Harold Gatensby

My circle practice emerges from twenty years of learning, testing, implementing, and evaluating this work.  Our teachers include John Mohawk, Donna Bivens, Colleen James, Harold & Phil Gatensby, Gwen Chandler Jones, Beverly Little Thunder, Toni A. Gregory, Peter Senge, and Humberto Maturana-Romesín.  In addition, much of my thinking has been informed by other luminaries I have never met such as Ward Churchill, Vine Deloria Jr., Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and Barbara Smith.

My vision is of thriving communities creating their desired conditions of well being.  My mission is to support the enactment of circle process in the lives of communities.  My values are love, forgiveness, generosity, collaboration, and intentionality.  My strategies are implementation of learning journeys with individuals, groups, and organizations; consulting with individuals, groups, and organizations; and fomenting dialogues with groups.

I have enjoyed many opportunities for exciting innovations development in the effort to expand the use of circles process in urban and suburban contexts in the United States.  I have applied circles as follows:

  • Interventions with gangs, and gang involved youth and young adults

  • Build cross sector collaborations

  • Conduct anti-racist trainings with police, school, hospital, and city government personnel

  • Conduct cross sector dialogues about intersectional oppression

  • Engage domestic violence survivors in personal leadership and economic justice work

  • Engage domestic violence organizations in the process of rethinking organizational structures to enhance survivor-responsiveness and anti-oppression work

  • Conduct cross-sector dialogues about multi-systemic change

  • Support ongoing organizational team building, values alignment, and strategic development

At the same time, I have encountered tremendous challenges due to cultural appropriation, racism, and intersectional oppression within the very organizations, scholars, practitioners, and communities that have embraced circles practice.  I do this work as a direct response to the glaring need for innovative community engagement and systems change practices as well as to the lack of accountability and misuse of circles practice by individuals, groups, and organizations who have not thoughtfully endeavored to understand power and privilege in their circle work.

Throughout the past twenty years, I have observed how individual, group, and organizational agendas interfere with the voices of communities who begin to learn what it means to use their power to effect change.  Time and time again, the interests of individuals, groups, and organizations trump the stated interests of community members who learn to use their voices through the circles process only to be met with unresponsive practitioners, scholars, and organizations.  These trends can be discouraging and at least once, I felt compelled to leave this work behind. However, I was asked to continue by some of my teachers and by the amazing women at the Wampanoag Women’s Center on the Aquinnah Reservation who very wisely held me to account for trying to quit when the going got tough. I owe them a debt of gratitude and hold them in deep love for their belief in me and their ongoing support.

I believe it is imperative that the application of circles process occurs in the context of communities of learning incorporated by practitioners, scholars, and organizations that are interested in exercising accountability practices with those whom they are pledged to serve.  Given past experiences, I believe it is important to create a neutral body of practitioners and thought leaders that can support the ongoing learning and accountability processes of practitioners, scholars, and organizations seeking to implement circles within their field and/or discipline.  

The process of applying circles process in communities has important implications for ongoing organizational management practices, as well as thinking processes among practitioners and scholars.  Circles is a practice that harkens to a different way of understanding the world.  Different, that is, from mainstream Western culture.  Given this, practitioners, scholars, and organizations need learning communities that can support them in their efforts to maintain fidelity.  Fidelity requires the adaptation of profoundly different ethical practices that then shape and inform organizational management practices and individual philosophies of being.  Circles are not artifacts or activities, they are practices of being through which we change organizational and community culture.

Please leave a message below if you have any questions or are interested in connecting to this work. Although I do not hold trainings very often, I will let folks know when I do and when my teachers in this process hold trainings in the Yukon or in St. Paul, MN. You can also leave a message here if you are looking for technical assistance.

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