Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Dr. Bayo Akomolafe: a Collective Narrative
Updated: Apr 21
Produced by Rafael Calçada
On Wednesday, April 6, 2022, a group of 17 participants from Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Morocco, Russia, and the United States gathered for the fourth peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Dr. Bayo Akomolafe.
Participants’ reflections were recorded and processed according to the Collective Narrative Methodology to create a balanced summary of key ideas that showed up in group discussions using participants' own words and giving every participant an opportunity to ensure that their ideas are included.
Anton Titov, Ben Roberts, Cass Charrette, Dounia Saeme, Fyodor Ovchinnikov, Heather, Nelson, Ken Homer, Maria Talero, Micheline Levy, Natalia Harzu, Prashant Amara, Rafael Calcada, Rahma Dualeh, Ray Guyot, Sam Lutz, Sophia Bazile, Swagata Sen participated in the session and contributed to this collective narrative through sharing their reflections, observing and naming emerging patterns, or by simply showing up and being present.
Here is the recording of the group call with Dr. Bayo Akomolafe based on this collective narrative:
The rolling legacy of conversations and the limitations of language
A lot got discussed today and we acknowledged the richness of the field that we are in. We would like Bayo to know that being in conversation with his work is happening through a weaving of several different conversations with other TLST teachers, particularly Nora Bateson and Mansi Kakkar, so that there is a field of resonant conversations in this space. There is also an awareness that this has always been happening in the rolling legacy of conversations that gather energy around them.
We are conscious of this and curious about what it means that we are starting to talk about the same people repeatedly and use the same language and we wonder about ourselves here: are we reproducing some of the same things that we are trying to transcend? And how do we even use language especially, English, the "one tongue", the “language of the colonizer”, to go beyond language? We yearn for guidance on principles and practices while recognizing that this traps us in methodology and prescription which does not feel like the answer.
What does “in-between” mean for Bayo and what does it mean to be in that place?
In our dialogues, we discussed what “in-between” means for Bayo. There was an overarching theme of Bayo’s work helping us collectively stand in an “in-between” moment and it came up in every way so we would love to hear more about how Bayo understands where that “in-between” is. There was a general acknowledgment that the paradoxical question of "Where is the in-between?" is so much of his work, and we wanted to reflect on both Bayo’s and our own personal experiences of being in the “in-between”. What does it mean emotionally? What does it mean to let go and to stand in emergence? What does it mean to stand in paradox? So many paradoxes!
There was a very clear recognition that there are a lot of interplays. It is not just polarity, it is extremely multipolar existence in various shapes and forms: individual systems, physicality, the racial aspects, neurodiversity, the processing entity, and the various complexities therein. What does it mean to stand in complexities and diversities, in all kinds of differences from neurodiversity to cultural to systemic diversity, from individuals to everybody to a whole, from individual to shared, from writing to speaking to feeling? There are so many “in-between” places that come up through the work and it is a very challenging place to articulate and to stand when we do not know where it is. So it would be nice to hear more about what that is for Bayo.
What is a new way of doing business and surviving?
We are also curious about Bayo's new explorations, experiments, and provocations around business. We talked about the new course on business that he is offering, and some of us offered a reflection that all these new modalities that many of us who are wanting to do systems change work are called into, these new modalities of online convenings and digital engagements have costs, they bring commodification of identity and cult of personality, and there is a risk of identities being tokenized.
So we are curious about what are the negotiations and tensions that Bayo notices in these new modalities and what reflections he might have about the impacts of convening and trying to have systems change conversations in these new ways. More generally, we are curious about this new experiment with business: what does that experiment look like for him right now? What is a new way of doing business and surviving? What does it look like for us right now? What is that shift?
Black Liberation feels like the emergence of a historic breakthrough on a planetary scale
We also talked about the universality and specificity of Bayo’s work in terms of “race" or B(/b-)lackness. Some of us shared reflections on the diverse, complex, rich, and powerful discourse of Black Liberation that feels like the emergence of a historic breakthrough on a planetary scale. Some of us suggested that this discourse touches and has the power to transform issues that at first glance are not directly connected to Blackness such as climate change, gender discrimination, or the ongoing Russian aggression and ethnocide of Ukrainians.
The intensity of the collective trauma and the deep ancestral knowledge of a different world that was and still is possible provide both a deep longing and a practical hope for transcending the constitutive elements of our ontological prison. Some of us particularly appreciated the reflections about the ongoing war being deeply entrenched in patriarchal psyche and colonial disposition which was so much in concurrence with Bayo's poetic description of Blackness and fugitivity as that warm space, a sanctuary we can take together.
How do we overcome our mental resistance and deal with the physical urgency of the climate crisis?
We also talked about the question of temporality. Where is the “in-between” in a temporal sense, and how does Bayo bring it to play? How to hold the tension of honoring the importance of "activism" now and the understanding of how we got here? In the face of the climate crisis, how do we deal with the physical urgency at hand while having to do work in the mental space? How do we position ourselves to facilitate the flow? And what do we do with the weight of people who do not want to go into “the New”, just with the weight that they have in the system?
We asked, how we could enlarge our own center enough to embrace the chaos which is required to embody a new worldview and there was a sense that there is enormous resistance to embracing that chaos. Even though perhaps there is wide recognition that the stories we have been attached to, this notion of the slave ship we have been unconsciously traveling on, moving furniture around on, that even though that does not resonate, does not make sense, and we see its toxicity, it is so scary to let go of that and to be in this chaos, it is so threatening that there are all kinds of resistance—within us and collectively—to doing that. So this idea of enlarging our center was a concept, a metaphor connected to principles from Aikido and meditation. Some of us suggested that as a way to approach that shift in consciousness.
What if our stories of doom and urgency are not true and the chaos we fear is fertile soil?
Is it possible that what remains once we give up the stories we have been attached to—this wild, messy, chaotic space—is actually fertile soil? While the costs of colonialism have been so dire and so much damage has been done to our souls, to our communities, to the planet, to the more-than-human world, is it possible that there has also been all of this work that never went away, but also has been re-energized and reborn in recent decades and that we are not going to find a barren ground or just a mess, but emergence everywhere, all kinds of things that are happening that we could not see because we were focused on the “ship”? Is that possible? How do we act if that is true and the chaos is not so scary and what happens if we act as if that is actually true?
There is this idea that, wow, we have gone so far down the wrong path that we are over a cliff, we are going to plummet to the bottom, maybe we do not survive at all, maybe some 10% of what is on Earth survives. And there is also the story that we have this little window and this urgent thing to get through so that the worst does not happen. What if that is not it at all? What if we have been doing the work collectively, including those of us who are “activists” would say are the “enemy”? What if we have all been somehow doing the work? And is it possible that there is this new, wild, beautiful ecosystem that as soon as it gets more sunlight and more water, we will all be able to embody and inhabit?
What is beyond the “how”?
We see the allure and the potential of Bayo's unique way of thinking about "the New". And yet we are very conscious of the deep entanglements and the deep roots of the patterns that incarcerate us. So we are asking the “how” question: how do we move into this? At the same time, some of us are noticing that this question is one that Bayo always gets and that we are experiencing a longing that we cannot really articulate. Is there something more? Is there something more interesting that we can ask that goes beyond just “how”, “how do we do this”?
Wow. It was a calm vortex...