In our November 12 edition, we introduced the commjunity to Adam Fletcher Sasse, who will facilitate an intensive workshop from Dec. 9-12. Titled Unraveling Racism, this multi-day experience will offer participants countless opportunities to learn about both present-day racism in Omaha, as well as its history. This event is the result of the hard work done by the Ruby Platt Allyship Initiative—now it is time for the rest of us to sign on and take part in the work.
“I grew up in North Omaha in the Miller Park neighborhood,” Sasse said. “Growing up in this historical, predominantly African American neighborhood, I was a bit of an anomaly: I was a goofy white Canadian kid in cowboy boots and corduroy pants from a poor family in a crappy house. But I devoured history, especially the stories of the place where I was growing up.”
Not much was taught in school about the neighborhood’s history, he remembers, but he found other channels to learn:
“One of my mentors was Idu Maduli, who taught me the neighborhood’s history when I was young. I also learned glimpses of the city’s history from other mentors, including Rev. Helen Saunders, many of the people at Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church, Von Trimble, and Mr. and Mrs. Hickerson, who I lived next to on Ellison Avenue. I owe all of them a debt of gratitude. As an ongoing bellwether in middle America, Omaha can offer a poignant and effective roadmap for the rest of the United States to confront the ongoing racism so many people are grappling with. After growing up in North Omaha and working across the rest of the country, I came to understand the city's unfortunately common way of distinguishing Black from white; wealthy from poor; healthy from sick; and the learned from the undereducated. I know this segregation in Omaha allowed me to see how America truly works; however, I also believe actively confronting the segregation in Omaha can show us all how to embrace these divisions so that we can actually collectively connect, intersect, transcend, and ascend to a greater playing field as a whole people who form a nation, a society, and a world so desperately in need of change.”
During the multi-day experience, participants will learn about their own biases, as Sasse aims to facilitate ‘real talk’ about the impact of racism on our community.
“I started doing skill-building and knowledge-sharing workshops for youth in 1997 while I was an AmeriCorps member in Lincoln,” Sasse said. “I've been facilitating multi-day workshops focused on racial equity since 2000. About five years ago, I also started doing workshops related to the history of North Omaha.”
As a white male in America, he experiences privileges, opportunities and outcomes that people of color, women, and others do not, he said. “My identities, whether chosen, assumed, assigned or inherited, have facilitated a lifetime of comforts that have eluded others simply because of their identities. I am a person who is committed to justice for everyone, everywhere, all of the time. Through my life experience, I have learned it is my responsibility to take personal action as well as advocate grandiose social change. In the case of racial equity, I have learned that personal action for white people like me requires discomfort. My white privilege has made my life relatively easy, and because of that I have a lot of discomfort to go through! My life has given me a lot of ways to get outside of my comfort zone, and the more I actively embrace discomfort and the more justice I can build in the world.”
Sasse aims to come into these workshops as a co-learner, and as someone who has had a lot of opportunity to reflect and learn about white supremacy, white privilege, white fragility, and racism.
“I will intentionally address issues many white people are uncomfortable acknowledging. Anyone participating in these conversations will be encouraged to consciously and consistently identify, address and take action on their own through personal commitments to make the world a better place.”
Growing up in this city and studying Omaha’s history, he has found that Omaha needs to deliberately confront and defeat “the racist foundations it was built on, and the ongoing white privilege which it relies on for its continued successes. This means acknowledging the history and ongoing effects of white supremacy woven throughout the fabric of the city's economic, social, educational and cultural background. This means actively, intentionally confronting and defeating structural racism in all of its forms throughout the city. Finally, it means every single white person throughout the city of every background acknowledging, challenging, and radically transforming the inherent, implicit, and ongoing benefits of our privileges at the expense of people of color. Omaha was built on the backs of Black and Brown people and continues relying on this oppression; we must individually act to overcome the overwhelming rot of that reality throughout the city on every level.”
He acknowledges that Jewish people have experienced unparalleled oppression at the hands of dominating powers for millennia:
“Facilitating anti-racist learning with Jews requires harnessing the power of compassion, empathy, and interdependence in ways few other communities can understand,” he said. “I believe what's unique about doing this work with the Jewish community is that once we embrace those abilities we can collectively move past apathy and intransigence to achieve justice in our lifetimes.”
Omaha is at a crossroads, he added, “and America is too. My work is to find hope at the intersections of our paths, no matter what they are. Once I find hope, I lift it as high as possible for all to see it, whether it’s in our history, in the present, or in the future; whether its among children, youth, parents, or seniors. No matter where it is at, everyone deserves hope for themselves and the world we all share. Hope is the mooring for all of my work focused on the past, on racism, and on youth, and without that hope we can become cynical and jaded, which in turn leads to losing our bearings in a world that easily consumes the unmoored. We need to share moorings, and the mooring I offer is hope, a real, tangible, and practical hope. That's why it’s important and needs to be shared.”