From left: Meena Hussain, Amanda Cooper, Isobel White, and Trina Stout at the Othering & Belonging Conference.
From left: Meena Hussain, Amanda Cooper, Isobel White, and Trina Stout at the Othering & Belonging Conference.

We’re still buzzing from last month’s Othering & Belonging Conference in Oakland. 

We joined fellow communicators alongside researchers, community leaders, policymakers, and artists to discuss the latest ideas and strategies for building inclusive communities. 

LightBox Senior Partner Amanda Cooper was curious to learn more having heard about the Othering & Belonging Institute and the convening for years. And she found it to be a fresh change from conferences that are more focused on particular issues or skills.

“What makes this conference stand out is that it’s a really interesting group of people all gathered together around one big idea.”

One Big Idea

That one big idea is “othering and belonging,” an innovative framework developed by the Othering & Belonging Institute under the leadership of Professor john a. powell. It’s a set of values, practices, principles and tools that can be used to design and advance institutions, narratives, and policies that support a more fully inclusive “we.” And it cuts across discipline, identity, issue area, and national borders. 

Amanda explains: 

“We don’t need to make everyone the same to create belonging, but we can acknowledge–even celebrate–our differences while also forging bonds around what we do have in common, co-creating plans for our futures and striving for a place where we all feel held in belonging.” 

Belonging Without Othering: a Global Frame

LightBox Collaborator Isobel White shares her reflections on the global implications of the conference: “With the war in Gaza heavy on my mind, I was heartened to hear from people who have been involved in peace processes around the world, grappling together on belonging without othering as a global frame and a collective aspiration.”

“I left feeling inspired that it is possible to aspire to belonging—not by papering over our differences, not by seeing difference as threatening, but by remembering our shared humanity. As one of the speakers said, ‘Our goal is not to avoid the really tough conversations that are necessary for repair—it is to create the conditions to be able to have them. It does not require that we agree. It requires that we hold each other’s humanity sacred.’”

Our Role as Communicators 

When asked what role communicators can play in fostering belonging, Isobel offers: “One way that stands out is by recognizing when a narrative might lead to more division rather than more connection. For instance, narratives of individual achievement against all odds do not help us build the structures and systems that would create more safety and belonging for all.”

Creating a Greater Story of “We”

“I really like the framing device of ‘expanding the circle of human concern,’” adds Amanda. 

“It’s academic language, but the idea that the path to a better world, without war and genocide, where people have homes and healthcare, is to help people and policymakers expand their focus on who needs our attention. It’s easy to imagine what changes would come if we made the circle of human concern big enough to truly encompass those who are suffering outside of it. And it’s also telling that while we say we care for people, when you look at the evidence of how we behave, that circle feels very small. I think it’s a powerful concept that communicators can use.”

Panel Highlights

LightBox Collaborator Meena Hussain shares how moving she found keynote speakers’ messages: “The keynote by Ruth Wilson Gilmore was incredible. She shared her vision for building a future where care and restorative justice are the norm, and shared many examples of how that is happening currently across the globe.”

Meena reflects further on the panel discussions: “The final days’ panel Collective Memory, Identity, Trauma, and Belonging with author Naomi Klein, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Palestinian historian Sherene Seikaly—facilitated by OBI’s Cecilie Surasky—was an incredible digestion of the trauma of immigration and how the current genocide in Palestine will impact a new generation of immigrants. They also discussed the current state of Zionism and its impact today.”

Watch the Panels Online

You can view all of the conference’s plenary talks here.

Take Free Classes

Othering & Belonging Institute recently launched OBI University, a free learning hub and community that draws from the knowledge and wisdom of academic researchers and frontline communities, scientists and artists, organizers and changemakers. Register here