Tama and I became friends through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male. His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together. As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.
Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983. Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression. Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit. Like her late husband, Tama challenges: racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.
Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.
Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October. She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11. She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system. All 14 of the homes were white. While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive. She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire. She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.
Tama, what brings you to the work of social justice?
I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients. All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”
I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism. How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations. The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression. I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.
Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
Yes, very much so. My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level. I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice. I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.
People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place. This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces. Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people. This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.
What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?
Oh, the list is very long. At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion. Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment. They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available. We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.” This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice. Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable. So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following. The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility. I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.
Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action. How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another. I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.