.What I Learned at The Granger Leadership Academy.

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I attended the Granger Leadership Academy in Tucson, AZ. The four-day activism conference was truly a life-changing experience. I met so many incredible people and learned so much not only about activism and leadership, but also about myself and my own needs and boundaries. I’ve taken the month since to really reflect on what it was about GLA that was so transformative for me and now I want to share those reflections with you.

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Grace Gordon speaking at the Granger Leadership Academy opening ceremony. Photo by TK Lee.

Stop apologizing for taking up space.

If there’s one thing I took away from GLA, it’s the fantastic speech that my fellow student speaker Grace Gordan gave. Grace is an amazing actress and unapologetically bold which is exactly what she carried during her talk. She brought to our attention just how often we people apologize for taking up space, especially women and AFAB people. We find ourselves saying sorry for things that aren’t actually our fault or necessary. Talking to a co-worker often begins with “Sorry, can I speak with you for a moment?” Emails begin with “Sorry for taking so long to respond,” when it hasn’t even been a day.  Grace described a moment while grocery shopping where a woman merely walked past her and felt the need to apologize for doing so. She turned to the woman, absolutely perplexed because she hadn’t actually done anything wrong and reassured her that it was fine. 

At the end of Grace’s speech, she challenged us to do two things during the weekend. Firstly, we needed to resist the urge to say sorry when the situation didn’t call for an apology. If we needed to get past someone we would say, “excuse me.” If we needed vent  about something that was bothering us instead of saying “Sorry, I’m talking so much,” we’d say “Thank you for listening.” Anytime one of us slipped up and said the s word, we’d smile knowingly and ask “What are you apologizing for?” and with a laugh, the lesson was learned.

Secondly, Grace wanted us to build some of our confidence during the weekend. Since we often downplay compliments given to us, we were challenged to instead respond by saying, “Thank you, it’s true!” It might feel a little egotistical, but in the safe space of GLA, it was an opportunity to internalize the positive comments given to us instead of dismissing them outright. It was an incredibly empowering exercise. I felt good, confident, sexy even, looking someone directly in the eye after receiving a compliment, thanking them for the sentiment, and confidently accepting it as fact. “Why yes, I am a boss-ass-bitch. Thank you, it’s true.”

While my track record with not apologizing has wavered a bit since leaving GLA, I’ve tried to stay committed to changing my words when it comes to asking for what I need. The other day I didn’t hear my friend’s grandmother when she said something from the other room. The s word nearly slithered out of my throat before I stopped, swallowed it down, and responded with, “Can you say that again, Grammy? I couldn’t hear you.” It’s made a tremendous difference in my confidence level.

People are genuinely still willing (and excited!) to support small artists.

When I was packing for GLA, I decided to bring five copies of my book Interrobang with me. I contemplated ordering more to bring but then thought, “Nah. There probably won’t be a lot of people who want to buy it and I’ll just end up sad, lugging them all home.” I decided I would give one to the Apparating Library (a book sharing/donation system that the HPA hosts) and then if I could sell the remaining four, cool, but I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

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The Apparating Library! Photo by TK Lee.

Turns out, I sold out of copies in one night. After my speech, I had multiple people come up to me who wanted one. When I sold all four, more people came up to me later wanting to buy it at the open mic. I was flabbergasted! I told them I didn’t have any left and then they wanted to know where they could find it online. One person even offered to pay for shipping to the UK! I felt so honored and validated as a writer that so many people genuinely wanted to support my work. I quickly gave them my card and then posted a link to my Lulu page on the GLA Facebook group. A few weeks later, I got a message from my new friend Christie, who bought my book online after the conference.  “Hey, I just finished your book! It was so great. My fav piece has to be the one with the lizard 🙂 loved it!!!” The fact that she took the time to let me know she enjoyed my work means so much to me, especially as a small artist.

The money I made from selling books went directly to support the other artists that were at GLA. I bought a copy of Wizards in Spacea literary magazine that sponsored the open mic at GLA. It’s an incredible collection of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that made for perfect reading material on my long drive back to Denver. I was then lucky enough to support the funding of their third and fourth issue on Indiegogo, which is now fully funded! I also bought a zine from WIS founder Olivia Dolphin, some Hogwarts gender identity pins from Jackson Bird, and some of the HPA merch available as gifts for my friends back home. It felt good to take the money I had made from my art and put it back into the community that was supporting me. It might seem like mainstream media has an iron grip on consumers, but deep down people are still willing to support small artists.

Owning up to bad behavior is always better than pretending it didn’t happen. You always have more to learn.

Before I attended GLA, I was always scared to own up to my own microaggressive behavior. I worried that if I brought the issue up, it would just be reminding the person of how I’d hurt them and only hurt them further. Instead, I would often put my head down and hope the whole thing would blow over. I knew this is a really bad way of being an ally, but my fear of confrontation (and honestly, my fear of admitting I was wrong) got in the way of owning up to my mistakes and apologizing. I went to GLA with my main goal to learn how to be a better ally and break this habit of just not saying anything for fear of more hurt and anger. I got a really good lesson in this when I approached one of the keynote speakers after the Wizard Rock show. I’m sharing this story not because I’m proud of it, but because I think it was important in my development as an ally and maybe it will be a lesson for someone else, too.

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly is an educator, activist, and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She spoke passionately about some of the issues facing her community and other Native American communities: poverty, racism, suicide, food insecurity, and the threat of culture and language loss. She has an incredible magnetism when she speaks and her words moved me to tears. When I saw that she was speaking at GLA, I wondered if she was familiar with the work of Standing Rock artist Canupa Hanska Luger, who I interviewed last year during a visit to my college campus. If she wasn’t familiar with his work, I wanted to talk to her about the artist I loved and who she might be interested in checking out.

I’m not going to say what I had meant to say when I walked up to her to ask if she was familiar with his work, because it doesn’t really matter what my intention was. What matters is the negative impact I made and why it wasn’t okay. What I said was along the lines of “You’re native. Do you know this other native person?” Oof.

I winced the moment the words came out of my mouth. That was not at all what I had intended, but like I said, it didn’t matter what I had intended. The microaggression was already hanging in the air between us and I felt awful. I was supposed to be an A+, gold star activist. I was supposed to be woke. How could I have made that microaggression?? The conversation reminded me that I am far from perfect when it comes to my own prejudices and learned behavior. I still have a lot to learn (and unlearn).

The next day, Gabriella was giving a talk about microaggressions and how to be a good ally. I decided that I would approach her before her talk and apologize. I wouldn’t try to clarify. I wouldn’t use the words “but” or “actually.” I would own up to my behavior and hope she would accept the apology. I was lucky that she did, but I would have understood if she didn’t. Just because I was apologizing didn’t mean I got a gold star or that I was guaranteed forgiveness. It didn’t make me a good person. It just meant I was learning. She gave me a hug after her talk and said, “Now I get to know Charli!” I’m really grateful to be able to get know her, too.

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Myself speaking at GLA! Photo by TK Lee.

Your time and energy are too important to spend on toxic people.

I recently had to end a friendship that wasn’t healthy. For a long time, I had been riding out my sad, angry, uncomfortable feelings around them because I feared what would happen if I left. I let them use me for networking opportunities. I let them not pay me for my work. I let them barge ahead when I said no to something. I let it go when they threw a tantrum over me not giving them my undivided attention and then asked me why I was mad when they decided not to talk to me for weeks. I had been willing to put up with the behavior if it meant I wasn’t going to lose them. I valued having the trademark “best friend” more than my own self-worth. This was before I attended GLA.

I can’t pinpoint a moment when I realized I was in an unhealthy relationship. I can’t tell you when it was that I decided to step away from this person in order to put my own needs first for once. It wasn’t one particular panel or a specific lesson I learned at GLA. I think GLA just gave me the confidence to know that I was worth more than what this person was willing to give me. GLA gave me the security to know that walking away from someone who had been hurting me for a long time wasn’t going to destroy my life; it was going to resurrect it. I left GLA, tied up a few financial loose ends with the person, and then unfriended and blocked them on Facebook. I felt at ease for the first time in months.

If you are in a relationship (platonic or romantic) that is making you miserable, it is absolutely okay to cut ties with that person. You don’t owe them an explanation. You are allowed to just leave. They’ve hurt you long enough. Don’t put any more time or energy into someone who is actively making you suffer. You are worthy of the respect they are not giving you. ❤

I have a lot to learn from Slytherin House.

I am a Hufflepuff. I value loyalty, hard work, friendship, and kindness. I try to be kind and put other people first whenever I can. My friend Sam calls me the “Huffle-lest of the Puffs!” However, we Hufflepuffs have an unfortunate tendency to let people take advantage of us (see above). We want to help people so much, sometimes we forget to look out for ourselves. We trust easily and cast our friendship net really wide. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to some codependent behavior.

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My team’s wisdom for the weekend. Photo by Charlotte Renken.

One of my favorite talks at GLA “Hogwarts Houses and the Heroine’s Journey” was from Heroine Training’s Xandra Robinson-Burns. Xandra is a brilliant Gryffindor with a passion for self-care and minimalism. Her website Heroine Training has tons of really great advice and reflections about how “own your own story” and be the heroine of your own life. Xandra is the reason I got a Passion Planner (which seriously changed my life and you need to get one. If you use the code XANDRA10 you can get 10% off and help out an awesome small artist! Bonus!)

 

Xandra’s talk was focussed on how we can use the Hogwarts Houses to achieve our goals. Gryffindors challenge us to dare to dream. They help us visualize our goals and what we want out of life. Hufflepuffs help us to act on our goals and to get vulnerable with our purpose. They allow us to set intentions and work hard to get there. Ravenclaws are about readying our minds to achieve our goals. They inspire us to seek out information and pull from lots of different sources, including people in our own lives. Lastly, Slytherins. Slytherins get a bad rap at Hogwarts. They’re often seen as evil people who step on others to get what they want. This isn’t really true. Slytherins have a lot to teach us about living our legacy, forming tight communities, and asking for what they need. Slytherins aren’t afraid to take up space. They’re firm in the boundaries and don’t let people take advantage of them. They also never apologize for who they are, because they take pride in being unique!

I think these are really important qualities to have. I’ve always struggled to set my own boundaries and make my needs heard. I decided at GLA that while I’m a proud Hufflepuff and I will continue to be kind, loyal, and determined, I’m also going to take a letter out of Slytherin’s potions book. Cutting toxic people out of my life was the first step in creating firm boundaries that matter to me. While I’m still learning, I’m trying to utilize Slytherin’s unapologetic confidence to achieve my goals.

 

GLA was an inspiring four day adventure. I met some of the most incredible people (one of which I’m now dating <3) and I learned some really important lessons. I’m grateful to GLA for making a space where I could learn from my mistakes, accept that I am still learning, and also celebrate and utilize my strengths to make the world a better place. I was able to take pride in who I am as well as own up to parts of myself I need to work on. I’ve grown a lot in just the few weeks since. I’m really proud of who I’m growing into. I can’t wait until next year.

 

… Charlotte