by Gabrielle Dominique
United for a Fair Economy hosted our annual Fall Training of Trainers (ToT) at the Highlander Research and Education Center from Thursday, November 9th to Sunday, November 12th, 2023.
Fall ToT 2024 participants, Gabrielle Dominique at the far left
In this personal recount, Gabrielle Dominique, UFE’s Tisch Scholar, shares her experiences of learning popular education, making connections, and being in a fully bilingual space.
The purpose of UFE’s Fall Training of Trainers was “to inform, form and transform the creation of a beloved community filled with hope, joy, rest, ritual and solidarity in the face of economic oppression.” Participants were emerging and established leaders from community partner organizations from North Carolina, Alabama, Boston, Maine and beyond.
UFE’s Fall Training of Trainers (TOT) upheld the priority of using and practicing the popular education methodology, language justice practices, and healing for liberation tools to help create a deeper understanding of the world we envision and are co-creating. These goals came as a reflection of the times we are currently in. We question how we tap into our creative genius as we live through the tumultuousness of late-stage capitalism. The TOT opened space for reflection about the economic state of our society and provided solace as we dream of a future where we are more free.
I began working at UFE the second week of September as the 2023-2024 Tisch Scholar. One week after the start of this internship, my supervisor Jeannette Huezo, Executive Director and Senior Popular Educator, extended an invitation to attend UFE’s Fall 2023 Training of Trainers. I was more than ecstatic to see UFE in action so I quickly accepted. Jeannette informed me that the Fall ToT would incorporate UFE’s popular education methodology.
Prior to working at UFE, I didn’t know what popular education was, so I was anticipating that going to the Fall ToT would be the perfect opportunity for me to immerse myself in this methodology. Still, I had no idea what to expect. Regardless, I knew that I would have a good time because I was in the good hands of UFE. I was certain that attending the Fall ToT would be a fantastic way for me to see UFE in action and get closer with the UFE community and UFE’s partners.
My experience at the Highlander Center began with dinner on Thursday. Before we began the activity for the night, I was greeted by the interpreters, Catalina Nieto and Emily Rhyne, who informed me that I have entered a bilingual space where seamless simultaneous translation would occur. This made it easy for everyone to introduce themselves despite speaking different languages. Shortly after dinner, two of the facilitators – Eroc Arroyo-Montano, UFE’s Director of Cultural Organizing and Luana Morales, a Boston-based Birth and Bereavement Doula, Death Midwife, and Circle Keeper – gathered us in a circle with the community altar in the middle. Amidst friendly faces and smiles, they gave us a blurb of what was to come for the rest of the weekend.
Exploring the popular education methodology to reflect on how inequality is structured
The following day, our first full day, was filled with popular education training alongside informal activities where we all got to know each other. As Jeannette facilitated us, she placed an emphasis on the simplicity behind the popular education methodology. Popular education isn’t meant to be complicated and hard to follow. Popular education is designed to meet the audience where they are at. I noticed that throughout the training, Jeannette Huezo avoided relying on statistics and numerical data. Instead, the activities we did used simple analogies that are related to the very real socioeconomic circumstances of the society we live in. These analogies are presented to help all participants understand the goal of the popular education activity without causing confusion. The analogies allowed us to think of the activity critically. We also had the opportunity to discuss what we drew from the analogies. As we shared what we thought with each other, we were able to draw a reasonable conclusion from what we’ve learned from the popular education activity.
For example, one of the popular education activities that stuck out to me was led by Jeannette. She instructed us to take three coins and decide how we were going to distribute the coins across three cups. One cup represented housing, another represented education and the final cup represented defense / military spending. We all got up and distributed the coins where we thought our money should be spent. To no surprise, Jeannette revealed that as a collective, we all thought that our spending should be allocated to housing and education. No one thought that we should allocate our spending toward defense. However, this is far from the reality in the United States, which, Jeannette informed us, spends more money on defense than it does on housing and education. This popular education activity taught me that government spending doesn’t reflect the needs of the working class. Doing this activity began to make me think of what we can do as working-class individuals to help influence the way the government chooses to spend taxpayers' dollars because we should have a say in how the funds are distributed to help our communities.
“Being at the Fall ToT made it very clear that popular
education is a counterexample to
traditional education methodologies.”
Being at the Fall ToT made it very clear that popular education is a counterexample to traditional education methodologies. For instance, in school settings teachers aren’t necessarily required to meet each student where they are at. As students we are expected to understand material despite how challenging the material may be, and regardless of whether it is presented in a way that recognizes and values our personal experiences. I came away from the Fall TOT truly admiring UFE’s commitment to educate us all regardless of what kind of background knowledge we may have.
Making connection with organizers who are building community and making change
Besides learning about the wonders of popular education, attending the Fall ToT gave me the opportunity to meet amazing individuals from all over the nation who are fighting for their communities. For instance, I met Mama Cookie, Earl and Nah’shon who are members of the Union of Southern Service Workers. They each came to organize after experiencing personally the unfairness of low wages and unpredictable schedules in the service industry. By rallying and protesting to raise the minimum wage for service workers, they are helping co-workers to assert their rights on the job and bringing more people into the fight for respect and fair pay.
“Attending the Fall ToT gave me the opportunity to
meet amazing individuals
from all over the nation who are fighting
for their communities.”
I was inspired by their drive and passion to create a union for underrepresented service workers who reside in North Carolina and beyond.
Experiencing a fully bilingual space
Attending the Fall ToT was also my first time being in a fully bilingual space. If it weren’t for the interpreters, the majority of the conversations held between us participants would not have been possible. Participating in this bilingual space opened my eyes to see that there is a lack of interest in creating seamless conversations between individuals who do not speak the same language. Due to the emphasis on creating a bilingual space I was able to see how everyone brought their authentic selves to the Fall ToT. Communication across languages helped facilitate authenticity because as participants we didn't have to worry about not being understood byindividuals who spoke different languages. Therefore, we were able to speak our mind without fear of not being understood. Everyone’s authenticity allowed me to bring my whole self which allowed me to form genuine connections with the participants.
“Everyone’s authenticity allowed me to bring my whole
self which allowed me to form genuine
connections with the participants.”
Throughout the entire weekend I was amazed and beyond humble to be located at the historic Highlander Research and Education Center. During the breaks in between activities I often found myself staring at the historic images taken at the Highlander Center. I had no idea that civic right leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks were both present and attended training and classes at the Highlander Center. I am eternally grateful to be immersed in a facility that holds so much history.
My main takeaway from the Fall ToT was that being my most authentic self will always work in my favor. Since I showed up each day as my whole self, it allowed me to be open to learning about all of what the training had to offer. Being myself also allowed me to have meaningful conversations with the participants I met. I found myself opening up to individuals I met within the first 24 hours of being at the highlander center and I think that’s a very beautiful thing. Opportunities like these do not often come by so I am eternally grateful that UFE extended this invitation to me.