I became a Human and Organization Development scholar and practitioner because of my own quest for development. By development, I do not mean here development in the sense of the colonial and political terminology used to define one way of knowing and being as better than others. I mean rather the personal, professional and collective development that makes human beings deepen and broaden their worldviews such that they think, act and interact in ways that support individual and collective thriving and flourishing. I was not only drawn to the fields of human and organization development broadly, but in particular to positive organization scholarship and appreciative inquiry, where studying human thriving, virtuousness and flourishing are welcomed. What a joy to find a field of study where these concepts mattered! Where looking for the best of our humanity, for the purpose of amplifying those things that help us thrive is the goal!
Simultaneously, my research interests mirrored my lived experiences as a global African and had me integrating transformative development and thriving with experiences of marginality. Among other questions, I have been asking, researching and writing about questions such as:
- What do the transformative developmental journeys of the socially marginalized look like?
- How do you support thriving in the midst of traumatic events and experiences?
- How might we transition from narratives of despair/trauma to narratives of transformations?
- How do transformational leaders describe their posttraumatic growth experience?
- How might we use dialogic OD as a practice for co-creating flourishing communities?
In sum, my research and practice centers understanding and facilitating developmental trajectories that support individual and collective thriving and transformation, even in traumatic contexts. This led me to the concept of Resonance, a moment of awakening, through personal stories, that opens space or creates an opportunity for transformative learning.
In arriving at Resonance, Resonance stories (A personal account of a past life experience that deeply connects you to your identity and purpose) and life narratives continue to surface as key to accessing developmental trajectories and transformation over the 10+ years of my research and practice on this area. However, the power of Resonance stories, which can be accessed in a variety of storytelling mediums, became even more alive for me when I turned to not only using my lived experiences as part of my qualitative research and scholarship (see paper Where are you from? for example) but also started fiction writing for my own reflection and developmental processing.
In the journey of writing 2 short story collections, Identities and Ancestries and one flash fiction collection, Destinies about global African/Black identity narratives, I moved from fiction writer to autoethnographic researcher. In an article now going through peer review, I document how in engaging with global Africans/Black peoples in conversations about the fictions narratives, an Identity/Belonging/Agency (IBA) framework to describe the transformative development journey of Global Africans/Black peoples emerged. This IBA framework, building on my prior trauma-informed development framework, uncovered that the developmental tasks of global Africans/Black peoples appear to follow the narrative arc of claiming Identity, Belonging and Agency. These are significant tasks in the midst of societal contexts and constructs of systemic anti-black racism that would otherwise deny global Africans/Black peoples access to these fundamental developmental outcomes.
The first developmental tasks of global Africans/Black peoples once they become aware of the social positioning of marginality assigned to them, is to first differentiate a powerful personal identity to draw on. The next developmental task is at the self-in-society stage where places and spaces of belonging must be sought and claimed in place of constant microaggressions and systemic exclusions. Claiming and anchoring to communities of belonging and rootedness was seen as the difference that made the difference in the community conversations. The final developmental task is seeking clear agency through taking transformative social actions that contribute to a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive future. This action-taking characterizes the transformation that is unleased when participants move from being subject to dominant, disempowering social narratives and systems of oppression, to examining them objectively to find their place of contribution to positive change.
This process moves global Africans and Black peoples through shifting the focus of microaggressive and systemic oppressions anchored in dominant narratives to empowering narratives. It is a shift:
From: Where are you from? To: Who am I?/What is my purpose?
From: What are you? To: Where do I belong?
From: Who are you? To: What am I called to?
As August starts with Emancipation Day, living from Resonance in a way that supports ongoing development of self, others and the systems around me is on my mind. In a world of ongoing oppression, it is imperative that global Africans/Black peoples take this developmental journey and transcend the social narratives that threaten to choke us. Instead, a thriving Resonant life requires the kinds of holistic, spiritual, moral and overall transformative development which “can support Resonance by creating space and openness for healing, disclosure, and attaining a sense of purpose that is meaningful and connected beyond one’s existential being.” It requires getting to a place that one of my protagonists in Ancestries arrives at, where we know we are free, not because society allows us to be, but because we are.
“It’s still raining out. I stand in the rain, lift my head and enjoy the feeling of water on my face, washing me, steadying me… I start walking, but this time I do not kick stones. I am crying and laughing out loud in the rain. What am I, Kevin? I am free.“
The Resonant development work we must do, is an invitation, ala bell hooks (RIP) that:
Understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is crucial for oppressed, exploited, colonized people. If we only view the margin as sign, marking the condition of our pain and deprivation then a certain hopelessness and despair, a deep nihilism penetrates in a destructive way the very ground of our being…This is a response from the space of my marginality. It is a space of resistance. It is a space I choose…This is an intervention. I am writing to you. I am speaking from a place in the margin where I am different—where I see things differently… A message from that space in the margin that is a site of creativity and power, that inclusive space where we recover ourselves, where we move in solidarity to erase the category of colonized/colonizer. Marginality as a site of resistance. Enter that space. Let us meet there. Enter that space. We greet you as liberators. (hooks,1989, 342-343).
I join bell hooks in further issuing this invitation to communities of global Africans/Black peoples to engage from the margins as sites of transformation.
hooks, b. (1989). Marginality as Site of Resistance. In R. Ferguson, Gever, M., Minh-ha, T.T., and West, C. (Ed.), Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures (pp. 341-343). MIT Press.