A few weeks ago, I had the chance to sit with a gender justice activist in a coffee shop in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. Over cups of rooibos tea, she described the organizing behind #TheTotalShutdown and the strategic questions the movement faces in its negotiations with government. Gender justice activists in South Africa have long been wary of sitting down with government but are adapting new strategies in recognition of what government can do to large-scale change. Her experiences were a powerful, urgent reminder of both the strength it takes to lead significant social change, and the need to cultivate a collaborative space for leaders to process events and imagine new strategies with unexpected partners.
This is in the front of my mind because we, at the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (AFRE), are closing out the first year of our fellowship program, in which 29 diverse leaders from the United States and South Africa gathered to deepen their work to address structural racism. It has been a remarkable experience, as well as challenging and humbling. The lessons we’ve learned will help us provide a more powerful experience for our future fellows and may be useful to others seeking to support social change leaders.
Kavitha Mediratta is the founding executive director of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity (@AfreGlobal) and formerly chief strategy advisor at The Atlantic Philanthropies. She has more than two decades of experience supporting and leading campaigns on race and educational equity in the United States.