“My calling is to work within my community and for my community, because I see how normal it is for us to be stigmatized and outcasted just for existing.” Zanariah (Zizi) Phillips (she/her & they/them) proclaims while sharing her story of how she arrived at CCHE. Zizi originally applied for a position at multiple organizations with positions that are involved with serving the LGBQ and TGNC community. Luckily, Zizi landed with us at CCHE, as part of the Admin team. My conversation with Zizi focused on one of the Center’s values: cultural humility.

“Cultural humility” speaks to CCHE’s pledge to do the work to grow through both our conscious and unconscious biases in understanding our community, and to strategize ways to create accountability as an organization and on the individual level.

With sizeable experience, Zizi has followed her calling to provide support to those that need it. This becomes difficult in environments lacking cultural humility. Zizi explains the microaggressions she has experienced in the work place and says “[it] opened my eyes to how discriminative organizations can be, especially to trans individuals”. Zizi gave me examples of some of the microagressions she experienced:

“How tall are you”

“Do you have any children”

At times, Zizi felt the need to hide the fact that she is transgender. The microaggressions evolved from speculative murmurs to loud disrespect. Zizi explained, “If they had cultural humility, there wouldn’t be that cycle of hate for someone because of their gender identity.”

Zizi also shared some of her techniques to stay in control of herself when approached with microaggressions or other forms of hate; One techniques is that she  T.H.I.N.Ks before  responding. T.H.I.N.K. stands for:

T. Is it true? Is it thoughtful?

H. Is it helpful/harmful?

I.Is it intentional?

N. Is it necessary?

K. Is it kind?

Zizi’s experiences with cultural humility have also led her on a path towards artistic expression as a young child: “Cultural humility helps you understand yourself as much as it helps you understand the people you share community with.”

Zizi started dancing at 11; she formerly had the dream of being a figure skater, but after struggling on the ice decided against it. One weekend, favorite Saturday morning cartoons channel broadcasted a ballet performance.“I remember her looking so graceful…and poised… and… beautiful.”

Zizi’s grandmother shortly after enrolled Zizi in ballet classes. After learning the basics of ballet, Zizi launched a dance class  at Broadway Youth Center (BYC). While recruiting participants for her new class, Zizi met the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Youth Empowerment Performance Project (YEPP), Bonsai Bermudez. Soon enough, Zizi juggled her responsibilities with an audition as a performance artist for YEPP. Not only did Zizi’s audition for YEPP leave the audience in tears, she also caught the attention of Cyndi Lauper which led to expedited growth for her and YEPP.

Zizi had a moment of self-reflection after her exponential success at YEPP. She admits that she let the success to get to her head, “I forgot to celebrate people.”

Zizi uses her personal experiences and moments of reflection to support others in the community. Zizi has curated Mindset Classes, a four-part series for new hires offered after orientation. “The Mindset Classes introduce ways of using the mind to heal and invigorate others to work collectively. My hopes are that the class will create a bond and unity, in order to serve our community. A healthy mind is the foundation to a healthy heart and body.”We all have capacity to affect the space and people we share community with. It is on us to hold ourselves and each other accountable. One way to do this is to practice cultural humility to better understand ourselves and each other.”