Miriame Cherbib traces her passion for teaching others to find their voice back to her youth — when it seemed she could not use her own.
Her father, a political activist for years in their home country of France, had a massive library with thousands of books, where his daughter became obsessed with the French Resistance of World War II. She read and re-read startling numbers, that the vast majority of French people either took and active or inactive role in submitting to the Nazi regime, while a brave few resisted.
“I know my father would have been on the right side of history,” Cherbib says now, from her Sequim-area home. As a youth, she admits, she wasn’t so sure she’d have her father’s courage. Were the same situation to present itself, she says, she knows she’d want to do something but wouldn’t know how.
“I had a hard time using my voice. No one really taught me.”
Now an educator and speaker, Cherbib has launched Speaking Justice, a Sequim-based business that hosts workshops that look to give individuals concrete tools and safe spaces to practice having conversations on politics, racism and other divisive issues.
Through the program’s ‘Five Habits’, she looks to help people find and practice using their voice, in particular to integrate the principles of social justice into their everyday lives.
“I think this is really about feeling aligned with our core values,” Cherbib says.
“There is a real need to talk more to each other and to heal the divide that we see not just in our community (but others). And it’s on the left and on the right. My vision is bringing people together.”
After earning a master’s degree in international economics, Cherbib worked at the French National Research Institute on the Economics of Climate Change and helped design and organize a national dialogue on the development of renewable energies.
“I specialized in social dialogue, getting people to the table (and) together for a common vision,” she says.
For the last several years she’s been teaching French and Francophone culture at Five Acre School in Sequim, moving directly from Paris to the peninsula to live in her husband’s husband’s hometown.
“Exactly what I was looking for,” she says of the change.
It was at Five Acre School that Cherbib grasped the concept of social and emotional learning, a concept she employs with Speaking Justice.
“(There’s a) belief we can learn to be our best self,” she says.
Cherbib says it was important to help her pupils discover and respect other cultures, to find a fairer representation of human diversity and explore the history of colonialism.
At Five Acre, Cherbib developed an elementary level anti-racist curriculum, forming the roots of her Five Habits of Speaking Justice.
The May 2020 killing of George Floyd that sparked so many protests and self-reflection within communities across the nation rekindled the same feeling Cherbib had as a youth, as she pondered whether she would have been a resistance fighter or collaborator during the Nazi occupation.
In the wake of the event, Cherbib says he coworkers were moved but unsure how to react. She wrote up a report of what educators were doing at the school, and from that came the Five Habits.
“But that wasn’t enough for me,” she says, so Cherbib found and interviewed 20 locals from parents and farmers to teachers and community leaders, asking them what situation they felt they needed to use their voice, and when they needed support. Typically that happens, she found, during conversations about politics or community issues.
“Adults need concrete situations, concrete problems,” she says.
“We need an angle, something to solve. Otherwise, we need an incentive. That’s how I would decide I would specialize in these conversations, (to find) people who disagree with us.”
The goal was to help people on varying points of the political spectrum, from progressives to liberals to conservatives, to have better conversations and repair relationships with their family members, neighbors, students and friends.
“The political identity is not a thing for me; what I see is two people who are trying to connect,” Cherbib says.
Speaking Justice is, for now, taking the form of workshops in the virtual world, generally with one workshop a month (on Saturdays) and the periodical conference, such as Integrating Speaking Justice on July 24 and Build Confidence in Speaking Justice on Sept. 18. Cherbib hopes to have in-person events as well.
“I try to not lecture people; it’s not my style,” she says. “I give (participants) tools and then we role play; it’s very interactive.”
A lot of people come to Cherbib who say they want to feel like like they’re doing anti-racism social justice work.
“It’s all great … but they should use (the habits) in their everyday lives, in small, everyday moments with their kids, their spouse, their neighbors,” Cherbib says. “It doesn’t have to be about racism”
Cherbib’s online Speaking Justice course went live May 31, and aims to help participants learn about the Five Habits of Speaking Justice and apply them, build a toolkit for engaging in compelling conversations, and more. See speakingjustice.org for more information or to register.
The Five Habits
Cherbib outlines the Five Habits of Speaking Justice is these:
1. Your voice (Growing and controlling your own voice)
Basically, Cherbib says this is someone being able to identify their own needs and feelings, and then to advocate for those needs. The voice can include more than one idea, she says, as we tend to have ore than one emotion happening at a given time.
2. Other voices (Holding space for other voices)
This is an empathetic action involving listening without judgment, Cherbib says. Essentially, this is trying to identify what another person is trying to get across with their emotions. Sometimes that means asking questions and not just staying silent.
“(Oftentimes) it’s incredibly hard to ask questions to help understand what someone is going through,” she says.
3. Self reflection (Self reflection on the power of your voice)
This habit involves processing on this inside and outside.
4. Unheard voices (Including the unheard voices)
This habit, Cherbib says, is a good to counter balance our beliefs and often involves reading/listening to opinions other than what we’re used to.
“(It’s about) not getting stuck in our own beliefs of what we should do and what other people should do,” she says.
5. A voice for justice (Using your voice for justice)
“This is knowing how each of us can best use our voice for justice,” Cherbib says.
In any given situation, people can use skills — from fact and stories to humor — to express their voice for justice.
“My mission is to help them unlock their full potential,” she says.
“There are a lot of people coming ask their boss for a raise; that in itself is a tricky situation,” she notes. “(But) these five skills can be applied.”