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What We Owe Each Other: At the Heart of Community with Mia Birdsong

According to this week’s guest, “the word community has been co-opted to something that is a lie.” While we might have a shared convention of community, when we use the word, our differences begin to rise to the surface. Our language is littered with words like this — family, culture, and yes, community — words that require us to stop, reflect, and ask: “when you use these words, to whom are you referring?”

We’re talking about Mia Birdsong: pathfinder, community curator, and storyteller, who steadily engages the leadership and wisdom of people experiencing injustice to chart new visions of American life. You may have seen her TED Talk (‘The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True’), or read her book (How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community), or listened to her podcast (More than Enough), but if you haven’t, you will surely want to after listening to this week’s conversation. She has an extraordinary gift for leveraging the brilliance of everyday people so that our collective gifts reach larger spheres of influence, cultural and political change, and create well-being for everyone. 

We take on the concept of community, and the challenges and lack of clarity in the words we use. We talk about how a culture of self-reliance and a system of oppression have become hurdles for forming community. We talk about the differences between independence and interdependence. We talk about the dangers of whiteness in society, and why now, more than ever, we need a new white culture to prevail. 

As much as this is a dialogue about the disparity between bodies, it is also a celebration of potential. The pandemic has done much to pull back the veil on the inherent lack that exists in communities adjacent to privilege. As Mia says, while there is a pull to revert to whatever we experienced as “normal” before the pandemic, we have an opportunity and an obligation to one another to test our understanding of our language of community, of family, of culture, of friendship, all in an effort to balance the scales long tilted against color and poverty. 

Our thanks to Mia Birdsong for her courage, her activism, and her time to share with us this week. 

Links & Notes

  • (00:00) – Welcome to Mission Forward
  • (03:25) – Introducing Mia Birdsong
This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they’re all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.
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