We’ve laid out your first month here.
Let us know how it goes for you!
no one gets here alone, and I am no different
The brilliant beings who have contributed to these ideas are Jomo Greenidge; 5th-grade basketball coaches everywhere; J and cheetahs and mako sharks; Sunshine Reginald Greenidge, orange kitty of the house; adrienne maree brown; George Hrbek by way of Lynn Burnett; Velynn Brown; Daniel Tiger and Mr. Rogers; Resmaa Menakem; Nanci Luna Jiménez; Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey in What Happened To You; Kazu Haga in Healing Resistance; Stuart Brown in Play; Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry and author of Rest is Resistance; Saundra Dalton-Smith; and countless more.