First Wednesday Conversation 2020

Olympia, Washington

Hosted by The Athena Group

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Do not be afraid.

Frederick Buechner

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.

On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

Arundhati Roy

Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing – there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.


There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other,

aligned enough to maintain a shared direction,

and cohesive enough to always move towards each other.

adrienne maree brown

2020 Intention

My intention in 2020 is to host provocative conversations about racial equity, social and racial justice, bias and racism, and anger. My hope is that we will see how our familiar frames of systems thinking, leadership, inquiry, and conversation are challenged and changed when we talk about these topics. My hope is that we will expose our own biases and mental models, and thereby change ourselves.

The monthly readings all assume a basic level of awareness relative to racism, white supremacy, racial equity, and so on. That is, the invitation for 2020 is not to debate whether racism exists or whether white supremacy is foundational to our society or whether racial equity is necessary. The invitation is to acknowledge, deepen our understanding and look for ways to be actively antiracist in all parts of our lives.

If you have a need to broaden your perspective and have time for some longer reads, I recommend the following books or longer articles:

The Case for Reparations, by Ta Nehisi-Coates in The Atlantic

Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

So You Want to Talk About Race? By Ijeoma Oluo

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

How to be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

Overall Purpose (since 2007)

IMG_6217The First Wednesday Conversation will continue to develop our capacity for systems intelligence by focusing on a collection of tools and methods that can give us valuable insights into complex issues.

And here’s a reminder about what I mean by systems intelligence. I define it as the capacity and ability to apply systems thinking to complex challenges. Such challenges are different from technical problems. Learning is needed, both to adequately understand the problem and to address the emergent challenge. Systems intelligence enriches and enhances any change methodology. When an organization or community or leader can do three things – develop their systems intelligence, nurture mutual learning, and discern complex adaptive challenges – wise action is possible.That’s what we’re about at the First Wednesday Conversation.

Time & Place

NOTE FOR APRIL 2020 and until further notice: Due to social restrictions related to COVID-19, the April and beyond conversations in 2020 will take place virtually, via Zoom. The Zoom link will be in the monthly MailChimp email reminder! If you want to receive this reminder containing the link, please send me an email and I will add you to the list. I will not publish the Zoom link elsewhere.

[SAVE FOR POST-COVID… The 2020 First Wednesday Conversation is shifting to a new location: The Athena Group conference room at 112 4th Avenue E, Suite 200, Olympia, WA 98501. The entrance is on 4th Avenue between the Guitar Shop and the Spar restaurant. The gate and the door will be open, and there’s an elevator if the stairs are too much! We will still meet from 5:00 until 6:30pm. It’s fine to bring coffee, tea or a snack from home or from Schwartz’s a few doors down.]

2020 Topics

(updated March 20, 2020)

January 8, 2020

Ten Lessons for Taking Leadership on Racial Equity

February 5, 2020

Introductory article of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Five Elements of a Thriving Justice Ecosystem

March 4 & April 1, 2020

The April conversation is a virtual gathering via Zoom.

Part 1 of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Pursuing Deep Equity 

May 6, 2020

Part 2 of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Cultivating Leaderful Ecosystems

June 3, 2020

Part 3 of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Multiple Ways of Knowing: Expanding How We Know

July 1, 2020

Part 4 of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Influencing Complex Systems Change

August 5, 2020

Part 5 of a series of five articles about what it means to have a “thriving justice ecosystem”

Toward Love, Healing, Resilience & Alignment: The Inner Work of Social Transformation & Justice

September 2, 2020

Race and the Body: Why Somatic Practices Are Essential for Racial Justice

(Download the complete November 2019 issue of The Arrow journal Race and the Body: Why Somatic Practices are Essential for Racial Justice and read the article by Kelsy Blackwell.)

October 7, 2020

To Free Ourselves We Must Feed Ourselves

November 4, 2020

The Best Leaders May Be Those Who “Give Up”

(written by Vu Le, leader of the Rainier Valley Corps in South Seattle and author of the blog Nonprofit AF)

December 2, 2020

Three Lessons From adrienne maree brown’s ‘Emergent Strategy’

January 6, 2021

Yes, Anger Does Influence My Work for Racial Justice, and No, We Won’t Calm Down

February 3, 2021

The Bias of Professionalism Standards