What Will You Do with Your Power?

Photo is of a painting that has a hand in the middle and segments of colorful images meeting that hand in the middle. One of the segments says "Justice." Another says "Stop Apartheid Now."
Photo by Lindsay Laguna

As I shared with you in my first blog post for this site, travel is one of my favorite leisure activities. Clearly, I cannot do that due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it is not my hugest concern. When I think of both the state of COVID-19 and racial injustice in the world, I have been contemplating how to navigate both pandemics. Actually, that is why I started this website: I want to offer my expertise in career development and education to people who are seeking meaningful growth and transformation—especially when many aspects of our world are changing.

With that said, I also have been figuring out how cope with the pandemic and how to connect to others in a time where we are increasingly isolated. What is one way I opted to do that? I started an Instagram account. Although I cannot physically escape to paradise, I can mentally escape by reflecting on my past experiences and why they were meaningful to me. Initially, I thought I would write only a few sentences and hashtags per photo, but I ended up having substantial thoughts for certain posts. One such post was of my visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, which I am including below.

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In August 2018, I did a weekend trip to Atlanta. It was my last hurrah before the summer ended. Given the tension that was growing in the United States, I felt a need for inspiration and a history lesson that I never had gotten in my own schooling despite having earned a master’s degree by that point. When I created my online album of my trip, I titled it “The Land of MLK.” Many sites I visited related to MLK, social movements, civil rights, and human rights. One site I was excited to visit was the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. I spent hours inside of the center. It was a humbling experience. I hadn’t even known it had existed until a few years prior to my visit. It’s funny. In pre-pandemic times, I was an avid traveler. When people say to visit cities like Boston and Philadelphia, they often say it is to learn about history—but really more cities, towns, and other sites hold the keys to essential history too. I learned things in Atlanta that I never had learned in the cities traditionally thought to be good for travelers who are “history buffs.” In light of recent events, we have to redefine what it means to be a “history buff.” Which events from history are we deeming essential in defining one as such? What history are you centering in your own education of the world? 🌎 🌍 🌏 #history #historybuff #MLK #civilrights #humanrights #Atlanta #education #educationaldevelopment #personalgrowth #careercoach

A post shared by Lindsay Laguna (@lindsay_laguna) on

While I may have started my Instagram account by posting about my great escapes to beaches and parks, I realized that I also love travel so much because it has been a form of education that I have not received through the classroom or the workplace. I purposefully planned that trip to Atlanta to visit multiple sites and find inspiration for contributing to collective action and progress in the world.

I needed that Atlanta trip in 2018. Leading up to that trip (and after it actually), I kept witnessing different people in my life experiencing some form of discrimination. When people sought career coaching from me, part of our sessions included addressing microaggressions and macroaggressions in school and the workforce. It is not that discrimination and oppression are new to me.

Since I was a kid growing up in an immigrant family in Chicago, I observed how people of diverse backgrounds were treated differently by various institutions in the world. Through my lived experiences, I already knew this before I started learning the language of individual, institutional, and structural discrimination through my bachelor’s degree in international studies, minors in sociology and Spanish, and master of education in higher education.

A couple weeks ago, a colleague from my industry solicited my consultation on her role as a leader. She leads a networking group and recognized that she needed to reevaluate how diverse, equitable, and inclusive the nature of the group was. During our conversation, I provided her with feedback that immediately addressed her current situation. Then I recommended the book Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper.

I bought this book in February 2019, and it had so many good insights that I do not have space to write about all of them. However, for this post, I want to share this quote from Pages 122-123 of Cooper’s book:

The politics of personal empowerment suggests to us that if we simply “free our minds, then our asses will follow.” I’m not convinced that this is true. Why? Have you ever noticed that people who have real “power”—wealth, job security, influence—don’t attend “empowerment” seminars? Power is not attained from books and seminars. Not alone, anyway. Power is conferred by social systems. Empowerment and power are not the same thing. We must quit mistaking the two. Better yet, we must quit settling for one when what we really need is the other.

In my career coaching with groups and individuals, I work with people who are seeking empowerment because—regardless of their actual title or position—they feel the need for it. With that said, I also work with people who do have power—like my colleague—to change the nature and culture of an environment where they are leaders. When my colleague sought my consultation, she was wondering what she could do with her power and privilege as America Reckons with Racial Injustice.

If you are in a position of power, what will you do with your power?

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