Women who LeadStrong change the game

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.
— bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism

As we walk into 2019 fresh from our holiday breaks and the opening retreat of our first ever Women of Color LeadStrong Fellowship, we find ourselves embracing beloved community. Executive Director Sonia Mañjon explains, “We are learning to love one another for the differences in identity, experience, and history that shape who we are. We are celebrating our potential as spiritual and embodied people to collectively build a world that reflects our values of diversity, equity, and innovation.”

And as we celebrate our beloved LeadStrong community, we extend our appreciation to the powerful and diverse leaders who will join us at our event on March 7, “Women of Color LeadStrong: Game Changers in Philanthropy, Politics, and Technology.” Together, the LeadStrong Fellowship and annual event exemplify LeaderSpring Center’s bold new vision and commitment to forging an equitable future.

The purpose of the opening retreat was to build community among the 18 new LeadStrong Fellows who began the week as strangers. Over the course of three days, the Fellows shared stories about the women in their lives who have impacted them and the importance of culture in forming their identities. They spoke to the difficulty of growing up without role models who shared their backgrounds and the need to become leaders for the next generation. They unpacked what it means to be a woman of color. One participant determined that “having women of color grow in leadership together” constituted a “radical space.”

It is not radical for women of color to lead. Women are on the frontlines of every social justice movement, but too often we ignore the impact, brilliance, creativity, and resilience of women and their work in our communities. When women don’t write their own narratives, their accomplishments become invisible. Today we treat Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man, a decision that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as an isolated act of defiance instead of a calculated decision based on her training in civil disobedience and decades of activism with the NAACP. It is radical for us as women of color to be able to reclaim our narratives and to celebrate our whole selves as activists, artists, teachers, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and leaders.

During the opening retreat, we created a radical space by celebrating one another as holistic beings. Program Coordinator Molly Linares summarized the importance of this celebration, stating, “We danced, we sang, we played, and it reinforced the idea that we need to be at one with our bodies and with community—even in professional leadership spaces.” This idea was reinforced by Deputy Director Safi Jiroh, who said, “Wisdom emerges through different modalities. The purpose of the dancing and singing is to learn that.”

Ultimately, we came together as a new community by listening to one another’s stories, learning about what paths brought us to where we are today, developing a shared understanding of intersectionality, and respecting one another’s differences. Looking forward, Linares sees “Exponential opportunities ahead for these incredibly dynamic women.”

These themes—beloved community, celebration, and radical spaces—are the thread that brings together LeaderSpring Center’s work this year. Just as we celebrated our Fellows at the opening retreat, on March 7, in honor of International Women’s Month, we will celebrate the accomplishments of women of color at our annual event. We will celebrate the women who are dismantling systems of oppression.

“What’s being called for is not business as usual,” Deputy Director Jiroh explains. “The world is calling for changing the game—individually and collectively. We’ve been playing these games that work against us, so we only get so far. Game changers recreate the game, they change the course of the game to bring equity in the communities in which we live and serve.”