Alejandro Covarrubias, Ed.D.
Welcome to the Foundations for Hope & Justice Consulting Blog: An Invitation into Connection
Who am I?
I am Dr. Alejandro Covarrubias, the Founder and President of Foundations for Hope & Justice Consulting, but most people know me as Ale, or Dr. Ale if you are one of my former students. I am a spiritual Chicano man who moves through the world with anxiety and depression. I am an Ironman triathlete. I am a son, a brother, a tio, and a nino. I am from a big Mexican-American family and I grew up in Oxnard, CA.
I am committed to creating and holding spaces for individuals and groups that provide the conditions for authentic connections, grace-filled accountability, and audacious commitments to creating a more just and liberated world rooted in love.
You can learn more about my professional work and passions here my website. AND I hope this blog will be a place where you get to know me: my thoughts, feelings, learnings, insights, and stories. My hope is for this blog to be a place for connection.
An Invitation into Connection
I am returning from a Higher Education Administrator conference and during the open session panelist were asked, “What does it mean to matter?” Each person shared their definition of mattering and the common thread was having the space and ability to be one’s fullest authentic self and knowing your worth. The definitions felt rooted mostly in individual mattering, which is absolutely necessary, especially for those who have been systemically marginalized in multiple ways. And I wonder what does it mean for us to matter in community, connected to one another? How can me striving to matter and know my worth simultaneously create more space for others to do the same? When does taking up space to feel like I matter happen at the expense of someone else’s need to matter and at the expense of their sense of connection, especially as a man of color with a doctorate degree and all the privilege it comes with? I firmly believe that my mattering in the world is deepened when I am connected to others.
I think most people would say connection is important to them because it provides this sometimes elusive feeling of belonging. Connection has always been one of my core values. Maybe connection is important to me because “connectedness” is one of my top StrengthsFinder talents. I see connections where most people do not; I love to connect people to their personal passions or to someone new that can support their journey; I can help people connect past experiences to their current feelings, beliefs and behaviors in a way that leads towards healing and growth. Maybe it is because I am a cancer rising sign. I have big emotions, and connections/relationships of all kinds give me a place to share those big feelings.
Maybe connection is important to me because I grew Catholic, was Jesuit educated, and am still very spiritual. I see and feel the Universe, the Divine, God, connecting every living thing together. The energies of my ancestors were passed down to me, and now to my niece and nephews. Because I am spiritually connected to the Earth, and all beings who inhabit the earth, I have a responsibility to make our world better than I found it by being of service.
Coming from a large Mexican-American family where most people still live in the same county, connection is a huge part of daily life. A sibling, cousin, tio or tia is always less than 5 minutes away. There have been multiple times when I barely cross the county line as I drive home for a visit and I get a call from my mom telling me a cousin texted that they saw me driving and she will see me soon. My family has eyes everywhere, for better or for worse. And I have spent most of my adult life living outside the county and visiting not as frequently as I wanted. I have missed out on many big and small moments of connection with my parents, siblings, nephews, and niece. And yet my strong family connections and deep relationships with them are what have allowed me to flourish in the world, live all over the country, and take on new adventures. Connection can be created in many different ways.
All of these are reasons why connection is important to me. And as a man of color who has navigated the world with different levels of anxiety and depression since I was a teenager, connection is important to me for a another reason.
My depression and anxiety often feels like a painful severing of connection. A haze comes over my body, I feel numb and heavy, I struggle to focus, my mind spins, and I have to battle my body and mind to do even basic tasks. And as a man of color, over the last 20 years I have developed a profound sense of discipline that I call my iron will (I will write more about my discipline and becoming an Ironman later) and other coping mechanisms, some healthier than others, to be high achieving, accomplish many different professional milestones, and be of service to others. For a long time I thought my discipline, my iron will, gave me control over my depression and anxiety. About five years ago I began to understand the true cost of relentless focus during my bouts of depression. My disciplined practices, although helpful in some ways, also left me disconnected from relationships and from the people who are important to me. My depression often left me disconnected from myself, and I felt lost, unsettled, isolated, and like I did not matter.
This brings me back to my value for connection. In the last few years I have done some very important self healing, I have worked hard nourish myself, and I have cultivated a beautiful community of friends, family, and colleagues. Mattering does not happen without connection, whether that be me connecting with me or me connecting with others. So what I think of me matters and what my community thinks of me matters. I want to be clear, I don’t care what EVERYONE thinks of me. It matters what my community thinks because we have shared values; we are committed to each other’s growth, happiness, and liberation; we are willing to hold each other accountable with grace. My community grounds me, guides, me and uplifts me. And I hope they would say I do the same for them.
In my deepest moments of depression, when I am the most disconnected from myself, I now know I have special people in my life who will remind me how much I matter, to them and to the world; and I can trust them when I can’t always trust myself. When my anxiety is so high that I struggle to make sense of my own thoughts, I now know I can believe the loving and affirming words of my community and find clarity. And I do my very best to be a truth teller in their lives and affirm their special place in the world. My new coping mechanism is a community of mattering.
Me writing and sharing this first blog post comes from my community’s encouragement, affirmation and accountability. I believe that my perspectives matter because of the impact that I see I am having in the world and the ways my community affirm my impact and my voice. My community believes my voice is important and that I have something unique to share. I also believe I have something special to offer and I am more courageous being messy, vulnerable and in process because of my community. The same community also tells me to make sure I check myself and don’t be “just another dude with a blog and a podcast” (you know who you are). I wouldn’t be me without some culturally relevant tough love. I believe community connectedness and grace-filled accountability will help me locate my voice over time.
Mattering in community starts with an invitation, an extension of one’s self to self or to others, offering the possibility of connection. AND that invitation must be accepted for connection to happen. Connection, the invitation and the acceptance, is always a choice. As a man of color who holds lots anxiety and depression in my body, inviting someone into connection can be very scary. And sometimes being open and accepting connection can be even harder. My fears of rejection and anxieties of not being enough start to spin and it can become overwhelming. I am working to release those fears so I can audaciously invite and accept connection into my life.
To move past the fear, I am reminding myself that connection takes many different forms and changes over time. Connections can be deep and lifelong that develop overtime; connection can brief and happen through a short conversation at the end of a conference session where wisdom is shared; it can happen on a hot summer day at a homeless shelter playing spades and talking trash. I am always learning new ways to invite people into healthy loving connection; and I am also learning how to be more open and accepting to those who invite me into connection.
Connection is one of my core values because I believe it is part of the path towards liberation. To loosely borrow from Fr. Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries, perhaps together we can learn to better invite and accept connection at the margins, the messy places where disconnection often happens and dignity is denied. As we join together in the margins, in the messiness of human relationship, we can create a community mattering; and the margins that once existed to separate us will crumble beneath our feet creating a new circle of community where everyone knows they matter and we know we belong to each other.
This is me inviting you into connection. My hope is that you will be open to the possibility.