We belong to each other: yesterday, today and tomorrow

ByDr. Kim Tabari, ERI Organizational Director

We belong to each other.

We belong to each other.

These are the words that opened the Othering & Belonging (OBI) Conference held in April 2024 in Oakland California, the birthplace of the Black Panthers. Imagine approximately 1800 people from all across the country gathered together to talk about belonging and strategies to cultivate belonging for their colleagues, families and themselves. It was a powerful incubator of love and light, warmly welcomed by the wonderful host and OBI staff Sarah Crowell—to pause, find stillness, and ground in community.

I find it challenging to ground these days as someone that has witnessed a lifetime of societal traumas. From the challenges of being an immigrant from Guyana, South America at 14 years old, to bearing witness to numerous police murders of members of Black and other communities of color, to witnessing genocidal acts being committed in the Middle East, Congo, and Sudan—it is often a struggle for me and my peers to feel this sense of belonging. However, as a life-long practicing yogi, it is my duty to practice caring for myself. As our ancestor and poet Audre Lorde posited: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare“. In practice, I try many ways to get grounded: I feel my feet on the ground, I connect with nature when hiking, I sometimes hug a tree, I sit by the ocean, I meditate and practice tai chi in my Zen community. These things remind me to find moments of peace and resilience, allowing me to better navigate the complexities of our times.


Belonging is also a practice

In this current time, with people feeling deep anger at the US political alliance in the Middle East and the shouting thunderous cry for a ceasefire and freedom for Palestinians, it is difficult to feel like we belong to each other. The news is filled with stories of the former President of the U. S. embroiled in a public court case of defamation. Incidents of hate crimes are rising based on people’s religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and ability. Things just feel untenable. But, still, however hard it is to see: we belong to each other. And we need to be reminded. 

At the recent OBI Conference, one conversation that captured us all was the interdependence of disability justice and belonging, featuring Imani Barbarin. Imani is a beautiful soul that shared from her heart all the ways that we “other” people and the ways we can stitch together a beautiful tapestry of belonging. 

As a self-identified disabled person, Imani shared her thoughts on how we use language like disability, as a way of “othering” people. She encouraged us to think of ways to unlearn ableism as an act of solidarity, and to consider all of the Palestinians with disabilities as a result of the war in the Middle East. Imani also reminded us that there is a rich legacy of activism in disabled communities.

Reflecting on our treasured ancestors, I am struck by the notion of how intersectionality includes differently abled people, yet we often overlook this aspect of their identities. For example, Harriet Tubman, the Conductor of the Underground Railroad, had a form of epilepsy yet her disability is rarely mentioned. Another example  is Brad Lomax who founded the Washington DC chapter of the Black Panther Party and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and wheelchair bound.  

A second conference speaker was the iconic scholar Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation. Dr. Gilmore’s work is part of the foundational scholarship on abolition and restorative justice alongside other scholars like Michelle Brown, Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander and many more. Her work on abolition focuses on “presence not absence, and building life-affirming institutions”.  

During her remarks, she posited that “freedom is a practice of place making.”  For instance, there were the efforts of land restitution in places like Bruce’s Beach in California which returned land to ownership of the closest living legal heirs of Charles and Willa Bruce. Another example is the water solidarity movements happening in the US and around the world, including the global movement for clean water access known as WASH ( which stands for “water, sanitation and hygiene services).” 

Dr. Gilmore also offered the story of the Indian Sikh farmers’ solidarity where farmers protested farm laws that would worsen their already harsh ecological and economic conditions. Ultimately, Dr. Gilmore reminded us that we must build to belong.

By this point in the conference, I was already moved and inspired. Then came an extraordinary conversation between journalist Maria Hinojosa and OBI Director john powell. Dr. powell illustrated the tenets of belonging which include: power, agency, dignity, love, care and reciprocity. He asked us to share with our neighbor a memory of the first time we felt othered. As you read this blog, I urge you to pause and think about your own early experiences of feeling othered: how did that make you feel? How did your body respond? What sensations do you remember experiencing?


From Feeling Othered: My Journey to Belonging


Growing up in Guyana and immigrating to the U.S. for high school was a transformative experience. As the new girl I felt like a foreigner in every sensenew country, new school, new teachers, and new friends. I had a strong Caribbean accent and the teasing from classmates only deepened my sense of being othered. It took years for that feeling to fade and for me to find a sense of belonging.

Being othered made me acutely aware of what it felt like to be excluded and fostered a deep desire for connection. But building my sense of belonging didn’t just happen overnight. It was a journey of seeking out like-minded people and communities that valued diversity. Gradually but steadily, I joined cultural clubs and community groups, and found mentors and friends who respected my story. In these spaces, I could share my experiences and learn from others, creating a network of support and understanding.  

Years later, in my efforts to include everyone, I draw from my past—remembering how it felt to be on the outside looking in. This empathy fuels my actions, driving me to create spaces where everyone feels welcome. Yet, the journey is not without its challenges. At times, I’ve made missteps and that has led me to reflect when and why I’ve not been as inclusive of others with my tone or outreach. It’s also important to remember that any attempt to include others can still be met with resistance, as people bring their own insecurities and fears to the table – and when that happens, I strive to show up with more empathy and generosity. It’s a delicate balance, one that requires patience, understanding, and a steadfast commitment to inclusivity.


The Power of Belonging: Finding Your Place in the World


Dr. powell posited that “we other people in order to belong”. He urged us to imagine a world where everyone felt like they belonged. As we think about dominant groups, we can interchange when we belong or don’t belong to that group. For example, as a Guyanese American woman, I am part of the non-dominant group of immigrants in the U.S. However, as an educated woman with a doctorate degree, I am part of a dominant group (only 13%) of Americans with advanced degrees.  So, the notion of dominance fluctuates depending on what group you identify with.

Reflecting on my own sense of belonging, I think about the diverse communities I am part of, each celebrating a different aspect of who I am today. My yoga and tai chi communities help me stay grounded as I navigate a world often filled with grief and chaos. My ethnic Guyanese community keeps me connected to my roots and heritage. My local community in Long Beach, California makes me feel like an integral part of the collective effort to improve our local school district and city council for the benefit of our students and families.

A sense of belonging is essential for each of us. Even as we sometimes isolate ourselves and struggle with pain and shame, it’s crucial to reconnect with ourselves and each other. Find a sense of belonging where you live, pray, and practice, so you can live fully.

This personal journey to feeling whole, which Audre Lorde aptly describes as “political warfare,” mirrors the collective work needed for our society to heal its wounds, embrace everyone, and create a shared future.

May you find yourself in spaces filled with care, tenderness, and expansive love. And may you, like me, strive to continually expand those circles, welcoming and celebrating the full spectrum of our shared humanity.

Together, we can build supportive and inclusive communities where everyone feels valued and accepted. 

Together, let us build a world where everyone belongs.



© 2024. This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.

About the author:A headshot Dr, Kim Tabari, an African American woman with close cropped hair, looking off to the side and wearing a an orange scarf around her shoulders.

Dr. Kim Tabari has a passion for social justice and education. She holds a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and has worked at a variety of institutions both public and private. Born in Guyana, South America, Kim has the lived experience of an immigrant who later became a U.S. citizen.

A member of the Executive Management Team at USC Equity Research Institute (ERI), Kim believes in the importance of maintaining relationships to bring about healing and transformation, especially during times of conflict. She leads the organizational development and racial justice work at ERI, works with external partners and faculty affiliates, and manages the ERI advisory committee. Prior to joining ERI, she facilitated conversations on racial, social, and healing justice topic areas. She is a trained facilitator working with both high school and college students in the past, and currently work with diverse stakeholders at USC and beyond. Kim facilitated a successful USC Visions & Voices conversation with Daughters of the Movement in the middle of the pandemic and nation-wide racial justice uprisings.

Kim’s most important role is being a mom to an amazing young man, recent high school graduate on his way to college in Fall 2024. She is also very active in her local community, working primarily with the Long Beach Unified School District to improve academic challenges of Black and other marginalized students, as well as expanding safety practices for the district.

Kim embodies healing justice and is a certified yoga instructor, facilitating over 50 online classes to her community on zoom during the 2021 pandemic year. She also has a regular Tai Chi practice, and other self-care modalities.