Being A Supportive Ally – Everything is the Same and Everything Has Changed
Part II This is What Being An Ally Can Look Like
Written by Gwen White
I have dedicated time and energy to be an adult ally to both colleagues and youth. I am passionate about and dedicated to the role. Over time the role has become comfortable. Although I have found pride in what I have to offer as a supportive adult partner, there have been times where complacency has developed. I assumed I knew how to be a good ally and was surprised this spring when I found myself unsure of how to offer appropriate support. As an older, white ally I became aware of shortcomings in allyship, despite my good intentions.
The gravity of a pandemic and response to police violence and systemic injustices of the last several months has challenged my complacency while amplifying my passion. Working harder as a supportive ally is something I am committed to while challenging myself to evaluate the way in which I show up to as a partner.
I am humbled by my young adult colleagues. No matter the age, race or life experience that these partners bring to the table, we are able to work together for change. I now realize, my thinking about their expertise has been narrow, focusing on their knowledge about traditional public support systems. The depth of familiarity with health care inequities and systemic racism has to be added to my understanding of their experience.
In my career advocating for better young adult outcomes, I often identify hope as a positive predictor of a successful transition to adulthood. Hope in terms of independent living, ways to support oneself, and stable supportive relationships. I now know the definition must include safety. Given the current pandemic, safety to be able to isolate in a healthy environment, receive quality health care, to sleep in a safe environment, to express your authentic self, be safe in your community regardless of who you are. I can no longer view hope in the same way as I advocate for better young adult outcomes
I always learn from my young adult mentors. It is true on many levels and a critical component of my personal and professional approach to partnership. This also needs to be re-thought, though. I am working hard on the necessity to educate myself about systemic racism and examine myself in the context of race. I have to learn that to listen to is different than learning from. Although I am always in a space to learn from young adult mentors, creating space to simply listen is now an active part of my practice
Another long-held belief is that policy and practice modifications are key to sustainable system change. I have functioned, however, with a simple understanding that policy and practice is based on who I am as an older white social worker. The recognition that social service systems contribute to many forms of oppression is a concept I need to embrace and study. Advocating for reform of the practice and policy approaches with young adults has to take into account long-standing oppression.
I continue to explore what true partnership with young adult leaders looks like. I find myself re-evaluating partnership as I realize my white privilege is a part of the equation. White privilege has always been there, of course, but not a part of how I recognized my role in the systems work I was doing. Much of the work I was doing required humility, but the challenges faced by the young adults I was advocating for required much more, as their story involved systematic factors that I was either unaware of or did not see how those issues were interconnected. I now have to own my story and complicity, too.
My passion to be a supportive ally with young adult mentors continues, but so much has changed over the last few months. I want to continue my role as a thought partner, supporter, guide, connector, and sometimes, a holder of wisdom. What has changed is the realization of my white privilege and my obligation to explore blind spots. I want to renew my efforts to seek connection, authentic engagement, and partnership with young adults while exploring where I am and where I can go as a more self-aware and self-questioning colleague.
Will you join me in the ongoing journey of adult allyship?
Gwen White’s career of developing innovative approaches to mental health service delivery for children, young adults, and families, has spanned decades, states, and many, many roles. From Project Director of federal grants in Pennsylvania to national Training and Technical Assistance expert roles at Georgetown University, CARS, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Gwen has brought her expertise on young adult transitions and systems transformation to many of us. No matter what role Gwen is holding, she is sure to be found in partnership with young adults. Gwen has been a long-time partner, ally, and co-consultant with the Youth MOVE National team and we are honored to share her thoughts on the importance of the role of supportive allies.