This new episode features South Carolina-based, transformation activist Drisana (Dru) McDaniel. Dru is a co-founder of the Transformative Teaching Collective, a worker-owned cooperative which promotes social justice education. She designs and facilitates customized workshops that awaken and enable intergroup dialogue to advance Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In this conversion, Dru also talks about her approach centred around contemplation and spirituality to facilitate dialogue on social issues, through her consulting practice for Cultural Transformation ‘The Alchemy of Now’. Listen to her story.
At the end of the show, the guests share a sneak preview into their favourite music or books by answering the same set of questions. Here are the links to Dru’s answers. The books she is currently reading are Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred by M. Jacqui Alexander, and Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim. The music that particularly resonated with her at a specific time in her life is ‘A Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane. Her all-time favourite band that she absolutely recommends is Moonchild.
Here are some additional useful links. In case you wish to have more information on the Transformative Teaching Collective you can visit their website. You can also learn more about Dru’s expert consulting practice ‘The Alchemy of Now’ on her website.
My name is Claire Murigande, I am your host on this show. And my goal is to amplify social impact by bringing you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people who are making extraordinary social impact within their communities all around the world. So if you're looking for a programme that showcases unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society, and at the same time you want to get inspired to take action, then this podcast is definitely for you. My first guest this November is Drisana McDaniel, or as she likes to be called Dru McDaniel. Dru is a transformation activist based in Charleston, South Carolina. She co founded the Transformative Teaching Collective, a worker owned cooperative, which promotes social justice education. She also funded her consulting practice for cultural transformation. In today's discussion, Dru talks about her approach, centred around contemplation and spirituality to address social issues. Do take a moment to rate and review our show on your preferred podcast listening app. But right now, listen to Dru's story, and how she transforms to create sustainable change with her workshops. Hi, Drew, welcome to the show.
Hi thanks for having me.
I'm really, really thrilled to have you on the show today, and to have this conversation around social justice education. But before we jump into the conversation, I'd like to hand it over to you and let you introduce yourself. What would you like our listeners to know about you?
So one of the ways that I always introduce myself is, as a mother, worker, activist, I am the parent of three people, Isaiah, Indigo, and Inanna. And I work as a race equity injustice facilitator for a small boutique consulting firm and I'm an activist. And so what that means is that I act for meaningful change in multiple ways in my life, and all of those parts and pieces of who I am, are equally important. There's no one role that I take more seriously than the other, they all go together and inform each other. I grew up in an Air Force family, so we lived all over. So we started out as born in Biloxi, Mississippi. And we were in California, the first eight years of my life. We lived in Denver, Colorado, we moved to Germany, lived there for four years and had the great opportunity of travelling all over Europe, playing basketball and running track. And then we landed in Charleston in 1993. Where I went to high school for a couple of years and one year of college, then I moved to Atlanta for a long time. And all of that's really important. Growing up that way really had a huge influence on how I see the world and how I saw the world and, and even now as I look back at the work that I do. Landing in Charleston was one of the most painful and abrupt rude awakenings ever, it was highschool, walking into the lunchroom at the high school I attended and seeing segregation manifest before my eyes, you know, all the white kids sitting on one side, all the Black Kids sitting on the other side of the cafeteria. And I was just struck by how strange that was, and also how I didn't really know where to sit. And not because I didn't know I was black. It's because, you know, everything else that I was doing at the school, from the classes I was attending to the team that was playing on were very much cross racial. It's very painful to not have that sort of international, multicultural lunch table that I was used to growing up in a military family. And so like I said that before, and a lot of work that I do now just because I was feeling that pain and then moving to a place like Atlanta where I'd say there's 8000 ways to be black and then returning to Charleston with a sense of work to do. A sense of purpose and work to do. So now, yeah, I live in the Charleston area and work from home most of the time, but also I facilitate in person now if things are opening up again, which is really exciting. And also I study as well. So I am a parent, I work and I study. I attend the California Institute of integral studies where I'm studying women, gender, spirituality and social justice.
So going back to your work and what you do in Charleston. So as I said before, you are the co founder of the Transformative Teaching Collective so can you tell me how that all started? What drove you exactly to be part of that collective and to become a co-founder?
It was actually Cage Brian's idea and Cage is a dear friend who I met when I returned to university in my 30s, here at the College of Charleston. Cage taught a class with Dr. O, they taught a class on critical dialogue on race, gender, and diversity. I took that class my last semester before graduating, and it changed my life. The idea that we could come together to discuss important topics that were really contemplated across differences was really therapeutic for me. Like I said, I sort of had that awakening years prior. And there was just this 'aha moment' of like, oh, we can do something about this. And so the Transformative Teaching Collective was founded. We're horizontally organised cooperatives, so we're really all co founders. I started working with it early on, it was a few of us. And basically, we all apply our graduate level training and expertise in fields of social justice, political science, nursing, spiritual studies, and more. And we come from different ethnic groups, different racialization, genders, sexual orientations, ages, spirituality.
So you said that you're actually horizontally organised. So can you tell me exactly how you interact together? And how is your structure?
What that means is there's no hierarchy at all. There's no director. That's why I said, we're all co founders, we're co members is a cooperative collective, we all are out in the world. And we all have careers, professionals, some folks are executive directors of nonprofits, some folks are professors, we even have a PA in our group. We do all kinds of work. And what we do is when we get the opportunity, and someone approaches us about work, we come together and decide who has the time and space to do this work, to take on this project. And they just cooperatively design for the project that's coming up and get on the line and meet with the folks and talk about what they want to customise something for them together. And in our co-op, also, we give back. So everything that we earn goes into a collective collection. So no matter what kind of work we're doing. We're constantly pouring back into the co-op funding from our work, I think the entire world should work that way. Where there is no power structure, where we are constantly collaborating and co-creating, and just growing together.
So what is it exactly that you do? What do you offer the communities and how has your work been welcomed?
What we do is we co create dialogue centred Social Justice Education. We create spaces where communities can examine social identities and social systems. And think and learn and discover self knowing and collective knowing together. We educate against oppression through relationship building, conflict resolution, and our work is grounded in healing and transformative justice. Early on, quarterly we would create community events to create opportunities for folks to come together to experience what it is like to engage in Intergroup Dialogue, we would organise questions for our group, create a structure, break bread, and sit together and just connect on meaningful questions. And what happens with Intergroup Dialogue that I think is different from sort of having these really scripted agendas? The surprise element is the unearthing of the unknown. It's planting a question and thinking through it out loud. It's not having the prepared answers. And so it's been really well received, actually, in light of the last couple of years and this critical unearthing that we're in the midst of. There's been a lot of work we've had with different organisations. So we've worked with colleges, college students, we've worked with educators, public school educators, public school psychologists. We've worked with community groups, really we've worked with all kinds of different organisations. And like I said, we'll meet with them and get a sense of what they're looking for, and customise something to support their goal. And I say in South Carolina in particular, I can remember in the beginning it wasn't always comfortable work, you know, we had a couple of spaces where I feel like the work was abruptly stopped due to incredible discomfort. But most of the communities that we work with have generously welcomed our work and continue to advocate for it. I think that we've also learned so much about what it is that we aim for with our work, which really is transformation. And so we also learned who we will work well with and who we won't work well with, we really are very much interested in really facilitating and holding space for transformation. And transformation takes time. It's not compliance oriented. It's certainly not about checking the box and making people feel really comfortable.
And do you have any examples or any highlights of how one project was run?
Well, there's not much that comes to mind, because they're all so different. But what I can say is the most powerful, I guess aspects of what we do is being in that space, where there's these 'aha moments', the unearthing the not known, kind of emerging for us to all hold space for and respond to. And that's, I think, the most exciting part of this. And it's really also like narrative, like really, you know, when we ask a question, you hear someone's story. And when you bear witness to that story, as a group, something happens, we come to know complexity more fully, we come to know what being human really is, that creating that container, where that can happen is really the most amazing part of the work we do.
And I can imagine this is both transformative not only for the people you're working with, but also for yourself. I mean, you personally but also your collective right. Oh, creating
The spaces with people require that even as a facilitator, you are also transparent and you are also vulnerable. There's this porosity, right? There's this way that we all practice being vulnerable. And therefore, we're changed, we're changed by the sharing. I remember early on, I emerged with what I call the vulnerability hangover. And so much of that came from being in a world where I watched other people facilitating or teaching who weren't vulnerable. Right, they were what Bell Hooks would refer to as the objectified all knowing kind of figure. They would hold their cards. And so for me, as a facilitator, I find that being incredibly transparent, and vulnerable is where that's where the magic happens, that's where the alchemy happens. That's where the transformation happens. But we don't see enough of that. And so for when I started out, I emerged afterwards, like, "Oh, my God, I can't believe! I can't believe it!" And then it was this muscle that I exercised. And it's really the way that I am now in the world in general. So yeah, there's this way that we are changed. We are changed through the process as well, because we are in the process as well.
And how does that relate to the work you do also with your practice, because I mentioned before that you have your consulting practice for cultural transformation, is that somehow different or similar to what you're doing with a collective?
So my practice is the alchemy of now. It's my baby. It's born of my own sort of contemplations and questions. But it definitely is connected to my work with the teaching collective because as a facilitator, I sort of was able to gain insight into how oppression breaks our spirits and lives inside of us. How it's different is that the act of this work that I did with the collective was very much about learning to connect these social patterns to social identity, and direct variances with oppression and inequality, I still found that social justice work lacked the depth of spiritual inquiry and practice. And that, for me, is where the alchemy of now was born which was really getting a sense of bearing witness to kind of what it was like for people to bring their narrative forward. And really being very curious about the psycho spiritual components of that so how we would think about those experiences and how we coped. And so the alchemy of now was really about going even deeper. In the traditional academy or the traditional sector, talking about spirituality is a big no, no, in my work on my own, and even actually with the collective disconnect, because we are a co-op. So even sharing our ideas were like, oh, yeah, we should be talking about things in this way. But my work is very, very much centred in contemplation of spirituality. It's bringing that element to the centre of our work. I yearned for a more integrated approach that named and included multiple dimensions of being and multiple ways of being. So that really could touch on who we were, our deep interiority, again, like how we're coping and how we're thinking. And also, I feel like my analysis really looks at how the spiritual aspects of our experiences lead us to ask that particular kind of way.
So who do you work with? And, you know, what type of workshop? Do you facilitate? Do people come to you? Or is it kind of also an extension of your collective and you have connections like this with different people? Can you tell me about that,
Like I said, I work full time, as a race, equity, injustice facilitator, I work with a collective when I can, and I parent and I study. But I say that to just be really clear about the fact that the 'alchemy of now' is something that is in development. So this past year, I was fortunate enough, I put together a series for the alchemy of now. And titled it, "we are all just walking each other home". That's the Rom Dass quote. And it's social justice and anti racism, education for therapists, mental health practitioners and social workers. And it was an eight part series. And I had the opportunity to engage with groups of folks who signed up for it, signed up for the series. And it was absolutely incredible. And I was able to fold in all of those sort of aspects of transformational education that I think to be really important into that series. So that's an example of folks I've worked with. So a part of what I really hope to do is to engage in transformational coaching. So really spending time working with folks individually, but also then creating group spaces where we can come together as well. And I'd say that a lot of, like I said, with the being in development, a lot of what I'm doing right now is a lot of writing. And so my writing, I actually have a piece that will be published in an anthology later on this summer, that really begins to kind of look at sort of the multi dimensionality that I was talking about, of our ways of being and put forward sort of a framework for how we can begin to think about the type of transformation and wholeness that we are seeking.
How do you see this type of approach evolving in terms of addressing, you know, equality, social justice, and so on? Do you think that people will be more and more open to this type of approach?
One of the things, and it's complex to speak about any benefit of the time, but with all things, there's always a factor. And so these two years, as devastating as they've been, they've also been enriching, in some ways, in that it landed us into a place of clarity to know most fully our vulnerability, and to know more fully what it is like when we experience the contrast. The contrast to what was, we all had to slow down, in a way and in slowing down, some of us were able to tap back into what was sort of unlearned out of us, and I think that this is a time for RE-membering, and I separate those words, it's a time for beginning to sort of excavate and recall and rediscover what was really most meaningful, so that we can approach our lives with a sense of integrity with a sense of that sort of wholeness. And I think that's what we're yearning for, you know, the same way that I said, that even you know, in teaching workshops, there was, I was yearning for poetry, I was yearning for moments to slow down and engage in a deeper type of contemplation. And I think that many of us are there right now. And so the opportunity is in the midst of all of this sort of unearthing is also like, oh, there's an opportunity here, you know, and we that are living here right now get to be a part of ushering in that transformation that we know, in our bones that we are in, you know, in the midst of remembering is a possibility. I think that what happens is that we recognise that this is a time of renewal, that we act as if we know that because the systems that we have been living in are entirely unsustainable. And how we work too hard for too little for too long. We begin to think about what we need to change. And so what I say there's prayer that I've been making, but what I'll say is that my hope is that we stay focused on in cultivate the ability to make peace with paradox and to really to know, radical trust when we can remember these things that we get to the root of what it is, that is there for us to learn that we find a way to live with an infinite hope, and not a hope of the mind, but a hope in action, like what do we do? Knowing what we know? How do we start to make it right, and that we focus on the province of a New Earth that we get to sort of usher in. And that takes time. And I think that is the thing that we can really take away from this. What I'm definitely constantly advocating for is more time. One of my favourite thinkers is Peter Block. He writes several books, but one of the things he says is, you know, speed is the enemy of depth. You know, and it's true, you know, depth is necessary for transformation. And I think that's our great opportunity right now. That's what people are yearning for.
Before we move to the last part, I just wanted to, you know, just leave you this stage. And is there something you want the listeners to take home from everything that you've said,
We have to focus on how we're connected, our transformation depends on shifting our perspective, and willingness to grapple with complexity. We are not just individuals, despite the fact that we have been taught that and despite the fact that we've internalised certain ideas and practices as normal, that isolated us, that separate us from each other, that implode. We have to build collectively, we need each other. And I don't mean we just need our blood family, our blood kin, I mean, we need each other, we need to reach out and talk differently than that is the alchemy. That is the alchemy of now. We need to think together and work together and contemplate together and consider what possibilities make this and we need each other for that. We each have our own unique gifts that we've come with and that's the individual part. But those gifts do nothing on their own, we need each other.
So Dru, at the end of my show, what I always do is I have this sneak preview section to know a bit more about what my guests listen to in terms of music or what books they're reading. So first question, What music are you listening to often at this time? Or what book are you reading right now?
So I am reading, Pedagogic of Crossing, meditations on feminism, sexual politics, memory and the sacred by M. Jackie Alexander. It's an anthology of profound beautiful essays. And I'm also reading Well Read Black Girl, finding our stories discovering ourselves with a gift from a friend by Gloria Edim.
Question Number Two. Is there a song or an album or perhaps even a book that was particularly special for you at a specific time in your life?
Yeah, so John Coltrane. I love "A Love Supreme". But in particular of the songs, my John Coltrane song that will always be dear to me is Naima. It's a song that he wrote with his daughter's title. And so the reason it's such an important song for me, it was the song of my first child Isaiah who is now 22. And I would always play Naima when nursing him at night.
Last question, is there a book or a piece of music that you would absolutely recommend for our listeners to look into?
I'm definitely enjoying playing Moonchild right now a lot of incredible bands, incredible, incredible bands. But I have a book. The book is called Radical Ecopsychology. And it's by Andy Fisher. And it is incredible in particular for these times, it's again thinking about how to meet this moment. And just the idea of the radical, right, it's getting to the root of our relationship between how we think, and our relationship to the environment. It's absolutely brilliant.
Dru, it's been really amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me today and for sharing your journey and your aspirations and everything that you're doing. And I hope that we will stay in touch.
Thank you. Me too. This has been fun. I appreciate you so much.
Thank you. That was episode 24. A Conversation with Dru McDaniel. I have to say that I really love this conversation. To know that people are developing methods, grounded in healing and transformative justice within communities is simply great and full of hope. As Dru explained it, this work needs to be built collectively for true social change to happen, because we are all interconnected. Thank you so much for tuning in today and listening to this new episode. I appreciate you taking the time. Join me again in two weeks for another conversation around justice with a new guest. Don't forget to follow us on social media for previews on upcoming guests, episodes, but also our new live events. Check us out on Facebook at Narratives Of Purpose on Instagram at narrativesofpurposes_podcast and on LinkedIn at Narratives of Purpose Podcast. If you liked our show, do share it within your network and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Make sure you also sign up for our newsletter on our homepage so you can stay informed about all our activities.
Until the next episode, take care of yourselves, stay well and stay inspired.