Interview with Nijeul X. Porter, ILI Core Facilitator & Design Team Member
Nijeul shared his thoughts about what he calls the “ILI Experience 2.0,” his personal reflections and his role as a model cultural leader.
Nijeul X. Porter was a participant in the first-ever ILI cohort in 2017-18. Now, as a Core Facilitator and Design Team Member, he is part of the team that organizes and runs the experience of the intensives and all throughout this second year of ILI. In between the intensives, he facilitates virtual cohort convenings and provides direct support for the participant “Learning Pods.” Learning Pods are smaller break-out teams of 4-5 program participants working together throughout their ILI Year to dive deeply into issues they identify around leadership, arts & culture and their shared mission to break oppression through a dedication to interculturality.
How does your experience as an ILI Facilitator differ from being a Fellow? What is different this year for you?
I think of this is a continuation of my fellowship year, and not a separate experience. The biggest reflection I have right now, is considering how to build a process and practice for interculturality. We are creating a shared understanding of interculturality through conversation and as we plan and design each experience we have to check ourselves every step of the way to ensure our values align to that ideal. I’ve had a number of new discoveries over time for this part of my fellowship experience.
How are you thinking about that specific process?
Process has to model product. I learned a lot between ILI Lakota and ILI Hawaii as a facilitator and designer. I had a more clear idea about what some barriers might be, in regards to our overall group dynamic. I’ve tried to always acknowledge the fact that some cultural experiences can affect the experience of follks not a part of that culture, and to bring the conversation back to the shared values we have. I continue to think about the “who” that is engaging the community, what they are planning to talk about – what’s most important to them – and then think about what is the most intercultural thing we could do in those moments together. That is a reflection of leadership, I think. When you can always bring a lens of the larger goals to the actual work.
What are other ways that interculturality affect your work with ILI?
I recognize that I am the youngest person on the design team. I think it is very important to pay attention to the overlaps between elder and youth leadership. Being a part of this new team, I’ve had to step into my own voice, especially because we are designing something new in the programmatic sense, and in the ways that we work to build that experience. I’m clear that we have to rethink process in relationship to our desired outcome. That’s not always the easiest thing to do. You know that saying that “we as a people don’t know, what we don’t know.” It’s true and we have to push and be critical of how we work in order to move more towards discovery.
“I had to search out the grace as a young leader to be part of the process for change.”
Can you please share some perspectives about your first year in the first ILI cohort?
I remember there was a moment where I felt disappointed that the process wasn’t modeling the concepts and values we had set out to explore. I had to move back and think about my own individual time and capacity to support this layer of work. I realized, that we, especially the folks of color in the experience, were products of various systems of oppression, that impact how we talk, create, and move throughout the world.. I had to search out the grace as a young leader to be part of the process for change. The impact on how we have to work in the world as leaders of color is deep. So, I understood that we were building the ship of interculturality as we were sailing it.
What personal practices to you pull from to be in it and also be outside it to bring both perspectives?
As a facilitator, I understand that it’s never about me or our facilitation team. That’s a value and an agreement I take very seriously. I do bring my full self, and at the same time, I know that my responsibility is to the safety and bravery of the group. I’m try to remove myself from ego and not take things personally. That skill has been groomed over time – in the ILI space, in particular. I haven’t been in multi-racial spaces where we are all investigating and building together around culture, per se. It’s always been through the lens of a project or campaign. It’s one of the only experiences I’ve had that really looks inward. I want to lead in a different way myself and am excited because it’s unchartered territory. Even in the process, I want to be better. To be honest, I don’t talk or work across culture as much as I want to and this pushes me in the development of that practice. Holding this space for ILI 2.0 gives me that opportunity to still grow in my own leadership.
“I really believe that this community participates in cultural immersion, custom, tradition and practice. It’s something we can then share back to our own communities.”
What did you take away from ILI Hawaii? What are your thoughts for process beyond that?
ILI Hawai'i left me very clear about our process and some of our needs as leaders. Each intensive allows this community to participate in cultural immersion, customs, traditions and longtime practices. It’s something we can then share back and operationalize in our own communities. Sometimes the experience is a point of harmony and sometimes it can be a point of contention. Since we are experiencing things in real-time, we have the opportunity to learn right in the moment.
However, overtime, I’ve realized that there’s one step after the immersion and learning. Space must be made for healing. Leadership requires healing. So, we need to make sure that there is not only space to honestly and genuinely express our experiences – but also space to acknowledge hurt and co-create a healing process. It has to be intentional. It’s a leadership tool that we need to spend more time on. Especially People of Color who work in predominantly white spaces. Going to the water during ILI Hawaii was a healing practice that made a huge impact on me. We learn so much from Mother Earth and Father Sky.
“Space must be made for healing. Leadership requires healing.”
I’d like to see us give more time and create more breath in our ambitious agendas for convenings – both in person and virtually. The in-person time is so valuable. At the same time, I understand and try to share with the ILI community that the work actually begins when we leave the intensives. One of the tools we’ve deployed this year, is making use of Learning Pods, which are smaller groups of participants that are in conversation with each other between sessions. As individuals, we must do the work to ask ourselves about our own experience and process of interculturality. I push the participants to make our understanding and exploration of interculturality more expansive. Take the conversations we have through ILI and make them part of your day-to-day. Just call each other. Simple things like that can add up. That’s what creating intercultural practice is. Show up and work through.
Nijeul X. Porter is a cultural organizer, educator, and producer with the wholehearted belief that art is at the tipping point for social change and is always excited about opportunities to facilitate the intersections of art, education, and community. Nijeul co-led the launch of artEquity, a national training initiative for art practitioners providing tools and resources at the intersection of art and activism. Since its inception, artEquity has launched three national cohorts and continues to provide strategic thinking and leadership across the country. Nijeul serves full time as Producer and Strategist with SOZE, a social impact creative and production agency based in Brooklyn, NY. Nijeul has produced campaigns, initiatives, and events around social justice issues of criminal justice reform, immigration, education, and health. He has worked on campaigns including #IAmAnImmigrant, @SonsAndBros, and Vote For Justice. Prior to SOZE, Nijeul served as Director of Student Programs for Greenway Arts Alliance, serving over 2,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District using art and creativity in and out of the classroom. Nijeul has worked in partnership with organizations such as FWD.us, The Open Society Foundations, Google.org, CultureStrike, The California Endowment and others between Los Angeles, Chicago, and the District of Columbia. He is a 2018 Intercultural Leadership Institute participant a 2012 Jack Kent Cooke Scholar and board member with the Friends of Theatre & Dance at Howard University. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Management from California Institute of the Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from Howard University.