Communing is Power: Creating Affinity Groups

Let’s get the people together.

Photo by Yura Sapi

Starting affinity groups is an actionable step you can take to fuel power for change. There is something about gathering, about creating space held together by the group, that opens the door for change to occur. Affinity groups are ultimately community organizing, but interestingly enough the practice has been adopted into the more mainstream “organizational diversity” model.

“Affinity groups are spaces formed with individuals surrounding a shared interest, goal, values, identity, or life experiences.”

In corporate culture, affinity groups are often referred to as “Employee Resource Groups” and usually live under the Human Resources department. There are plenty of resources online that support the financial value for ERGs (affinity groups) and proof that this is not a new phenomenon for businesses. One can find various internet writings on how affinity groups are a “strategic tool” for: staff retention, increased performance, opportunities for professional development, improved workplace culture and community, and beyond. Good stuff if you need to prove to some higher ups these gatherings are worth the staff investment. However, if you are at this stage of needing to prove this in this way, beware of many other roadblocks that will come in the work of equity, inclusion, and justice. If leadership isn’t on board with social change that begins within the organization/ network/ collective/ community/ etc. there are going to be larger roadblocks you’ll face in the work sooner or later.

Formally, I have helped start affinity groups at my past places of work at The Public Theater and at Actors’ Equity Association. I also recently supported Jonathan Castanien in facilitating space for Stage Manager of Color in New York City. In practice, I have found affinity groups offer a place where staff, members and people of a particular marginalized group, specifically in my experience for POC and LGBTQ+ communities, can gather together and process experiences ranging from microaggressions to learning about other aspects of our communities to suggesting larger changes, happenings, and improvements to processes and policies in the organization/ collective/ system/ etc. In turn, this empowers folks to exist and engage in larger meeting spaces more effectively, engendering health and happiness on the day-to-day. It’s about creating space to exist, to dialogue, and to heal. In this way, community building through affinity groups is connected and in some ways rooted in healing and self care.

I have found that there are a few common themes of successful affinity spaces:

  • Led by members of the community beginning with a genuine call to action
  • Meet regularly with inclusive scheduling considerations
  • Offer opportunities for shared leadership
  • Consider the energy of the physical room in which folks are meeting in
  • Have community agreements in creating the space
  • Promote group consensus of what the group wants to be, when to meet, who can attend, what is discussed, and beyond

Let me know in the comments if you are part of an affinity group in your community, workplace, etc and/or if you want to start one! I am available as a resource for you need one, visit: www.vivianavargas.com/learningspaces.


The Weakness in Solitude

There is a reason 
Our art is of the heart
We transform and transcend
Share love and share truths
Creation is the cure for destruction
Storytelling is liberation
Communing is power

Evil wins when we learn how to
de
humanize
Instead we must
de
colonize

Upon us is
An undoing of great feats

So let people in
Be stronger together
Because there is a weakness in solitude

— Yura Sapi

From photo and poetry series “Poems of a Quest for Liberation from the Cages of Colonization


I’d like to give a special thank you to Amelia Acosta Powell and Patricia Santos Silva for their support with knowledge of starting affinity groups at their respective theatre workplaces early on in my practice.


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