This blog post was written by our 2021 MYLE team leader, Kelly Sherman-Conroy, and is in response to the chaplaincy work being done in the Minneapolis and St. Paul after the murder of George Floyd. She discusses the need for cultural competency before volunteering, so that we create a space of empowerment and comfort for those that need it.
According to Western Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, “cultural competence is the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Cultural competence encompasses being aware of one’s own world view, developing positive attributes towards cultural differences, gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views and developing skills for communication and interaction across cultures.”
When local pastors, religious leaders and spiritual care leaders stepped up and took the call to help the communities of Minneapolis and St. Paul during the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, I don’t think they knew what they were in for. The call was not just about needing volunteers with shovels and rubbish bags in hand or handing out food and other supplies. The call for chaplains was very intentional.
As a Native American and an activist, I know first hand the harm that well intentioned people of faith can do when they come in to “help” communities that have been marginalized or minoritized. I remember at Standing Rock and the protests in North Dakota, a group of well-intentioned people of faith came to “help” and support. However, what many that came to help did not see, was that their own unintentional actions were creating more harm than good. A deeper trauma than the trauma they were there to address.
So as a team of Rapid Response organizers met to address the needs of the communities during the uprising, this experience came to mind. How do we prepare a group of intentional volunteers that can be culturally aware as well as spiritually ready to care for all people regardless of beliefs? The call was made, and people responded.
I began with 4-5 Zoom trainings a day that talked about how to be culturally aware, understanding your actions, understanding the trauma many ethnic people were already coming with, what it is like to care for people in the midst of a large crisis such as this, and most importantly, non-violent communication for volunteers in the midst of a crisis. Their calming presence felt, and their aid was sought in helping other volunteers understand their actions.
So before you send out your volunteers to help in your community, find someone to lead in cultural awareness so that you are not unintentionally creating a space that is dehumanizing to those you are helping, but that you are creating a space that is empowering and comforting. Thank you to the over 100 volunteer chaplains for your work and intentionality.