Better Together: Inclusion & Allyship

Greetings Humans! For those of you who have been following Lenspeace for a while, you might notice that this article's tone is a bit different. That's because this time around, what you're reading hasn't been written by Lennie Gray Mowris, but by the other half of Lenspeace, Nyasha "Sha" Wooling.

The Other Half Of Lenspeace?

That's right. Lenspeace isn't owned by just one sassy, queer, bald woman but by two sassy, queer, bald women. So that you can quickly tell us apart, I'm the shorter one with significantly more melanin. As Lenspeace begins again in 2021, we figured it was about time I stopped hiding in the background and finally stepped out to officially introduce myself to everyone. Today I'll share The Who, The How, The When, and The Why of my role at Lenspeace and what you should expect from Lenspeace going forward.

The Who

Born in San Jose, California but raised in Marietta, Georgia, I'm the youngest of five siblings with an 18-year gap between myself and my oldest sister. My brother and I grew up in a 2-parent household in predominantly white, lower-middle-class surroundings where I was friendly but introverted. I was often–aside from church–one of the few, if not the only, black person in any group I was a part of. Some other key factors in my upbringing were singing in school and local youth groups, church, playing the flute in band, church, learning to sew, church, and being a good student. I was on the "expected" life path of going to college, starting a career, and eventually getting married.

In 1997, I graduated with a degree in Marketing from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. After graduation, I moved to Houston to start my first job in the marketing/strategy department of a new energy marketing company. That's where I was first introduced to coding and graphic design, which would be where I would focus my career for the next 20+ years.

I moved back to Atlanta in 2000 and started working at the Atlanta Regional Commission. I was responsible for the many websites the agency produced. ARC is where I met the fabulous Ms. Nakita Pope–designer extraordinaire. Nakita took me under her wing to teach me the basics of graphic design and was pivotal to my development as a designer and a human being. In 2005, after five years of learning everything I could at ARC, I quit and went freelance.

The How

In 2011, I was working as a freelance website developer for a local design/print shop. Three months into my time at this shop, I heard that a new person, Lennie, was coming on board to oversee all of the design projects. We clicked immediately. Pretty soon, we were almost inseparable. Lennie was also a wealth of design knowledge. I introduced her to Nakita. Not only did they click, but they had shared design mentors and philosophies. Soon the two of them were giving me weekly lessons in all things design. I learned about paper types, typography, colors, logos, printing, production, and more. They reignited a long-forgotten passion I had for paper–particularly paper crafting. Since I wanted to spend more time creating things with paper, being friends with a letterpress printmaker has its perks.

The more time I spent with Lennie–listening to her stories and running around Atlanta together experiencing the local indie creative scenes–the more I believed in her and wanted to see her succeed. She had spent countless hours helping me with creative and personal projects, as well as sharing whatever assets and resources she had to help me grow. So even though I was struggling to make ends meet, I saw endless opportunities on the horizon for Lennie, and I decided to invest.

When I first met Lennie, she had just come into possession of a Kluge, a vintage letterpress printer and die-cutter. It was to be the new foundation of Lenspeace. Unfortunately, she didn't have a way to make it run. It required three phase power, but everywhere she went only offered single phase power. So I decided to "sow a seed" into Lenspeace and provide the funds she needed to get a phase converter. That decision turned out to be not only for my future benefit but is also a metaphor for my relationship with Lennie and Lenspeace. She had the vision and method for the future success of Lenspeace, but alone she didn't have the power to make it run.

The When

In December 2017, I was 7 years into my 10-year plan to move to Japan. I'd been taking Japanese lessons and had taken a month-long trip to Japan in May of that year. The goal was to move to Japan by the end of 2020. But that all changed when Lennie sat me down in her kitchen one evening and handed me a letter. She was offering me a position and a 25% profit-sharing deal with Lenspeace. Lennie needed someone to handle the day-to-day operations. Still, more importantly, she needed someone who could hear her even when her words might come across a bit colder or more harshly than intended, a person who could see her regardless of the public persona she'd cultivated over the years. Someone she could (and did) have a significant falling out with but would always find their way back to reconciliation through honesty, empathy, and personal accountability. I accepted on the spot and became the Lenspeace Diva of Details.

We got to work. Plans were made, and details were being worked out, but circumstances kept changing, so the goal post kept moving. Every time we thought we had things figured out, something would fall apart or fall short of our expectations. But for every setback, there was a critical lesson learned or a previously unknown but key factor that fell into place. As letterpress and printmaking became less of a focus for Lenspeace, social impact strategy and facilitation work became the new vision for our future.

Then in July of 2019, just as we were starting to see some progress with our new programming, disaster struck. An incident set off what felt like a domino effect of heartbreak, failure, and existential crisis. As a team and as individuals, we broke physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and professionally. For the remainder of that year, aside from brief text exchanges on our birthdays, Lennie and I didn't speak to each other.

Thankfully, one of the things Lennie and I have in common is that we're both excellent at processing our heartbrains to distill conflict down the root of the problem. We then focus on resolving the issue and moving forward as better humans instead of wasting time in a holding pattern while feeling justified in holding onto our anger. We had to be honest with ourselves about where things went wrong and acknowledge the part each of us played that led us to the mess we were in. The words we spoke with neutral or good intentions that, but because of factors we were unaware of, landed as a throat punch. Critical decisions were made without everyone's input, but that affected everyone involved. Times we remained silent when we should have spoken up and vice versa. And most importantly, being accountable for the times when our words and actions didn't line up with our ideals. By the end of 2019, we both recognized that not only are our futures bound to each other but that there was important work to be done, and it could only be done together.

So while 2020 was a dumpster fire of epic proportions, it was also a year we took to slow down, recenter ourselves as a team, and create the new vision for the future… together. Lenspeace was no longer a "me" but a "we." Equals in all aspects of our lives and our business.

The Why

One of the biggest lessons of 2020 and the last four years is how disastrous things can be when our words don't align with our actions. The more our eyes have been opened to the systemic abuses our society was built on, the easier it has become to recognize when and how those abuses play out around us. We've begun to realize just how far we are from the ideals we espouse as a country and individuals. But recognizing that misalignment in others is always easier than recognizing it in ourselves.

I spent 2020 getting more familiar with social impact, facilitation, and the intellectual property Lennie took over 6 years to develop. That IP has become the foundation of not just Lenspeace but of our day-to-day lives. We strive to find more ways to incorporate these concepts and exercises into our everyday decision-making and vernacular. We want to be living proof that this work works.

As we were preparing our content calendar for the first half of 2021, we decided that this month's theme would be about being a better ally. The title of this article was chosen for two important reasons. First, we need to visibly demonstrate that we know the difference between diversity and inclusion. Second, if our goal is to create a safe space for honest conversations, we need to make sure our approach to people is as welcoming as possible.

While I'm not shy and I've demonstrated that I have excellent leadership skills, I don't rush to take the spotlight or assume positions of leadership. For the past few years, I've enjoyed hiding behind the scenes while Lennie has remained the embodiment of all things Lenspeace. But if we believe in shared power, we need to show it. Diversity means having diverse people in the room. In contrast, inclusion means having the power to affect the outcome. It doesn't matter that the team behind Lenspeace is diverse if the only face or voice representing us is that of a white woman.

We want to be an ally for anyone trying to figure out who they are now, as well as who they hope to become as individuals, communities, and the whole of humanity. To do this, we need to make sure that our approach and language are as inviting as possible.

Lennie is warm, funny, kind, snarky, and an all-around goofball when you meet her in person. Her words are eloquent, impactful, inspiring, and often-times just what you needed to hear. But if you take those exact same words and put them in writing, Lennie often comes across as cold, harsh, intimidating, way too direct, and too heady. My marketing background and writing style, as well as my obsession with grammar, tone, and flow, meant that it was time for me to step up and speak up. By taking a more active role in representing Lenspeace, I can help share that part of the workload. Doing this also ensures that we share in the accountability of the impact of our words and actions.

What To Expect In The Future

Over the next five months, Lenspeace will be launching an online video library and education platform based on Lennie's intellectual property. That IP has been used to create three workshop series: My Impact On Myself, My Impact On Community, and My Impact On The Planet. Please keep an eye out for our official launch announcement.

While the workshop materials themselves are good to go, we're new to video recording and editing, so please extend us a bit of grace as we go. Our intentions are to steadily improve as we learn and progress in this new space. We hope that you'll participate in the workshops and provide us with any feedback that can help us make our new platform as easy to use and successful as possible.

We also hope to reach a new level of transparency and accountability in 2021. We're striving to create a business model that's not rooted in patriarchy or a white supremacy mindset. Consistency is essential for establishing any relationship; however, doing things the right way while also protecting our personal health and well-being comes first. To that end, when we mess something up or experience failure, we'll let you know. If we feel that something we're doing isn't quite right and we need to take some time to pivot, we'll share that with you as well. This means we might need to adjust some deadlines as we go.

Case in point, our newsletters are supposed to go out at 10:30 AM ET on the first Wednesday of each month. It's now Thursday afternoon. But it wasn't until late Tuesday morning that Lennie and I realized that I should take the reins on this newsletter. We decided to scrap our original article and pushed the deadline to give me the time I needed to pull things together. Hopefully, the delay has paid off.

For those of you who have made it to the end of this article, I appreciate you taking the time to get to know me and the new Lenspeace. I hope I get to meet many of you in person someday. Until then, check us out on social media and on our website as we'll slowly be making updates to reflect the new us.