On Meaning and Mattering: An Interview with the OPC’s new Peace and Partnerships Communicator
This has been a year of great staff transition and expansion at the OPC. We bid farewell to our communications and development intern Tia Rounsoville who is starting at Mills College, and we bid a partial farewell to our operations manager Aja Minor who will continue to partner with us on our high school internship program through her OPC partner organization InSolidarity. We have a phenomenal new operations manager we hope you’ll get to work with in the months to come. And we’re grateful that Clidell “Franceyez” Jackson is providing continuity as our facilities coordinator.
When we welcomed our ARTivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White in March, OPC executive director Sandhya Jha interviewed him and shared the interview in that month’s newsletter as well as on our webpage. As we welcome our brand new OPC Peace and Partnerships Communicator, Todd Atkins-Whitley, Sandhya has done the same thing. We hope you’ll check out Todd’s bio on our webpage to learn more about his expertise and gifts in the field; but for now, here’s a little glimpse into Todd’s vision for his work with the Oakland Peace Center’s 40 partners!
SJ: Todd, what got you connected to the work of peace and justice in the first place?
It would not be until late in my life, actually after I became a community organizer, that I realized it was my mother who modeled the work of peace and justice to which I aspire. Her life’s work—well into her 80s—was focused on making life better for senior citizens in our community, particularly those on fixed incomes or experiencing poverty. Not only did she advocate for their immediate needs of food, transportation, and companionship, but she also lobbied governments and councils to address systems that marginalized and harmed the elderly and admonished them to care for these most overlooked folks. Her advocacy was done in the secular arena but it was 100% motivated by her faith. She felt those “little old people” (as she called them) deserved to experience peace in the sunset of their lives and that belief, as much as anything, prompted her justice work—even though she would have never called it such.
After spending a couple decades raising my children and working a corporate job, I began searching for meaningful work that would make an impact in society. So I began to show up in justice- and peace-oriented communities—listening, being present, following the lead of others. It would not be long before I was invited to leverage the skills and knowledge I had gained over my life toward efforts that not only responded to folks’ immediate needs but also addressed systemic issues that kept people oppressed.
Today, I realize this sense of connection to works of justice and peace simply runs in the family.
SJ: I love that. It raises an important question for me. At the OPC, all of our partners are working on peace, but they are working on it in 40 different ways. What is peace to you, and how do you hope to participate in peace at the OPC?
To be honest, I never really framed the work of peace in the same context as my justice work. You see, I was raised to think that “peace” was simply being nice to others, or being quiet, or meditating—certainly more of a passive, individual, heady pursuit. So even though at times I have thought I was experiencing peace in an interior way, I did not experience it fully until I came to imagine peace, and the work of peace, as a collaborative experience.
OK so—It may sound strange, but I think of “peace” as a sort of energy. Sure, it’s energy that must be cultivated within but for me, the work of peace, when done alongside other peace-makers and peace-dreamers, is exhilarating and much more productive. It is that energy—that varied hum of peace—that compels and propels my work among and alongside people committed to cultivating a culture of peace. I feel that energy here with the OPC team and I felt it in a powerful way in our partner meet-up last month!
I guess you could say I thrive on the idea of working among such a diverse community, with as many different practices as there are organizations, in partnership with folks who are committed to this great enterprise we know as seeking and creating peace.
SJ: You’ve gotten a few glimpses of that community so far. What are your thoughts about how we might be able to move towards peace together, and what’s your role in that?
It is important for us to be aware of each others’ hopes and dreams and what we’re doing to achieve and fulfill them, as well as our movements toward co-creating this peace we aspire to. I also believe a more unified peace is possible—and more realistically attained if not also more lasting—when we’re all aware of the intersections of our work. Where are we able to lean into the practice of solidarity, where can we lift together, where can we diversity, where can we learn from one another. And that’s how I perceive my role here—communicator, cheerleader, amplifier, evangelist, collaborator—not just for our community here in Oakland but for each member of this incredible collective.
SJ: Thanks so much! Anything on the horizon at the OPC you’re particularly excited about?
You mean, besides hearing Alice Walker live?! I am truly excited about getting to know this community and really immerse myself in the culture of peace being cultivated with such intention and great love. And honestly, I can’t wait to help bring as much attention as possible to the incredible work being done by the OPC team and the collective of people assembled here.
SJ: Thanks, Todd. Super excited to have you on board.