Meet Jorge Salazar, our new Project Director

Last week Inner Activist faculty, Camille Dumond, sat down to interview Jorge in advance of his official start date, January 5, 2017. Here is what she learned.

Camille: Jorge, tell us a bit about yourself, particularly what perspectives and community connections have informed the approach you are bringing to the Inner Activist.

Jorge: The past 15 years I have been working in various communities. They have been quite diverse. I’ve been very privileged. There was a time I worked a lot with Indigenous people, and the last five years have been particularly with refugees and immigrants. I’ve also worked with street-involved people and people with disabilities. All of these spaces and relationships have helped me learn a lot, and I continue to learn a lot. In that regard, I will try to bring that learning with me.

The thing with all of these experiences and relationships is the deeper we go, the more questions we have, and the more we have to learn. A lot of my work has been with marginalized people so a lot of my learning has been about what it means to have conversations about power with communities that are marginalized. 

In terms of organizations, I’ve been very privileged. I’ve worked for the government, NGOs, research-type organizations, and most recently a community foundation. So I’ve had the inside view into what it is to be a funder and build those relationships and understand power dynamics from that perspective.

I would hope there would be an opportunity to continue building relationships with as many of the communities I have already connected to as possible, and bridge whatever relationships I can from these spaces with the Inner Activist communities that already exist. 

These are some of the perspectives I will bring to the Inner Activist moving forward.

Camille: Why do you think the training the Inner Activist provides is needed in the world right now?

Jorge: Well, first off the name – Inner Activist. I know I need to do a lot of Inner work. I have been really reflecting on my impact and personal growth in the past few years. So I am hungry for the language and the process work that comes from one person working on their individual growth, and at the same time as we continue to build this collective. We can see the craving the world has for a more just world. I think the IA is the best place for me to continue this work. Bringing together the Inner and the outer.

Camille: You are speaking to that polarity we are trying to bring together in our courses - between inner experiences and outer realities. How the outer world impacts us, and how following and valuing our inner experiences can help us change the outer world. Bringing awareness to where we are focused, at any given moment, may be too much in either direction. 

Jorge: Yes! The last five years I have been trying to reflect on my balance. Partly because I have children, but also because I need to make sure I am there for community in a good way. Sometimes when we are too overworked, not having that balance takes away from what you can offer.

The conversations I have had about self-care also have a lot to do with privilege. From the dominant culture, I see a lot more people connected to self-care who are privileged. I struggle with that – how can you take care of yourself when you have lots to do.

Camille: The US election has highlighted the polarities, xenophobia, suffering and us/them politics which exists in the world. For you, where does the Inner Activist fit into that kind of world, the world we are living in right now?

Jorge: One thing I would encourage us to reflect on, is for people who come from a more “progressive” sector, to take a moment of self-reflection. It feels like a bit of a crisis. I agree that we need to take a stand in support of the people who will be targeted by this administration. At the same time, I encourage people, particularly who are from the institutionalized progressive sector, to ask how much of this has been created by us. Then we can reflect on how to stop the patterns that exist and cause people to be excluded, even through the language of inclusivity.

I come from the South. For me, it is really hard to see the difference between political parties when they have both done terrible things. I would encourage us all, even though we are working on being inclusive, to look at how we can strengthen the sector that is working on social justice by recognizing the pieces of the work where we have excluded others. I think this is the focus. 

Camille: Can you speak to how your own life experiences, history or ancestry has informed how you come to this work and why it is such a big passion for you?

Jorge: My parents have a lot to do with who I am. In many ways they are still my biggest mentors. Both of them were social activists. My father was one of the leaders of a human rights organization in Medellin, the city we are from. My mother worked with women’s organizations and contributed a lot to organizing around feminism in the region. They are like a walking library! They read so much and know so much. Because of that my father was also targeted by the extreme right-wing paramilitary group in Columbia, so we had to leave the country.

They both have been my strongest pillars, hardest critics and biggest supporters as I learned a new language, built my social networks and got into community work. I made a lot of mistakes on my journey and know I need to continue my learning, particularly about my privileged position as a heterosexual male. I know my own learning will never end. We always have blind spots. My parents have been helpful and remind me to check myself.

Camille: I really appreciate your humility here, and as you answered that last question part of me was relieved. Because we make a lot of mistakes at Inner Activist too! Part of bringing together activists is understanding the changes we each need to make to really learn and grow together.

Jorge: Absolutely! If there is one thing we can almost know for certain when we are doing the work, we are sure to make mistakes because where we are going - the tremendous complexity of the issues we are tackling are pretty deep!

And sometimes, when people open their minds to learning they see there is so much going on it can be immobilizing. Particularly coming from people of privilege. I've seen this happen to white people who want to work on antiracism. They don't say anything and they don't get involved because they know they are going to screw up, so they step back and don't say anything. The work comes when we open the space to them to try their best, and be open to messing up because there really is no other way. We are going deep into complexity. We can't allow it to be immobilizing.

Camille: It's like we are trying to create an environment where there is enough room for truth and messing up that people can learn and grow with the freedom to make mistakes, and process that together otherwise you just stay frozen.

Jorge: Yes. I've been thinking about this a lot. It's also about balance. Accountability has to be present. We can't create spaces for learning at the expense of other people's pain. So that's where we need to start learning where the balance is and where it needs to grow.

Camille: This is an ongoing conversation we have as faculty within the container of each Inner Activist program.  How do we create space to deeply witness each other, dialogue, express strong truths, bring in what has been devalued -  and do this in a way that holds everyone’s dignity without retraumatizing or recreating cycles of oppression.

Ok! I have one more question. What is your vision for the future of the Inner Activist and how do you see the project's role in supporting change makers?

Jorge: I think I need to do a lot of the learning before I can speak to this directly. I really want to learn from you, from the other faculty, staff and volunteers. From everyone in the Inner Activist.

One of the things I could share, I look forward to learning from what has been built and what I can do to complement this learning from the spaces I have been in. I know there is always room for all of us to learn. I am both excited and scared because this is probably the biggest task. Finding that balance between what already exists and bringing in other elements related to relationships, approaches, funding, and all that stuff. I want to first come and do some deep listening, and after that I will feel more confident to articulate more of a vision.

Camille: I am so excited you are joining us.

Jorge: Me too! It's huge! It's huge! Both the job is huge, but also moving on from where I am right now.