Artist Mari “Mars” Champagne poses and answers important questions
Imagine an interactive program that provides business owners—from corporations to entrepreneurs—with a way to account for how race and racial justice take form in their workplace. The Racial Justice Reflective Journey tool prompts reflection on race, business demographics, and biases in order to facilitate a more open conversation about how racial perspectives play out in each individual workplace.
The tool has been developed by a team led by Traci Talbert, the Racial Justice and Community Engagement Leader at the Franklin County CDC, with artist and activist Mari Champagne, Liz Goodman, and Attorney and Franklin County CDC board member Tasha Marshall. On August 8, the tool was revealed at an event at Greenfield Community College.
To lay the groundwork for the development of the Racial Justice Reflective Journey, Mari conducted approximately 80 interviews with employees and employers in Franklin County. That work helped shape the questions participants are asked to reflect on while they take the journey. Mari and Traci strategized on what to ask during the interviews.
“We really wanted to ask questions that were hard-hitting, questions that were deeper, that would allow people to tap into their heart, tap into their honesty” Mari said. “And in, in parallel with it, create the spaciousness so that people could share their honest answers without feeling like, ‘I’m gonna lie, or feel embarrassed, or feel bad about myself.’”
When looking at how interviewees responded, Mari and Traci used both people’s words and their unspoken reactions to inform the creation of the tool.
“A significant part of this was the heart-centeredness of how can we take people’s reactions to these questions or energetic responses as well as actual responses and incorporate them into the design and the questions that we prompt people through the tool.”
While the interview process was enlightening, Mari said it could also be emotional and difficult.
“I consider myself to be a very empathic person,” she said, “and this was a very emotional journey, to be the interviewer. And for many reasons, after many of the interviews I cried just as a release of the things that people were holding onto that resonated with me. It was such an honor to be able to hold that space for people to talk about their true experiences.”
Depicting the Diversity of the Valley
During the Racial Justice Reflective Journey reveal event, Mari also debuted her painting, “A Journey from Broad and Spacious to Cramped and Narrow.” The abstract painting, a map dotted with colorful squares representing multiple racial identities, was inspired by the Bible verse from the book of Matthew, Chapter 7, that is often translated as, “Broad and spacious is the path that leads to destruction and delusion. Many are finding it. Cramped narrow is the path that leads to life, clarity, and prosperity. Few are finding it.”
Mari’s vision for this region, and humanity in general, is for people to seek out and use that cramped and narrow path. “I really would love to see more people doing integrated, heart-centered, healing work, so that even opinions of dissent are not this catastrophic thing that throws us off course or creates conflict or creates hatred.”
The painting is hanging in the lobby of the Franklin County CDC’s offices at 324 Wells Street in Greenfield.
Both the creation of the painting and being involved in the Racial Justice Reflective Journey process has helped Mari answer some questions of her own on how she wants to direct the evolution of her own career.
“The impact has helped me realize that I would love to continue this work and to continue to create spaces for people to release their true thoughts and opinions around everything from racial justice to mental health, to spirituality. I feel that out of everything that I’ve done in my life, this work feels like a foundational piece of what could become my career, or inform my career.”
Read more about our Racial Justice work on our website.