I’ve never been one to celebrate my Blackness one month, followed by my Womaness the next month, since I’m both Black and female 12 months every year. But this year I celebrated both during the opening of Black Panther, the 2018 American superhero film directed and co-wrote by our Oakland own Ryan Coogler with Los Angeles based Joe Robert Cole on February 19 – President’s Day. No spoiler alerts here, but the film was symbolic on so many levels, most notably the representation of strong Black female characters. What I appreciated most was the (okay, spoiler alert) zero display of sex or rape scenes. The women in this film were smart, beautiful, respected and the film still topped $700 million in the second weekend.
Being a leader in a male dominated structure is no easy task. This form of hierarchy is incongruent to what I hold sacred and pushes against how I move in the world as an Afro Latina. I come from a long lineage of strong and power women who successfully forged transnational migration between islands and continents. They adapted by learning multiple languages, adapting to new customs and cultures, all while sustaining family connections, raising children, and preserving family legacy. This way of being is antithetical to a colonial patriarchal system of leadership I have been consumed by over the past 3 decades in leadership positions in non-profit, government, and academic settings. It has been no easy task as I continue to examine how I have persevered, what I lost, and the lessons learned to survive in a system that doesn’t value different ways of being.
As a college student coming into my own leadership, I was filled with optimism, enthusiasm, and determination to be seen and heard. Alice Walker’s In Search of our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose, introduced me to the term Womanist, which encompassed not only my feminist beliefs, but my cultural identity as well. It incorporated my Blackness and my Dominican culture, my emotional flexibility and my no-nonsense attitude, my commitment to the survival and wholeness of all people, and my focus on historically disenfranchised populations. It gave me a place to start and to grow in my leadership. I understood that I did not have to compartmentalize myself into different beings to fit into the patriarchal construct that didn’t recognize or appreciate who I was or what I brought to the table. This did not come without consequences. It produced fear in others, causing uncomfortable and sometimes hostile work environments.
Acknowledging societal and institutional inequities and systems of oppression impacting low-income and historically disenfranchised groups including POC and LBGTQIA+, LeaderSpring endeavors to embolden leaders by building their capacity to take agency both as individuals and leaders in their communities. As we design programs and services that aid leaders in efforts to oppose systems of oppression, it is our hope that these endeavors begin to change behavior that lead to inequities. It’s not enough to have a theoretical understanding of systems of oppression, we must also begin to change the culture and behavior that allows for such systems to prevail. As such, LeaderSpring commits to serve as a catalyst for change in these purposeful pursuits through its work with non-profit organizations, governmental institutions, businesses, and philanthropies, among others.
So, as we transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, (spoiler alert) a shout out to the Dora Milaje, the army of African Women in Black Panther, who were fearless in their pursuit to protect, maintain, and celebrate Wakanda forever!