Episode 43
Burning Man Live | Episode 43 | 12|08|2021

Beloved Community in Our Midst

Guests: Shirley Strong, Simone Torrey

Lifelong social justice educators Shirley Strong and Simone Torrey share about Beloved Community, an inclusive interrelated space based on love, responsibility, compassion, shared power, and a deep respect that transforms. They also talk with Stuart about a new community engagement and learning platform. It’s not social media. It’s not e-courses. It’s a versatile hub of like-minded interactivity.

This conversation started with Civil Rights in the 1960s, and is now evolving on a global nexus called Hive.

Ten Ingredients for Building Beloved Community and Creating Belonging (on HIVE)

Burning Man Project’s Radical Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity (R.I.D.E.) Anti-Racism Pledge

Radical Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity at Burning Man


Burning Man LIVE


STUART: So yes, it’s true. This is in fact, another episode of Burning Man Live. I’m coming to you from our invisible studio, deep, deep in the internet ether, flying across the airwaves or the sea waves or the wifi waves to you and your earbuds wherever you are from wherever we think that we are.

And hi, I’m Stuart Mangrum. Our show today: we’re going to talk about two of the big initiatives that Burning Man has been pursuing for quite a few years now, and find a place where they actually intersect in an interesting way.

One of them is, what you would broadly call community engagement. We have for several years been trying to do a little more listening and a little less talking and to create more spaces for the community to to go ahead and conduct conversations and even get ourselves out of the way as an organization. That has manifested in a number of ways. One of which is the new program known as Burning Man Hive, which we’re going to talk about.

The other big initiative, which we’ve talked about on the program before, is trying to get a little better at our radical inclusivity, with the work that’s been going on with our Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equity group, and all the work around that, and try to up our game and make Burning Man an even more welcoming and friendly place for more people of more kinds.

The intersection of those two programs has to do with a new program that’s actually being introduced on Hive, and my guests today are the two people putting that together.

Shirley Strong is a Social Justice educator who has been a member of Burning Man’s R.I.D.E. work groups since 2019. She has served as director of the Project Change anti-racism initiative and she’s led diversity programs all over the place: Samuel Merritt University, California Institute of Integral Studies, and luckily for us, right here at Burning Man. Welcome to the show, Shirley.

SHIRLEY: Thank you, Stuart. Thank you for having me.

STUART: And Simone Torrey has taken a leadership role in the Burning Man organization in community engagement.

She helped to drive and facilitate the very ambitious multi-year Cultural Direction Setting project, which we’ve also talked about a bit on this program, which orchestrated hundreds, thousands of conversations from a lot of different people in the community, with a goal of turning some of that data into action and how we chart the future course of Black Rock City and Burning Man culture.

And lately she has gotten deeply involved in Hive, which is our new engagement platform, including working on development of the Beloved Community project. Welcome, Simone Torrey.

SIMONE: Hi, Stuart. Thanks for having me.

STUART: Well, Simone, I want to start with a couple of questions for you. Since some of our listeners are probably unfamiliar with Hive, can you just give us a high-level overview of what that program’s about and how that works?

SIMONE: So Hive is Burning Man Project’s relatively new still, community and learning platform. It was called that because of a quote from our dear Larry Harvey that said, “We build the Hive, they bring the honey.”

And so that’s really what we’re trying to do. It’s a platform for engagement other than some of the mainstream social media platforms, they shall be unnamed, where you get bombarded with content. We’re trying to create connections and learning. 

Some of the beautiful connections that have happened in the last month, one of our passionate, sustainability, renewable energy proponents, part of the Green Theme Camp Community, met with a ‘Burner curious’ on a Hive call. And this ‘Burner curious’ happened to organize a big festival this summer in Germany. And they collaborated on making that festival carbon neutral because of the work they had been doing with Burning Man. 


SIMONE: Another example is three people who also met on a call. We can see a theme there; it’s mostly people meeting in live calls that create connections. They didn’t know each other before. They started working together on another R.I.D.E. initiative called “The Camp Guidance Project,” which is pulling together different resources, Burner-specific resources, to help camps become more radically inclusive and equitable.

So those are some of the things we’re seeing and we’re really excited about.

STUART: So when people join up, they can basically self-identify with an interest group and meet other like-minded people to talk about those topics. Am I getting that right?

SIMONE: Yeah. So the network has different topics, sustainability, R.I.D.E., but there’s also a topic called Burner Culture where there’s more like banter, or ‘This one time at Burning Man,” where there’s some banter going on and, 

STUART: Of course.

SIMONE: Sure, yeah. Whatever we do, we try to foster connections between people. People ask questions. People say like, “Hey, I have this art project I’m working on. I need some collaborators,” or like, “Hey, I have this question. How do you do this thing?” And somebody will answer it.

STUART: Fantastic. And it’s open to whom? And is there a cost associated with joining up?

SIMONE: No, it’s totally free. It’s open to all Burners, all ‘Burner curious,’ and anybody can join by logging into hive.burningman.org with their Burner Profile username and password.

STUART: Fantastic. Well, let’s circle back at the end of the program and make sure everyone has all the details and we’ll stick them in the show notes as always.

All right. Shirley Strong. I want to talk about this latest offering that you’re working on with Simone, Beloved Community. Let’s start at the top. What is a Beloved Community?

SHIRLEY: Well, I define Beloved Community, and it’s my definition, as “an inclusive, interrelated consciousness or space based on love, justice, responsibility, compassion, shared power, and a deep respect for all people, places and things, that radically transforms individuals and restructures institutions.”

And I think it’s a ‘both and’ kind of proposition. We have to be able to work on ourselves as individuals, and we have to be able to work in the world to try to bring about social change and justice. And often it’s one or the other. We have a propensity or an affinity toward one, the individual work on ourselves or the social consciousness, social transformation work. We see that in activists and in all of us. And the balance is really critical. We have to do both together. And so that’s why I say both individual and social transformation or restructuring.

STUART: This sounds very aspirational. This sounds like something that is a goal rather than, I mean, you can’t look to a particular community right now and say they are, they are not, right? Sounds like a process. Is that right?

SHIRLEY: Absolutely. Martin Luther King talked about Beloved Community and he said he didn’t believe it would be achieved in his lifetime, but he thought that good people, people of good will everywhere, working together could bring it about at some point. And I think all of us, who are those people, those people of good will, can work toward creating it, making it a reality in our midst. It’s a process. It’s probably something that certainly I won’t see, or my generation won’t see, but we can work toward it. And the idea is to get us closer over time.

STUART: Well, the Burning Man community, as we all know, has certainly shown some elements of that. Where do you think there’s the most synergy or crossover? What do you see in the Burning Man community that most resembles that and gives us the most hope that we could achieve that?

SHIRLEY: Well, I have 10 principles that we’re working on on Hive, and I looked at those principles and seven of those principles are definitely a part of the Burning Man community. And I’ll just name them…

STUART: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Did you say you have 10 Principles?

SHIRLEY: I know Burning Man has 10 as well. And I thought that’s an example: You’re working towards something as well with your principles, so that’s an immediate connection.

The principals that I have are 

  • a vision that inspires and Burning Man has that. 
  • a personal story that compels and Burning Man has that. 
  • a practice that sustains – also Burning Man
  • a community that supports

So you get the idea. All of these are represent in Burning Man. 

  • a commitment to others that reinforces and strengthens 
  • a philosophy or belief that guides 
  • a culture or an art form that nourishes. Obviously Burning Man 
  • a connection to elders and ancestors that teach 
  • a gratitude and thankfulness that renews 
  • a sustainability that replenishes. Again, Burning Man.

STUART: Well, that’s very positive. Let me put it on the other side of the coin and say, where do you think we have the most work to do as a community within the Burning Man world?

SHIRLEY: Well, I think we all have a lot of work to do on inclusivity, on creating a sense of belonging, increasing the voices and the diversity of people in the room or at the table, in this case at Burning Man, I think this is a goal that’s well beyond Burning Man, because we are in a society where there’s a lot of, a lot of challenge, for obvious reasons of the wealth gap and so many other things that are going on.

So Burning Man is in good company, so to speak, but that’s where the work is. That’s our growing edge. That’s Burning Man’s growing edge.

SIMONE: I’d love to chime in there too, because that’s the part that Shirley and I worked on together, kind of looking at what are some of the specific Burning Man examples for these 10 principles, or we called them 10 ingredients on Hive, not to confuse with our principles.

And what I see is different communities, or like Burning Man isn’t one community, right? It’s a community of communities. There are all these tribes, camps and groups, subgroups, subcultures within it. So many of them practice many of these principles, but one of the things that I think would take Burning Man to the next level in terms of Beloved Community is more cross connection between these subcultures and less othering, because I’ve definitely seen that happen a little bit.

STUART: Tell me more about that.

SIMONE: Well, where like this camp thinks it’s better than that camp, or this camp is like too loud, and they, you know, like this kind of bickering that happens between different habits that camps have and ways of doing things. That’s where the camp community and as far as I know, that happens within different volunteer communities too, like, the DPW has its subculture, right, which is different from maybe Gate or Box Office. 

STUART: Do they ever, yes. Our Department of Public Works, they do have their own take on things. So how do we make more of those connections? Let’s talk about practice I think both at an individual level and at a group level. What’s some of the work that we can be doing to get us closer to that ideal?

SHIRLEY: Well, for me, a great example in Burning Man is Burners Without Borders. When I first heard it, it was when I went to Black Rock City in 2013, and I was really struck by that level of generosity and commitment to others, particularly who were vulnerable and who were the victims of disaster. And it seemed such a logical thing to do to take the skills that you apply and use in Burning Man and use it in the world. So that was the best example at the moment. 

I think the work being done with the Native American nation right outside of Burning Man in Black Rock City is another great example. People went in and said, “What do you need? How can we help?” Rather than going in and saying “We’re here to do this, that and the other.” So that was a great example of cultural humility. I think there are probably many others as well, but those are the two that come to mind for me immediately.

STUART: That was the work that was done with the Pyramid Lake band of Paiutes, right?

SIMONE: Is being done.

STUART: And supported by a conversation on Hive. I believe there’s a Hive group called “The Great Give-back” that’s involved in supporting the Paiute people.

SIMONE: Yeah, that’s another great example. So the project itself existed before Hive, or outside of Hive. Kitten from Comfort & Joy went to do this work and stayed six weeks with the Pyramid Paiute and volunteered and listened to what the needs were. And then he needed some kind of virtual home. And a relative of his is very active, who he had brought a few years earlier to the Burn for the first time, she’s excited about all things Burning Man, and she’s very active on Hive. And when she heard about his project, she said, “You need to come to Hive and create your group here.” And so that’s how “The Great Give-back” found its virtual home on Hive. 

But I wanted to answer the question also about what we can do to cross-fertilize. I think one of the things that we do best as Burners is work on projects together. One I’ve personally experienced, you mentioned this, the Cultural Direction Setting project, which had camp leads from all kinds of different camps, artists and staff. And us working together was the highlight. These connections and learning from each other was the highlight for many people. They had just never, a lot of Burners don’t connect outside of their tribe.

STUART: Right.

SIMONE: Outside of their camp community. And when they get to do it, they get really excited about it. And I think also, you mentioned we’ve done more listening as an organization, in the “listen and learn focus group” and study that was one of the main things that came up over and over again, where people wanted to connect more outside of their tribe. I think Hive provides a place for that to where we gather people around interests around topics, around courses, around, you know, just in different spaces and they can connect. 

STUART: So let’s talk a little bit more about the individual work. I love that cross connection. And I think that is something that I’ve seen in the Burning Man community. It always yields more than one might expect, more than the sum of its parts. But, Shirley, you talk about, you mentioned something called the growing edge. What do you mean by that?

SHIRLEY: Well, it’s that place where we have the greatest amount of learning or growth or sort of like the edge of where we’ve experienced discomfort. So if you think about what is it that you’re afraid of or you’re avoiding or don’t want to deal with, that’s often our growing edge. That’s where our learning can take place, our growth. The metaphor comes from Howard Thurman who was a 20th century mystic. And he was a spiritual director for Martin Luther king and others in the movement, in the Civil Rights movement. And he likes the plant Ivy because it grows it and sort of extends itself out.

And he says, “Look well to the growing edge,” which is the point of where we have our most and best opportunity for change both in ourselves and to be able to impact or influence the world. So if I have a fear of writing or speaking, that’s where I have to go, that’s my growing edge, for example. Or if the issue of working with groups who are different than myself and really learning from them, and listening and not being afraid of people who are different from me or don’t look like me, that’s my growing edge. Going to Burning Man was my growing edge, frankly.

STUART: That was in 2013. And how was that for you? How did you feel out there? I’ll ask it specifically. How does it feel as a woman of color out there in a very, very white kind of a city?

SHIRLEY: I really enjoyed myself a lot. It taught me a lot about who I was. It happened because I said in a meeting where Harley DuBois was that there are no black people who go to Black Rock City. And she challenged me. I didn’t know what I was talking about. And she challenged me and said, “Why don’t you come and see for yourself?” And I took her up on that challenge and I went, and I knew I’d be okay because I trusted her and I knew that she would make me feel welcome and at home, and she did. 

But the issue, my growing edge was being in a group as a woman of color with over 70,000 white people in the desert. I mean, that was scary on some level, not so much a conscious level, but that kind of internal thing based on my own life experiences and upbringing. That I’m like what, anything could happen to me, but I knew I’d be okay because Harley was my host and that is true. And I learned a lot. It was wonderful, I’ve never, I’ll never forget it. It was a wonderful experience.

STUART: Simone, I’m going to ask you. What brought you to the Playa in the first place and what was your experience being out there?

SIMONE: So my first Burn was in 2016. I had just gone through a divorce and was rediscovering my own self-expression and power and being curious. I had many friends who went to Burning Man, but in July, I think, I met somebody. We talked about a course that he wanted to do that I had done, and he invited me. So I Sparklepony-ed my first year through, and I actually met my husband, my now husband in a dust storm. Our son is turning three soon and the second year I joined an art car crew. The third year I helped my camps through some really difficult conflict to split up in pods and have more radical self-expression in their pods. That was my Burner story, or is, and I can’t wait to get back.

STUART: Here, here, Black Rock City in 2022. Here we go.

You are both skilled facilitators. And I know from experience that sometimes these conversations about inclusion can get a little bit hot for people because people are experiencing very strong emotions around it. Do you have any guidelines or any ground rules you’ll throw down for people to help them navigate those difficult waters?

SHIRLEY: For sure. I have been consulting with a lot of groups lately. And when I was working in diversity, one of the things I did was create guidelines or principles or agreements that people need to follow.

One of them is not to blame, shame, or attack. One of them: always use “I,” messages. Speak from the self, as opposed to the royal we.

STUART: That’s one that’s been very helpful around Burning Man too, just on the organizational level, we try to practice that one.

SHIRLEY: I find that people are reluctant to use them until there’s a problem. And then people turn to them. And one of my challenges is to get people to put them in place before there’s a problem, be proactive. And so that when a problem occurs, you can turn to them without making it seem that somebody has created a problem that is causing you to utilize them. That it’s an agreement that we all have from the start. And we just remind people of them when we need them.

SIMONE: And if I can just add a couple, because Shirley, like I’ve adopted these principles from Shirley because I found them so helpful. Another one is ‘calling people in rather than out.’

STUART: What does that mean?

SIMONE: It means to lean in, to get curious about, “Hey, tell me more about this,” rather than saying, “Hey, you’re doing that.” Because most likely when something triggers you in somebody else, you might be doing that too. So that I found really helpful. 

And the other one is really committing to courageous conversations, which means you have to stay engaged. You can’t just slap somebody in the face with some feedback and then walk away. You have to stay and receive the response and then stay in the conversation. That’s the only way to figure it out. There are no rules for this. We just have to be in the conversation.

SHIRLEY: The thing about calling people in rather than out is, we don’t want to demonize people we disagree with. That happens all the time, and it precludes the possibility of change or growth in that person, when we’ve already labeled them, stereotyped them, put them in a box. So calling people in, the way Simone just described, is a way of avoiding that demonization process.

SIMONE: Yeah. So if I can give an example, like one way we do that on Hive is we have community agreements on Hive. They’re like right there, when you join, you see them. When you’re actually becoming a member of Hive, you agree to abide by the community agreements, which is how we want to distinguish ourselves from Facebook and from the name-calling that happens there.

And so when we see somebody transgressing from the agreements by engaging in heated conversations that are going a little bit off, we don’t just block people or expel them, we engage with them. We actually call them up. We say, “Hey, would you have a 15 minute conversation with us?”

It only happened a few times, but every time people were like, “Oh, I learned some things. Thank you.” And we don’t think we know it all so we also learn something.

STUART: Yeah. Calling someone out kind of ends the conversation on a hard note for both parties. It tends to make the person who was called out angry and want to walk away, and the person who did the calling dismissive, right? So I see that. What else can we do in our conversations to be more compassionate and courteous and loving with each other?

SHIRLEY: Well, another one that requires sometimes a little explanation is ‘going in rather than on.’ I find from myself sometimes I avoid saying the hard thing. So I just kind of talk more, you know, rather than just saying it; This thing, you know, this is painful, this is my experience. And I’m going to share that because that makes me vulnerable and that’s scary.

So rather than taking, as someone said earlier that courageous step and putting it out there, we go on. And so one of the principles is to go in to just speak your truth, be vulnerable, open up. What we’re sharing is probably where the group as a whole needs to go, or would be helpful to others, but it takes courage to go in. It’s easy to go.


STUART: To go on and on and on, like I do sometimes. But no, I hear ya. Simone, did you want to add to that?

SIMONE: Yeah. One more is being humble and accepting that even my best intentions can sometimes hurt somebody. And that just because I’ve hurt somebody, I’m not a bad person or just because somebody is seen as a good person, they can still mess up and that’s okay. We’re all human. And we all have many, many selves, many sides to ourselves.

SHIRLEY: And the way we say that is the difference between intent and impact. So it may land wrong, even if our intent was positive.

SIMONE: Yeah. There’s a good friend of mine. Actually, the camp lead who invited me to the burn, he is part of a men’s community and they practice what they call “Oops and Ouch.” 

STUART: Tell me more!

SIMONE: So, Oops is like, you can mess up. There can be an oops and you can be the person who committed the oops, going to the person you’ve committed it with and try and make it good.

But you can also experience an ouch, something that hurts you, and be the one to go to the person you’ve experienced that with. So the goal is healing and conversation. And it’s not like, Who’s right, and who should apologize when… like whoever notices it should try and clean it up. 

STUART: Oh, that’s beautiful.

SHIRLEY: We also have some questions that we like to ask that get people thinking more deeply. One is “What space do I take up? Am I centering myself?” Another one is “Am I denying my own reality?” And “Am I denying the reality of others?” That’s a big one. Often people say I didn’t experience any racism, I didn’t have any problems, but that doesn’t mean others don’t. So even if that’s true, in my instance, or in someone else’s instance, we can’t speak for others. We have to honor the reality of everyone and only that individual or that group can talk about what their reality is.

One of the things I think we need to do collectively in the Burner world, as in others, commit to reading, learning, and growing. Know about the community you live in. Know the history of that community, the oppression that may have been experienced in that community. Don’t be naive and assume that everybody again has had the experience you’ve had. I think we tend to want to help without knowing the circumstances that people find themselves in and the history of those circumstances.

I’ll say finally, in the work that I do, there was a woman who was a trainer, and she said that we need to have an analysis of how people and why people are sick or poor or in the conditions or situations they’re in. And without having an analysis, we do more harm than good when we show up and try to help.

STUART: That takes me back mentally to Burners Without border who learned that as a practice, to not go into a neighborhood like with the white SUV’s of your typical NGO and say “We have the answers” to you, but to sit down and ask people what it is they need, and to base it on those needs.

So, Shirley, earlier you said that of the 10 ingredients mapping to the 10 Principles, I think I did hear you say that seven mapped pretty cleanly. And I’m just curious, what are the other three?

SHIRLEY: The others I’m not saying don’t, I’m just not aware of it. One is a philosophy or a belief that guides one is a connection to elders, ancestors that teach. And one is a gratitude of thankfulness that renews.

SIMONE: And we did find some Burner examples for these.

SHIRLEY: Particularly the connection to elders and ancestors. I think that Burning Man is very intergenerational, and you look to the founders and the founders seek guidance from some other principals, I’m not sure what they are, but I’ve heard you mentioned them, Simone. But, Larry had had a philosophy that he took from somewhere else.

STUART: Well, I’ll jump in it. It was actually based on observation of the community after its first 15 years or so, and some of those speak very directly to what you’re talking about from is gifting, which implies a generosity of spirit.

But the intergenerational thing, you know, looking with respect to elders and those who came before you, I think that’s a big issue right now. And maybe that’s just, I’m speaking for myself having been around this. A lot of times and looking at all the people coming up. It’s an interesting challenge to me to see how we can keep that throughline. Because on the one hand, we’ve gone to great lengths to not tell people what Burning Man is, so they have their own experience. So people of each generation tend to think that it’s their thing, and that’s good. But at the same time, I think we do kind of risk losing some of that older wisdom.

So yeah, I looked at some of those multi-generational Burner families for inspiration. But, it’s pretty easy to come up, show up, and after two or three burns say, “This is my thing. I know what Burning Man is,” without being aware of the history. So that’s actually a big part of the work that I do is trying to keep that alive. Simone?

SIMONE: Yeah. And that’s actually something Shirley and I, you know, we’ve developed a friendship over this work together this past year. And something that we’ve discovered as a shared passion to build in the intergenerational communities. I’m a young mom who doesn’t have family around. I have community, but I don’t have family here. So there’s something we’re cooking up around intergenerational connection using the principles of Beloved Community.

SHIRLEY: And I’m really, I’m a Baby Boomer. I like to say I’m the tip of the spear of Baby Boomers. I’m the first to go into that group, in terms of retirement, based on my birth year. And I feel Baby Boomers, because we’re such a large cohort, can do a lot of good in the world. We have resources. We have time. We have a consciousness that’s committed to service. And so I feel like Baby Boomers can be that tip of the spear to help usher in a Beloved Community in our midst.

And I don’t think we can do it alone. Nobody can do it alone. Doing it in conjunction with other cohorts like Millennials or GenX-ers or whatever we want to name, can get us to the goal a lot faster.

STUART: Well speaking from the dragging edge of the Baby Boom myself, I agree with you completely. I want to talk a little bit about… You are both educators, and I understand that you are not developing this in a classic curriculum development mode, where we would identify learning objectives and knowledge and skills and attitudes. You’re letting it sort of more take shape on its own. Tell me more about that process.

SIMONE: Yeah. We want to let it develop organically. That’s a good way of putting it. So we’re kind of taking it slow. We want to actually co-create some of the material. We’re putting out posts on Hive. Each post has a description of the ingredient, some examples and it ends with a question that people can contribute to, because we want to see how these ingredients are really lived in Burner culture, in the Burner context, and develop the course from that – or develop whatever comes after from that. 

Some of these questions we’re noticing are quite deep and people pause on them. And so we’re probably soon going to invite a live conversation. Some people prefer to write their feelings, some people prefer to speak about them. And it probably will develop into a course, but we would love to have this developed people’s live examples, so the content, how we create Beloved Community within Burning Man culture, becomes something that is co-created.

SHIRLEY: Yeah, we want to make it relevant to the Burner community. I think Beloved Community is an idea whose time has come. There’s a lot in the world now about Beloved Community, more and more. I think the need is even greater because of the society that’s so contentious and so hostile and so angry. People are seeking something to hold onto, something that’s hopeful and positive. And we don’t want to define it. We want to say, “Here is a definition to consider,” but we’d like for people to embrace it and make it their own by putting in their own examples, their own definitions, their own material. Then all together, I think we’ll have a richness and a comprehensiveness that a wide variety of people can relate to. 

STUART: Beautiful.

SHIRLEY: I think it’s richer and deeper when we get feedback. For example, I have a vision and I talk about where my vision came from. It came from when I was 17 and on my way to college, and I heard Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, give the “I have a dream” speech. I was in my living room, and I heard that speech and it moved me so deeply. It changed me. I believe that was my turning point when I committed my life to Social Justice. And I went off to college and didn’t know what I was going to major in, but I knew I wanted to do Civil Rights and Social Justice work. Back then it was called “Civil Rights.” And I kept that vision alive, although after graduation, I went into education. I found my way back to anti-racism work, working for a corporate foundation and later for a nonprofit. 

So that was the turning point for me. And I asked others, we collectively ask others, what is the vision that inspires you? We want to hear about those visions and their other visions, and at some point maybe collect enough of them so that people can, can look to that as a way to seek guidance. Because sometimes we don’t know it at the time that this is the moment that will change your life forever. We look back on it and we realize it. So we’d like to help people recognize it earlier, if possible.

STUART: So true. You never know what moment you’re in until after you’re out of it.

SHIRLEY: Exactly.

STUART: Simone, what draws you to this work personally? What’s the working paper for your life?

SIMONE: My moment when I committed to the work I’m doing was I was a youth delegate at the World Summit of Sustainable Development in South Africa, and I ended up in Soweto on a project called The Mountain of Hope, which Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary called “the real summit,” where a group brought together kids from Soweto and the international delegates from the UN Summit.

They just were so good at dissolving all the boundaries. There was an age boundary that was an economic… You know, there were all these like different class, skin color, like all the things that – the isms – that divide us. And after an hour and a half or so, there was just love in this tent, and I didn’t know at that point yet what they were doing, how they were doing it, I was just in it. But I, in that moment, I told myself, this is what I want to dedicate my life to, to creating spaces where people can just experience that in the end, we are all connected. We all need each other. And we all rise together or fall together, to be a little bit dramatic here. That was my moment, and I’ve pursued that since then in different ways.

STUART: It’s beautiful. Shirley, you mentioned earlier that reading is sometimes part of personal work and I’m a huge reader. I just finished a wonderful book about the native people of California called “We Are The Land.” I’m just wondering if either of you have a book recommendation for our audience, something you might’ve ran across recently, or that really moved you related to this.

SHIRLEY: Well, I always like to recommend Ibram Kendi’s book “How To Be An Anti-racist.” 

STUART: Yeah, that’s fantastic.

SHIRLEY: I think that’s a really good, pretty straight forward book. I think sometimes we’re steeped in the academic jargon and lingo, and sometimes we just need some basic narrative storytelling or examples. So that’s a good start if people want to understand more deeply about racism. 

I think a lot of the books that have a different narrative, a counter narrative, to the way we tell the story about the United States is really important, whether it’s “A People’s History.” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has a great book, another one, but her first book about Latin American history and culture. I just think the more we can learn and know about the people we’re living with that surround us, that are connected to us, the better, because we have a version of history that we’ve all been taught that’s somewhat inaccurate, frankly. 

STUART: You think so?

SHIRLEY: Yeah. I want to be kind, but it’s a little inaccurate.

STUART: Yes. Having grown up in California and being subjected to the fourth grade curriculum of how wonderful the Missions were, and building my little Mission model out of sugar cubes, yeah, that was… By the way, that’s finally been removed from the curriculum after many, many years.


SIMONE: Well, the book that moved me most was “My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem. And mostly because it is showing, it taught me that, because I was getting to a point thinking like, “So are people who are displaying racism then evil?” What? That just didn’t fit into my worldview.

And what he’s suggesting instead is that racism comes from trauma, and trauma can be healed, and trauma resides in the body. So we need to be doing less thinking work and more embodied work to help our bodies metabolize some of the knee jerk reactions that we have to, you know, a black person crossing the street and a woman clenching her purse. Those are knee-jerk reactions that come from the body. I found that fascinating. I’ve worked a lot with his work since then. The book has like 500 different signs in it, and I use it in my work a lot.

STUART: Look at that. It’s covered with post-it notes!

SIMONE: It is.

STUART: Anything else you’d like to add while we’re still together? It’s been great. I know I can’t imagine the questions ahead of time, so.

SHIRLEY: You asked great questions. Your questions were thoughtful and just at the right time. When we started to wind down, you had another good question for us. So I thought it went great. 

STUART: Alright!

SHIRLEY: Well, I just say I find this to be a really great honor to do this work with Burning Man. When I first encountered the Burning Man ideal, I thought there’s a connection between what Burning Man is about and Beloved Community, and it was more of an intuitive thought than a concrete set of examples.

And because I’ve been involved with Burning Man more recently, I’ve been able to see it and to identify what those connections are. I’m particularly pleased and proud and excited about the anti-racism pledge. I feel like that was a courageous thing to do. I think that’s a leadership role to play, and Burning Man is taking a lead in really helping to create change on a large scale. And I think that’s what’s needed these days. So I’m grateful to be connected to Burning Man.

SIMONE: And I’m grateful for this space, I feel very inspired after this conversation. Even more than before I’m grateful for working with you, Shirley. It’s been wonderful connecting and learning from you. I hope that the Burners who will listen to this, I hope that Beloved Community is a framework that resonates for people more than maybe “anti-racism,” that they will feel like it’s for them and take it on and do something with it and live into this process that we all are in.

STUART: And I am grateful to both of you for joining me today on this podcast. So Simone, if people want to experience or join the Beloved Community community on Hive, what’s the URL again?

SIMONE: Hive, HIVE.burningman.org, and you log in with your Burner Profile username and password.

STUART: All right. And if you don’t have a Burner Profile, well, go to profiles.burningman.org and you can set one up. But I’m sure there’s a gateway in there too. All right. Thanks again so much for joining me. It’s been wonderful and thanks to all of you for listening. And I think that’s a show.

This podcast is an in-house production of Burning Man Project, purveyors of fine pop-up cities, transformative environments and weird, crazy shit in the desert since 1986. We’re a nonprofit, so if you’ve got a little extra change rattling around between your couch cushions, send it on over to donate.burningman.org. Thank you very much.

Thanks to everyone who helped put this episode together. Thanks again to our guests, to you, our listeners. This week’s introduction featured the vocal stylings of the fabulous Brinkley, aka Christy Neufeld. Thanks, Vav. Thanks, Andie. And, as always, thanks Larry.