In our Healing Centered Engagement training, we discuss the importance of having agency and using it effectively to combat the effects of oppression and other social toxins. Agency is a power that we all have to think for ourselves and act in ways that shape our future and life experiences. Agency exists at both the individual and the collective level.
We recently witnessed professional athletes exercise collective agency to bring necessary attention to a social justice issue. In August, athletes of the National Basketball Association (NBA) refused to take the court for their playoff games. They felt compelled to respond to yet another incident of police shooting an unarmed Black person. Very quickly, other athletes and teams sat out from their games and practices so public attention could be given to this serious issue. Across the nation, we’ve seen similar actions take place as people want to see swifter and fair justice, as well as equal treatment under the law.
Dr. Isaac Prilleltensky, a psychologist who has written extensively on well-being and human flourishing, recently addressed the importance of activism. He wrote, “Fighting for a fair social system can bring about benefits for you and others. There is evidence that political activism (collective agency) leads to improved psychological well-being. Activism enhances a sense of control over your life and combats helplessness and hopelessness.”
What we’ve witnessed during this summer of uncertainty and upheaval is that the American public is unwilling to sit on the sidelines waiting for the government to step up and address documented instances of abuse, unequal application of the law, and other indications of racial prejudice. The people have taken to the streets and social media to speak out and demand change. In the professional sports world, athletes used their agency to demand a focus on voting. These demands included:
Similarly, football players for the University of Texas in Austin refused to participate in recruiting or fundraising efforts until both the athletic department and the administration agreed to certain items. Their demands included:
These are just two examples of collective agency being used to draw attention and force change to social inequities. In both instances, the groups followed four important steps to build agency.
Four Steps to Build Agency
Today, find a small way to practice agency wherever you may be. Make this the weekend you only shop at minority-owned businesses, or volunteer to work with minority youth, or participate in a silent protest outside your local police station. Whatever you do, be intentional and be clear about what you are doing and why. Take ownership of your action and do good.
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