I am incredibly excited to introduce you all to Zoë Williams, an activist I’ve been connected to through Showing Up For Racial Justice Families. Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice, and they have an arm that focuses specifically around supporting parents and families.
When I first began researching resources for parents striving to be racially and socially conscious, I discovered SURJ and SURJ families. Zoë and their collaborators have generated numerous tool kits, written thoughtful blog posts, modeled direct actions and continuously shine a light on ways I, as a White parent of various privileges, can combat white supremacy within the sacred context of family and my greater community.
Zoë has nearly 20 year of social justice activism experience and identifies as a working class, genderqueer, and chronically ill parent. Their work is courageous and bold, and inspires me to push beyond my comfort zone.
Let’s hear from Zoë directly!
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am a community organizer in Denver, Colorado and have done social justice work for 17 years in the community. I started out as a youth organizer. Now I am fortunate enough to do this work as my paid work as well as my passion. I live with my partner, who is an elementary school teacher, and my two kids , Oriole (1 year) and Aster (3 years). In addition to organizing, I love growing food, herbalism, and Harry Potter.
As a parent, what’s your favorite part about living in your city?
I’ve lived in the Denver Metro Area my entire life, and this city has turned into a fairly complicated place to live. Over the past few years, big public investments have sparked a giant housing crisis. We are seeing communities who have lived here for generations get pushed out of the City, the Metro Area, and even the state.
Gentrification is moving so fast it almost feels impossible to address. I often have hard feelings about Denver, especially looking around and seeing neighborhoods becoming incredibly segregated, small businesses shutting down, and culture being erased.
But I also know that if I don’t like it, I need to be a part of changing it. Denver has been home to some amazing resistance movements. That’s probably what I love most about Denver, is our legacy of resistance and the way it continues. As a parent, I want to help my kids understand that we can’t leave when things get hard, and I feel like that’s part of why I stay committed to living in Denver.
What are your passion projects or in what ways do you engage with your local or national community?
I work for 9to5 Colorado supporting transit and housing justice work. We organize for affordable transit, defending bus routes, and looking to ensure Denver in a city that everyone can live in. Our leaders are women of color, many of them parents, in low and no wage jobs. I am also very involved in SURJ—Showing Up for Racial Justice—organizing to get white folks to take action to end racism. One of my projects within SURJ is working with the Families group. This is a space designed to support families in taking bold action for racial justice. We create tools and supports for parents looking to take local action in their homes, schools, and communities.
What’s your favorite part of your civic engagement activities?
I love meeting folks when they first get activated by an issue and watching them become leaders. So many people don’t see themselves as leaders, especially marginalized folks like people who are working class, people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. But when they find the right supports and community, you see folks realize that they are experts in the change they want to create.
What inspires you to engage in these activities?
Anne Braden, a white Southern Civil Rights activist, described movement work as joining a long chain of folks working to make change. That idea grounds me in remembering that there are generations of movement ancestors that have done work to get us where we are. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with how much needs to be done, and how slow change can come, especially when juggling kids, work, community, home, and all of the other moving pieces in life. I just remember that I’m a part of that long chain, and that helps me stay in activist work.
Any words of wisdom for parents wanting to create space for civic engagement in their own busy lives?
I think a lot of families see themselves as powerless or burdensome in social justice spaces, but in reality we are a crucial part of building vibrant movements for change. As parents, we are connected to a lot of people who haven’t been reached by organizing. We see things differently as caretakers. Also, our kids are an important part of this work. They bring joy and perspective. My advice to parents is to remember that parents and families have been at the heart of social justice work since the beginning, so whenever possible find a way to join in and continue that tradition. Our contributions are valuable.
Zoë’s commitment to social and racial justice as an individual is so inspiring. I’m also blown away by the ways they incorporate their children into actions. Did you see the attached picture?! There is so much power and tenderness displayed in that photo, I’ve found myself looking at it again and again.
Zoë models that it’s possible to make time and space for direct actions as a parent and works hard to encourage other families to participate in or generate their own actions. And for those parents who do not feel comfortable joining protests, Zoë and their comrades offer various levels of actions so all parents can find an appropriate entry point for themselves and their families.
Thank you, Zoë, for all you do to better your community, locally and nationally, and for being such an inspiring role model for other parents across the country. Your work is impactful and I appreciate your leadership immensely.