How A Small Studio created a safe space for meaningful interactions in order to unify Americans and amplify their voices.
Privilege /ˈprɪvɪlɪdʒ/: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Those who have it, benefit from an array of advantages beyond any boundary of their imaginations. Those that don’t, have spent a lineage trying to dismantle its foul origin. This ailment of society is still relevant today. Stark as this might seem, it really is that absolute. Or more precisely, that black and white. But like all sickness, sometimes the only cure is a dose.
But in many cases, history has shown that having a voice or exercising the right to speak wasn’t an option for many. It was a privilege. One that was unattainable for millions of black Americans for almost a century. The cost of that mandated silence was oppression, segregation, intimidation, and ultimately, their lives.
Yes, privilege is synonymous with racism. It’s given way to the unwarranted superiority, acceptance, and power of the white man. And in its faulted construct throughout history, it has stripped the black, Native Indian, and immigrant man of a humane and dignified existence. But perhaps more importantly, the privilege of some has meant many have lost their sense of belonging, forced to yield to its oppressive impunity. Perhaps this was the greatest loss of all. For in losing this acceptance and community, many also lost their voice.
Since 1619 when the first 20 African slaves arrived making way for the millions more that would follow, a caste system was established. It took nearly 250 years for these men, women and children to be emancipated from the lowest levels of society. And a century after that, before they were permitted to have an official voice. Still, 65 years later, the black man, like so many other minority groups in America, continues to be chained down by others' privilege. Lest we forget, here’s a small dose of racism in America and our past:
Today, segregation and oppression is seen by the lack of government support, underfunded schools, gentrification in rural neighborhoods, permanent second-class status for those incarcerated, unequal pay, and so much more. Many of these exploits going against the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement.
The battle to bring equality to all people continues. Today, millions have united since. They’ve marched and raised their voices to make a difference and tell a narrative of resounding truth: black lives matter.
Started in 2013, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has become the plight of so many in social media who are fed up by the systemic racism in the United States. It was created in response to the shooting death of teen-aged Trayvon Martin. And it’s been a unifying mantra for those that stand up for the forever silenced. Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Aura Rosser, and so many others. All who are allies to this movement plead, know their names.
If history teaches us anything, it’s that making a change requires memory of the past and a desire to right many wrongs. We must rise up. And that's just what many in America and the world did on the days following the death of another black life, George Floyd. When George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minnesota, Americans protested police brutality and institutional racism in cities and towns across the country.
While many took to the streets for peaceful protest, others focused on their talents to make a lasting impact and help others heal. John B. Johnson, Identity Architect at A Small Studio, was one of them.
John grew up on the west side of Cleveland. He often felt like an outlier. He was the only black kid in the Italian neighborhood where he grew up. He never met his father, and was raised by his sisters and mother. The only prominent male figure in his youth was his elder brother, Antonio, who went to jail at age 17 for manslaughter.
Though he had much cause for despair, John was raised to overcome society's constraints. He went to private school, excelled in sports and education, and found wonderful mentors that helped him heal. He nurtured a loving bond with his brother and leaned into his own strength. As an adult, he found God, and his path.
This time around was no different. John knew something had to be done. Here's his account of when it all shifted for him:
As John contemplated ways he could contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, he called his partner, colleagues, and clients to inform them he’d be shutting down for a week. Familiar to John’s ethos of peace and impact-driven leadership, they too volunteered their time to the cause. That evening, twelve of them met, and Give A Dose was born.
The vision for Give A Dose, a platform for people to have meaningful interactions, is inspired by Dr. Julia Garcia Neuroth’s work. Dr. J is CEO of a mental health and technology organization. She’s also a biracial lecturer, motivational speaker, and spoken word poet with a PhD in Psychology. She helps others cope and talk through difficult topics like racism, sexism, sexual assault, social media, and depression. She travels all over the United States working with thousands of students each year and speaking at events. Her purpose is to create safe spaces for people to share their stories via her framework, dose tracks. Here's more on her mission:
In the time leading up to George Floyd's death, John was helping Julia translate her framework of helping people deal with their emotions and trauma. She wanted to impact more people and provide tools for people to cope. Give A Dose was the outcome that helped to realign the work that she’s always done, only this time, in a digital space. And her framework was the perfect solution:
What started as pen to paper from students in a live setting, was now evolving into a prototype to help bring visibility to what people were feeling and their real experiences with racism. Equipped with a team and compelled to create a safe digital space, Dr. J was clear about her goal and intention for the platform.
Creating a digital experience that would feel like a conversation was no small undertaking. In order to achieve this, the team created 26 prompts to invite people to contemplate their experience and share truths.
Mindfulness and active listening was also a critical factor in the success of the prompts. Every person involved on the project had a training in how to look at ideas, process thoughts and envision spaces. As Dr. J recalls:
So what are doses exactly?
One look at the dose tracks, and it’s clear the Give A Dose platform is an experience. A journey into authentic and meaningful storytelling.
Truth is, when it comes to race in America, we are worlds apart in both our experiences and perspectives. But these stories, or doses, have a profound way of encouraging the observer to internalize these personal experiences. What at first glance might have felt like “this isn’t about me” becomes positively “this is all of us.” Take a look, get a dose, or give one:
The team’s work on Give A Dose also brings to light another threat: social media. In a world of surmounting digital noise and numbness fueled by information overload, safe spaces to share are rare. More importantly, social media has proven to distract, and breeds an environment of reaction, instead of reflection. One where looking within is not endorsed.
In John's words:
It was clear from the beginning of this initiative that Give A Dose needed to be more than just a laissez-faire digital platform. A focus point in her dissertation and research studies, Dr. J is mindful of social media’s culture for consumption, instead of collaboration:
It seems in today’s social culture we’re indeed content with being fed whatever society wants us to digest. But if we’re not careful, this cancer will eat us from within. Give A Dose in its fundamental intention, is the opposite of social media. It is designed to be inclusive.
It also inhibits reaction through the dose tracks. In doing so, people feel like part of the solution. They can focus and be reflective instead. This reflection from reading someone’s experience will then open the door to introspection. An actual opportunity to shift perceptions and feel true empathy. For what is the purpose of stories if not to offer a lesson, or for others to act on behalf of them, whether subconsciously or deliberately through deeds?
Give A Dose is just a stepping stone in rectifying the way we listen, relate and respect one another. And with thousands of visits to their platform, this collaborative effort is making a meaningful impact. But beyond that digital space, it’s also touched the lives of those that have worked closest with it.
Have we, as a nation, a world, yet reached the brink of our moral limits? Have we all screamed “enough is enough” in unison or will we continue to let the oppression and injustices faced by so many be ignored? Some of us unfortunately aren’t there yet. Too comfortable in privilege to see that change must occur. Or too ignorant to understand that what unites us as a human race is far greater than what separates us. That indeed, we are stronger united than we are apart.
The good news is, there are so many of us today that continue to fight for equality and freedoms for all. That rise up and stand beside our neighbors, brothers and sisters to raise their voices way above the noise brought on by hate and fear.
As Harriet Tubman once said: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world”. Let's do just that.
I am privileged. No, I’m not white. And it isn’t because I was born rich, or because I’ve never had to confront misogyny, or unfounded rejection. I’m privileged because throughout most of my life, I was sheltered by love. It was a beaming reflection of the adoration my parents shared for each other, and to the well being of our family. It was a mighty fortress that protected me and my brothers from all spoken and real evil.
I was never aware of the hardships my parents overcame to make sure we were fed, clothed, and safe. I only heard of the stories of scarcity and food rationing as an assurance that all hardships can be conquered, or as a sentimental anecdote.
But perhaps most important, in my privilege I was also sheltered from the real evil of racism. So much that I was never conscious there was ever a difference between my parents. Even though their experience as a biracial couple was perceived by others as anything but normal. My mother is a beautiful brown-skinned Dominican, and my father, a handsome white-skinned European. I was taught that love is love, and I was naive enough to think others were taught the same.
Truth is, in many evident ways, I should have been underprivileged, targeted, and silenced like so many have been. And because I’ve been better off than so many, it’s made writing this story particularly challenging. This "favor" placed over me by my surroundings or society, has me feeling like an imposter. Straddling the fence of true authenticity and falsehood.
But then I remember, racism isn’t just a black thing. It’s a minority thing. A pejorative term used to identify anyone that isn’t white, as if our skin color, ethnicity or background somehow equates us with minor, or less than. A mere diminutive of its counterpart, a race superior. Now that is something that I can identify with and it helps me to see that I am part of this story, too.
But the most absolute truth of all of this is: We are all part of this story. The sooner we realize we are all equal and one race, the human race, things will change. Let’s continue to heal from these false and painful constructs.