A person holding art


One of the great benefits of being a community-based organization is the opportunity to connect and learn from other great community organizations. We have a lot to learn from each other. One of the great collaborations experienced this week was to be part of an incredibly fruitful discussion on inclusion and belonging.

“Inclusion” is a popular word in our world. It’s super popular in the world of developmental services. You will see it in mission and vision statements across the field, you will hear it as a buzz word on podcasts and in memes and on billboards. But what does it mean? And more importantly, is it enough?

The dictionary tells us that inclusion is the ACT of being included or the STATE of being included. We want people (we so desperately want this!) to act in a way that includes others. This is important and a beautiful first step towards integrating people of all sorts into our communities. But again, is it enough?

Over here at Branching Out we want to peel back layers and go a little deeper into the concepts and actions of inclusion and belonging (think back to last month when we got curious about “helping” and “empowering”).

When we use the word belonging, we can understand it to mean: being a member or a part of something. Get ready, because to sum this up I will use a highly overgeneralized statement I saw on social media that drives the point home: being asked to the party is one thing (inclusion), being asked to dance (or asked to join the conversation or game…) by someone who likes you is something else entirely (belonging).

The value of inclusion is important but, inclusion requires belonging if it is to be anything above and beyond tokenism. Belonging means that you are accepted if you “fit in” or not. Belonging means you have something to take pride in, to celebrate, to come home and tell stories about. Belonging means that no one second guesses you being there and most importantly belonging means you can show up and be YOURSELF (even if yourself is a huge mess on that particular day).

Let us now ask for grace for all the times we “included” someone but didn’t know enough to create space for true belonging. We know better now. In particular to people with neuro diversities this means more relationships with people who are not paid supports, more spaces for people WITH paid supports to show up in and have some good fun, speaking and interacting with people with neurodiversity’s in an age-appropriate way, and truly working at seeing the person’s ability not their perceived limitation.

It sounds simple right? We know it’s not always as simple as it sounds. It requires us as human beings to look at our own biases, judgements, level of patience, and what we understand as ability and disability. Belonging requires us to face our own past traumas of being left out, struggling with society’s definitions of popularity and our own hurt about NOT belonging. I would dare to say that belonging starts in our own hearts, the sense of belonging to yourself first so that it can flow out, like a river, into the dry world of seclusion, segregation and token inclusion.

This month we challenge you to look past inclusion and deep into the wild and untamed world of belonging. It is true: in the world of belonging there is not so much “professionalism”, there is a high need for boundaries and there is much we will not be able to control. But then again, in the world of belonging you might just find yourself in deeper relationships, deeper healing, more wholistic perspectives and more authentic joy.