Alicia Garza on the Importance of Self-Preservation for Black Leaders Amid COVID-19

Alicia Garza on the Importance of Self-Preservation for Black Leaders Amid COVID-19

The last 30-some-odd days have put what truly matters into perspective for people. COVID-19 has shifted the way that people are doing business, living life, and organizing to advocate for those who need it the most during these unprecedented times. One of those people is organizer and champion for black lives, Alicia Garza, founder and principal of Black Futures Lab and co-creator of Black Lives Matter. As politicians call for transparent COVID-19 data for black Americans, the presidential race continues, and Americans are being encouraged to stay home and stay politically engaged, Garza and her team are taking the time to be intentional about how they organize and practice self-preservation as leaders who are often on the frontlines.

Black Futures Lab works with black people to transform our communities, building black political power and changing the way that power operates—locally, statewide, and nationally. The organization’s mission is to engage black voters year-round. Black Futures Lab is committed to using its political strength to stop corporate influences from creeping into progressive policies. And they combine technology and traditional organizing methods to reach black people anywhere and everywhere we are.

Practicing Self-Preservation 

While COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Garza from organizing, it has made her think twice about the way that she takes care of herself.

“Part of how I’m helping to preserve myself is making sure that I am also creating the kinds of containers that take care of others. I often say that self-care is so important. But often when we talk about it, it’s done in a way where it’s us versus everybody else. And the reality is, I can’t take care of myself if the people in my community are not also taken care of. And I don’t say that in a martyr type way or an altruistic way. When we create the kind of culture that allows people to care for themselves, it frees us up to care for others as well. Or, to care for ourselves as well.”

Related: Black Can Crack: Protect Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

Being at the forefront of the liberation movement for black people is no easy feat. And Garza says the coronavirus crisis has created challenges for her and her team.

“My team has been hit really hard by this crisis. And, it’s odd because as somebody who’s constantly on the road, I also have this back and forth with myself like, ‘Hey, I’m at home, shouldn’t I be more productive?’ And actually, no. I’m trying to work in the midst of a global pandemic. And so is everybody on my team,” said Garza.

Meet People Where They Are

All things considered, Garza is adamant about checking in with her team. “I actually ask people to tell me really how they’re doing.” And she doesn’t’ expect them to say good.

“Every time we do that, people cry, they say, ‘I’m scared and anxious.’ You know, I can’t focus all of those things. We’ve had to adapt our work and our organization to be able to meet this moment. So yes, we have work to do right now. But we also need to work to care for ourselves so we can show up in that way,” said Garza.

Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” And Garza understands that as a leader. During the crisis, flexibility and being responsive to the needs of her team has taken precedence.

“Everybody has Friday’s off. If people need to take care of family members, then they get an adaptive schedule. If somebody wakes up in the morning and says I just can’t get it together today, then we can adapt to that. For me, it also gives me room to do the things I need to do give me permission, say ‘God, I just can’t get it together today.’ And that’s important.”

Garza has also found creative ways to rest with her team. One of them is what she coined Netflix and Stay Still.

“In an effort to help support people staying home, but also people staying connected while being socially distance, for Transgender Day of Visibility we hosted a Netflix and Stay Still party where we watched Pose together. We had about 200 people who joined us that that evening. And when you looked at what was happening in the chats, people were really grateful for being in community. Sometimes just having your computer on and hearing other people’s voices and seeing people’s responses to things while also watching a show that affirms you and affirms your life is incredibly important,” said Garza.

We Shall Overcome

As black America deals with the hard-hitting and disproportionate impact of the coronavirus crisis, Garza encourages people to stay connected and be honest about where they are and what they are experiencing.

“We sent out a communication to our supporters that said, ‘we’re not asking you for anything except to tell us how you’re doing.’ And the stories that we heard were heartbreaking, but also affirmed the resilience of black communities. We heard people saying things like, ‘it’s really hard right now, but I’m trying to make it and thank you for checking on me…” said Garza.

She went on to say, “What we’re learning in this moment, and not just for our team, is it is important to check-in and see how people are doing—and be there for people. It’s also true for the people in our community who are feeling isolated, alone, scared, and anxious.”

And while Garza says, “We’re not strangers to things being bad. And, we’re also not strangers to making The best out of the worst situations,” she also wants black people to remain encouraged. “All I can say is plan, plan, plan, and believe in God.”

For the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the black community, click here.