[ICA] methods challenge the internal narrative that a person is holding that they may have to inspect to become available to a greater good or a collective movement, and it's rare that those two things get challenged in the same way.
Toni Anderson is Founder and Executive Director of Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to teaching youth to inherit the earth through environmental STEM education, sustainable service learning initiatives, and youth-driven social philanthropy. She has been a member of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network since it formed in 2013, is working toward certification in our Technology of Participation methods, and joined our board in June, 2020.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the Founder and Executive Director of Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab and an emerging project called Mindful Rant. I consider myself someone who activates people and planet consciousness and brings about a way of being that honors both internal and external ecologies.
I'm located in Bronzeville, a historically African-American community on the South Side of Chicago, which is considered the “Harlem of Chicago.” My mom and sisters and granddad all grew up in this community, and it's where I am dedicated organizationally and spiritually.
How did you get into your current line of work?
I grew up in various communities on the South Side of Chicago, mostly in Chatham, South Shore, and Hyde Park, which really exposed me to a lot of the differences in geography in Chicago.
As a kid I went to summer camps, and I just fell in love with nature—I was always a nature girl, always a tree hugger, and always seeking spaces that really gave me peace and tranquility, which sometimes growing up in the urban environment is hard to achieve. As I got older I always wanted to do this kind of stuff with my daughter. I started being not a soccer mom but a camp mom, always rounding up youth and taking them off somewhere on the weekends. But I was at that time spending a lot of time at corporations doing advertising and marketing.
I was diagnosed with a rare illness, and then I had that life thing happen where you start to question who you are and what you’d do over if you had a chance to do it all over again. I started thinking about the legacy that I would leave my daughter if anything were to happen to me, and so it just woke up something in me and I walked away from corporate and dedicated my life to hugging trees and hugging kids and being about planet consciousness. I started Sacred Keepers in 2012 with that idea that we could get back to something really special about who we are and what we're connected to, and I haven't looked back!
How did you first encounter ICA?
ICA first came to my radar through the accelerate77 project. I went to this meeting in Bronzeville, which was maybe the second or third accelerate77 meeting. I knew Johnnie Owens at the Centers for New Horizons, who was hosting it, so I went over there.
There was just an energy and difference in facilitation that really made me feel that the intention was to hear, and not that fake town hall thing that often happens. I was like, “who are these people and what is this about?” It was facilitated and held very differently, and so I became curious and started attending the meetings and then that kind of birthed into Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN). I became one of the core steering people in those initial meetings of forming the network.
What other intersections do you have with ICA?
CSLN led to me getting involved in the facilitation process. I felt like this was the first time I had experienced facilitation that resonated with the way I would facilitate. I met Seva, Caitlin, Samantha, and the other amazing women of ICA at that time, and just fell in love with their energy and started getting really curious about what it was that was making this so different.
I got exposed to the Technology of Participation (ToP) and wanted those tools not just for me but wanted to share them with youth involved in programs with Sacred Keepers. So Seva and I worked together doing Youth as Facilitative Leaders workshops. We did a consensus workshop training with the youth in my program, and that put me on a trajectory to become a ToP facilitator.
I also used ICA GreenRise to host one of the Where I Stand Youth Summits. And now I'm on the board!
What makes ICA unique?
It's a global institution that's focused on societal shifts, and being able to really focus in that intersection of what it means to go from one thing to another and what does it take for all of us to participate in that process. I just think it's genius work, what makes it unique is that that’s the foundation of the institution.
Where are ICA methods needed in the world today?
Everywhere! The methods challenge the internal narrative that a person is holding that they may have to inspect to become available to a greater good or a collective movement, and it's rare that those two things get challenged in the same way.
Being at a time where the shifts that are happening with COVID-19, where everyone had to enter a completely reflective time. Stillness had to happen. People had to look at their lives, and look at society, and look at what they considered work and what they considered busy. They had to look at their consumption. It was a highly reflective period. At the same time we're participating in this big collective thing that's happening to everybody.
And then Black Lives Matter exploded, causing everyone to do deeper reflection as part of this collective shift. Institutions like ICA and its methodologies are ripe for that sort of exploration and inquiry, and so that's why I believe it's a perfect marriage for what we're going through right now. ICA went way ahead of its time and saw this coming and had some pretty deep discussions about it. Now here we are in a time with so many questions about what we do, how we think, how we hold ourselves, and how we hold each other. And here's this methodology that's already pre-mapped a little bit of how we get that done.
When have you seen ICA create real change or impact?
CSLN is an example of how those methods get operationalized in a way that can bring a lot of collaborative group thinking from vastly different frameworks together to create an impact.
These tools have helped a lot of people in their communities codify their voice and message so that they're more translatable and more approachable, which means more collaboration and progress. That's what CSLN has done through ICA's support.
I'm an example of that—one meeting turned into a deep dive! The tools have impacted how I engage with my youth, how I engage with my community. It's deepened my practice with myself.