Zach welcomes Brittany J. Harris to the Living Corporate family on today’s special episode announcing Brittany’s new podcast series, Liberated Love Notes. Liberated Love Notes™ is a starting point for integrating self and community affirmations into your daily practices that will center the experiences of Black folks existing in white systems and speak to overcoming imposter syndrome, disrupting injected & internalized forms of oppression, embodying an abundance mindset and building a healthy racial identity. Look forward to the first episode dropping!
Zach (00:10): Brittany, let’s start this off. Who are you?
Brittany (00:20): So you know what, Zach, I absolutely appreciate even the simple phrasing of that, who are you? Because part of the past few months, the work that I’ve really been disrupting, and I’m going to get to the who are you but I want to give you all this framing, Part of the work these past few months that I’ve been engaging in personally has really been disrupting this lie that colonialism and anti-Blackness has told me, that my body is a tool for production, and so I usually lead with what I do for this answer. I usually lead with that, and I have legit been unlearning this notion that what I do validates who I am. Being resistant and all that. So to answer that question, I am Brittany J. Harris, emphasis on Brittany, three syllables. My mom, a few weeks ago when I launched my brand site, this was the first time I actually had my family and colleagues and community, and she was [like], “Brit, I’m going to need you to hold your colleagues accountable to the fact that I didn’t name you Britney, like Britney Spears. I named you Brittany.” And so I’ve been honoring my mother these days more intentionally in how I introduce myself, and so Brittany J. Harris, Brittany Janay. I am a creative. There’s a quote by Lucille Clifton that I have been like reflecting on of late, and y’all notice that I reference Lucille Clifton, poet, writer, all-around Black woman magic, quite a bit in my work, but she says, “I don’t write from a place of having answers than I do from a place of wonder,” and that resonates with me so much because I consider myself a perpetual wonderer. I feel I’m always in this seat of curiosity, hella questions, with the intent to disrupt and maybe even challenge when necessary, and so I consider myself a healthy disruptor. I’m a Black woman, a mother, a nurturer to two Black boys. I am a daughter to two teenage parents, who did their thing to cultivate a culture of love in how they raised my brother and me, and I offer that because that love shows up in how I show up in this work even. I’m a granddaughter to Lula B and Louis, Lucille and Elmer. My grandfather is the son of sharecroppers, and so you know that phrase when they say, oh, “We’re our ancestors’ wildest dreams”? I’m legit, y’all, my grandparents’ wildest dreams, and I’ve been reflecting more on even how my grandparents have shaped how I show up as a practitioner in even this new lane and path that I find myself on, and a story came to me that I’m going to share–and it’ll come full circle in a bit–I remember, it probably had to have been second, third grade, I had posed the question to my father, and at the time we were living in Baltimore City, but he and my mom were trying to move us up on out, and so we were on our way to moving into the suburbs. And around that same time, or shortly thereafter, my grandparents were struggling financially, and so it became really apparent to me, even at that young age, the difference between where I was at that time, where we were, that environment and where my family was actually from. So the difference between living in the city and moving to the suburbs, being a little bit more around white folks, and I remember really being challenged by it at a young age. I think that’s where this perpetual wonder comes into play. I remember being challenged by “Why my grandparents gotta struggle? Why my family gotta struggle, but white folks got it? White folks are rich,” and I remember bringing in, asking my father the question and connecting it back to faith. “Why would God make that so?” I offer this because it’s very similar to–James Baldwin has this essay, “A Talk To Teachers” where he talks about how children begin to learn systems of inequity and dehumanization, especially Black children, just by nature of their environmental surroundings. We start to question, “Why is that over there and why is that different from where I am?” We start to believe things that society says and shows us. And so when I think about the question, “Who are you?”, I am someone who, with that context in mind, wants Black people and Black children to know that they are not deficient, that we are not defective, that we are not invalid, that we are not less than, even when these structures suggest otherwise. I’m someone who wants Black folks to know that it is hella problematic that we have to prove ourselves to be worthy of things like housing and education and employment. I am someone who wants us to know that we are inherently worthy and deserving, and when I think back to that story, I’m someone who wants my second grader self to know that it wasn’t necessarily that my grandparents, that Grams and Pops did anything wrong or that they were any less deserving or any less worthy, that we weren’t any better just because we were about to move up out of there. I’m someone who wants that second grader self to come to know and understand these systems and structures are really jacked up, and that’s not us. So I share all of that because all of that has brought me to me. Also, being the creator of Liberated Love Notes, critical self-reflections and affirmations for the culture. I feel that was long, drawn-out, but I feel that context is important. I feel that’s who I am, and it has nothing to do with–and it’s fascinating to me to even speak that back out because it has nothing to do with what I do, and that level of just clarity for me has been huge.
Zach (07:11): So first of all, it was long, but it was needed, and it was helpful, and that’s okay. It was the appropriate length for what was needed.
Brittany (07:24): You know, it’s a culture thing too. So the more I come into my understanding of self, the more I come into my understanding of who we are as a collective. And so it is absolutely our communication style, people of the African and Black diaspora tend to be less linear in how we tell stories. We use images, we bring in context, which you do talk about all of that, you consider that in a corporate environment, and that can’t go. That’s why they are, more often than not, challenges and ways we have to contort ourselves, because sometimes what is inherently in us just doesn’t [?]. So yes, I’ve come to learn that in as much as who I am is who I am, it is also part of something which is in me.
Zach (08:12): Because it’s something deeper. And so we are going to talk about Liberated Love Notes. I mean, that’s the title of this entire thing we got going on, that you have going on, but let’s talk about what it is you actually do for a living as well.
Brittany (08:27): Yes, and so by day, and sometimes by night, I am the vice president of learning and innovation with The Winters Group. The Winters Group is a global diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, consulting firm, y’all already know. Black-owned, Black-led, Black-founded by Mary Frances Winters. We just celebrated 37 years in the game. Talk about doing the work, sustaining the work and building. So in my role, I’m primarily responsible for leading the team that is responsible for designing all of our learning experiences. They seek to shift perspectives and facilitate connection, hopefully empower action around equity, justice, and inclusion in as much as the recent environment, the backdrop of all that is going on, has called for many organizations to evolve their DEI work into one that centers justice, I just want to name that we’re not new to this, we are true to this. About four years ago, or four or five years ago, we started to do work around mapping the intersection between corporate DEI and social justice work, and so I am very proud to say that in as much as the DEI mainstream is often times not without critique and that it absolutely centers whiteness, a lot of times it has been grounded in the implicit biases and just the cultural competence and the feel goods of belongingness, work that is necessary and without a power analysis means absolutely nothing. We have been approaching the work in that way, and so, I still consider myself a DEI practitioner, I will say, over the last–and I may have shared this with you a few times, Zach, over the last couple of months, maybe even year–I’ve been in deep reflection on just how I understand DEI in relation to purpose versus profession and all the things I’ve been thinking about DEI, what it means to be Black in DEI and how that is an additional toll, a very unique experience in that not only are you trying to do the work to minimize harm and resolve the trauma that is imposed on Black and brown folks by these systems, as a Black person, this work can inherently be retraumatizing, and so that has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I shared it with someone recently after hearing this from a community healer, she said–she categorized or referred to DEI as necessary harm reduction work, that means to an end work that is necessary [?] why we exist in these systems, but it absolutely will not save and heal us, and so it’s some necessary work, and I’m very clear that there is work that we have to do as Black folks. When I say we, we have to do, as Black folks and community that is beyond the scope of a lot of the mainstream, the conversations and working and all the things. So that’s what I do, and that’s what I love, and I appreciate the folks who I am in the community with, often consultants, obviously our instructional designers and even our clients with really good intentions, and yet the work doesn’t stop there. The work doesn’t stop there.
Zach (12:32): So you and I talk, I consider us friends, I enjoy the work that we do together. I enjoy the conversations that we have, but why are we here right now?
Brittany (12:45): In short, I’m trying to build, we’re trying to build Living Corporate. So first of all, I was reflecting on “Okay, when did I first come to know and understand or be familiar with Living Corporate?” and I realized that in as much as I think I hit you up maybe last year or the year before, the first Living Corporate episode that I listened to I was actually in San Francisco in 2018, and it’s crazy, and so here I am, it’s going to come full circle. I just want to–just a little anecdotal manifestation, and this came to me out the blue, which is how my mind works. I was at the airport in San Francisco in 2018 at a client site, and I can’t remember how and it was. I think at the time it was you and I think another gentleman holding a conversation with a Black executive, I can’t remember where he was from, but I remember thinking to myself, like, “You know what, I at some point just want to be aligned,” because I remember feeling, like, real full after listening to the episode and being drawn to how the platform was being used to really amplify Black and brown voices, communities, experiences, all the things, and so that’s one thing, why am I here? When I think about where I am right now and wanting to build Liberated Love Notes, center my practice and work around what I feel Black and Black people need, what we are deserving of, I want to do that in partnership and in community. So today is all about us, at least from my perspective, a meeting of the minds of sorts, and leveraging Living Corporate to uplift what Liberated Love Notes is and will be. I want to use Liberated Love Notes as a way to scale and foster this collective consciousness and community. So the short answer to that, I’m here to take Liberated Love Notes in partnership with Living Corporate to our community, the community who I know is already actively engaged with, a community that is reflective of who I am, who we are, and would benefit from this work.
Zach (15:41): I love it. I love it, and we’ve said the phrase a few times, [but] what is Liberated Love Notes? And maybe for context, what does liberation mean?
Brittany (15:52): Yes, and that’s good because without terms, without even offering, like, common language–and so there’s a really good friend of mine, a colleague in this work, and she– [?], another Black woman. I love her definition of liberation, and she defines it as showing up as the fullest expression of oneself uninterrupted, and there is something about that uninterrupted qualifier that–it just hit differently. It hit different, Zach, and so uninterrupted by problematic norms, uninterrupted by the white imagination, uninterrupted by messages and narratives that would suggest we need to do this, this and that before we are, like, worthy of. When I think about liberation, I think about Black people’s inherent right, emphasis on inherent, to, like, make our own decisions, build our own communities, affirm our own identities and experiences unapologetically, our inherent right to heal and re-imagine a world and spaces and structures beyond whiteness. When I think about liberation, I think about leveraging our own inherent brilliance to solve for our own problems without the need for permission. When I think about the state of liberation, I think about this state of when who we are is enough, this collective being and knowing there’s another, and I emphasis this being peace because there’s another quote by Lucille Clifton that I love, and let me just–I’ll share. I really have been feeling like, and truly believe, that our ancestors show up in just how we move and connect with us and a lot of what they’ve experienced in life behind ends up being embodied in us. So I be feeling real connected to Lucille Clifton, y’all, if y’all don’t know her, get to know her, but there’s this quote where she says “In the bigger scheme of things, the universe is not asking us to do something, the universe is asking us to be something, and that’s a whole different thing.” So I see liberation as this, like, state of being where we are absolutely enough, and so to answer your follow-up question, Liberated Love Notes are affirmation statements that really get at disrupting injectable oppression, really get at building up our capacity to exist in white spaces, toxic spaces. Liberated Love Notes include statements that put us in a position to begin to intentionally just build a healthier racial identity. I actually started writing them, one just for my own personal practice, because even though I exist in and work for a Black-owned institution, I still experience white supremacy everyday. So I needed something for myself, and so I ended up writing statements that not only affirmed who I was or who I am but also hold me accountable. They will also [?] in response to some of the things that my peers and my family and my friends would share as a related to their experiences. Some of these spaces, self-reflection from my perspective, is a huge part or should be a huge part of our own personal practice, and so will Liberated Love Notes include self-reflection questions. I think the work, all of this work, needs to be done in community. So there are group discussion prompts, what makes it all the more special, though obviously they were written by myself. So a Black woman, they were designed by a Black woman. They were even edited, y’all by a Black woman, and so all kinds of love. I actually shared one today just so I can make it real practical. One of the Liberated Love Notes that I shared today was in response to one of my good girlfriends, and we won’t take a deep dive on this topic today, but she’s like “Brittany, do you want everyone to just leave their jobs in corporate America or something? Is that what you want us all to do?” And I was like, “No, I really want–I know that’s not practical. I know that it’s very difficult.” Capitalism is real. We’re not only caring for our families, but households. The wealth gap is real, and yet we have the responsibility to exist in these systems with greater clarity. It’s just not enough to, for lack of better words, play the game on autopilot and then perpetuate all kinds of internalized oppression and things. So one of the liberated love notes that I offered is around our worth and proximity to white institutions, and it reads”My worth and legitimacy are not dictated by white institutions. My allegiance is, and will always be, to my community, the Black community, even when I am working within the context of white systems,” and that level of consciousness, awareness and intentionality from my perspective, clarity is necessary for us to continue to not just survive but thrive in these systems. Because if we aren’t clear we end up–I think you posted it a while ago, Zach, what was it, you think you playing the game, but you really playing yourself. We owe ourselves more. We can do better. We deserve better. So that’s what Liberated Love Notes are, my way to–I hate the term normalize, but my way to support us and realize liberation for ourselves, even while we deal with the realities of whiteness in the day to day, because I’m telling you, DEI is not going to save us.
Zach (22:26): We’ve seen 15 years of supposed effort and intentional engagement in this space and yet these transparency reports look exactly the same.
Brittany (22:38): Exactly, and to the point now where, and this has nothing to do with this, but I mean, hey, transparency ain’t even nothing anymore. Everybody believes the data. It is just kind of like, “Okay…”
Zach (22:50): Data is terrible.
Brittany (22:58): Yes, DEI will not save us. So interestingly enough, I was facilitating a session, what was this, last week, and someone had asked me “Well, do you think that we can really reverse colonialism? Can we really reverse white supremacy?” And this is a Black woman. I had to be real transparent with sis in that “Yes, that’s just not my work.” You know what I mean? I don’t know that is really within the scope of, the immediate scope of my influence right now, and I do believe that in community, as Black folks, we can do the work to heal from white supremacy. We can do the work to heal from colonialism. We can create containers where we’re really intentional about that on our own, because I just don’t know if I can say authentically and with conviction that the practice of DEI is going to get us sort of what we need and, like you said, the years of whatever, however long, this has been formalized as a body of work proves itself, and so let’s absolutely continue to do the harm reduction work necessary, and let’s be very, very clear about what our personal work and practice should be grounded in if our end goal is liberation.
Zach (24:27): I love it. I love it. So, Brittany.
Brittany (24:32): My mom is going to smile when she hears that Zach.
Zach (24:36): We’re thankful for you, and we’re excited about this. So let’s talk about where can folks learn more about you? This is essentially episode zero, but where can folks learn more about you as we get ready to air the first official episode? Where can folks kind of tap in and check?
Brittany (24:55): I feel I’m Brittany Janay everywhere, and so brittanyjanay.com. I feel really excited to share that on my birthday–so February 17th I actually launched my brand site, which I’m really excited about. It has been–so that’s where you can find me, my thoughts, Liberated Love Notes, the things I think about, the work that I am doing, some of the products and resources that are for us, by us will absolutely be there, and so that’s prime. I want to share that you can absolutely find more there, but I’m also BrittanyJanay_ on Instagram and BrittanyJanay on Twitter. I’m really excited, Zach, for how Liberated Love Notes Live will evolve, and really excited to just build with and be in community with you and the rest of the folks on Living Corporate.
Zach (26:02): That’s dope. Well, Brittany, we’re going to talk to you soon. Excited for you to be here. Listen, y’all, I’m just always honored and excited about Living Corporate and the things that we’re doing and how we are growing and the incredible people that decide to journey with us. So look, Liberated Love Notes is a podcast airing weekly coming to you very soon. In the meantime, make sure you share this episode, give it five stars. Catch y’all later. Peace.