Allison Conyers

Jul 262012
 

Over the course of three days, we connected, shared, strategized and transformed in a beautiful home where streams of sunlight flooded the space, giving life to the multi-color décor. Our stories of love, trauma, struggle and resilience were as bright and rich as the colors in the curtains, etched into artwork from around the world and painted onto walls.

The first Standing in Our Power (SiOP) core leadership team retreat was held on June 6-9 at the blessed abode of core member, Shilpa Jain, in Berkeley, CA. One of my favorite memories was sitting around a large, round wooden table–that felt like it was made just for us—while we shared communally prepared food.

We began our core retreat with ritual, led by Dayanara Marte (Dee) and Omisade Burney-Scott. It was a beautiful, co-creative process that allowed each of us to honor something greater than ourselves. Shilpa led a ‘Snowball Inquiry” activity that surfaced questions that are real for us at this time. It was like sewing together a quilt with disparate yet strikingly interconnected patches.

From the discussions that ensued, a thread began to weave throughout the retreat in the form of an inquiry: How can we embody a new way of ‘being’ and release the constant pressure of ‘doing.’ Honoring that question, we were able to slow down, breathe and be present. We agreed that the inaugural SiOP retreat, scheduled to happen October 25-28 in Ohio, will focus, in large part, on who we want to be as Women of Color leaders. We will explore how to embody new ways of leadership and release the overwhelming sense of anxiety and inadequacy that comes with needing to do the next best thing.

We then took a deep dive into some much-needed healing work with Dee and Piper Anderson through a process called “Emotional Release,” which has been developed by Dee in her work with Women of Color in the New York City. It was an incredible individual journey inward and then back to the collective. I personally uncovered traumas that I had packed away so well that I forgot they even existed. Together, we laughed, cried and held space for each other as we explored how our hearts had been broken.

Meizhu Lui, our amazing elder on the core, then led us through a process to deepen our political analysis and framework. We examined historical and contemporary data that spoke profoundly of the social inequities experienced by Women of Color. This process definitely got us fired up. As Meizhu tells us: we need to know how we got here to then be able to transform our present and future. Cherine Badawi led us in a World Café process – as we walked in pairs throughout Shilpa’s neighborhood – which explored Women of Color leadership by tapping into our experiences and visions. As the retreat came to a close, we appreciated each other, shared gifts and celebrated with music and poetry.

The retreat yielded a powerful draft agenda that we plan to continue refining as we finalize our list of attendees for the first national SiOP gathering. As we continue our deep listening phase and begin building the next circle that will help to develop the larger network, the energy of our core retreat guides us. These next few months will be a time to continue focusing on how to be, while we also manage a series of tasks. I have no doubt that it will also unfold and flow in a truly magical way.

Apr 252012
 

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There is a picture in my mother’s house.  My four-year-old self stares out of it with so much confidence. She is sure. Left hand planted on hip. Right hand gripping a bright white parasol, trimmed in lace. Right leg tossed over left so comfortably. Even then my legs were long, in this picture they are covered in white tights and tipped in one of many pairs of patent leather Mary Janes. She wears this smile that says, “Just watch me.”

Four-year-old me was a powerful force, and as I grew older I suspected that it scared some people.

I have vivid memories of that moment of fear in people’s eyes. Perhaps from family members who wanted to keep me safe and unharmed; who worried about what a smart mouthed little black girl would reap. I remember the stare of the nun I questioned in second grade. In my small southern town, I was one of less then a dozen children of color in the entire school. I was different and lonely. I wondered why Catholicism was so different from the church I went to three days a week. She didn’t answer my question, she wanted me to be quiet.  Eventually I was quiet.  I was quiet when kids teased me about being spoiled and rich and yellow. I was quiet when my white classmate told me that I couldn’t play with her because I was a nigger. I walked away. Said I didn’t want to play with her anyway.

But it wasn’t true. I did want to play, and I was tired of being different. When I was ten years old I begged to go to public school.  Once there, I made sure to keep my grades at an appropriate level to avoid my parent’s harassment–but not get too much praise or recognition. I worked on blending in quietly. It was a tricky tightrope. But I learned to walk it and sought peace in the silence.

I left for college, found a community where it felt safe to be me, and then delicately began the task of figuring out just what that meant. I was surprised to find that it was hard to find the voice I’d hidden from myself years before.  Years later, I could say that I had cultivated what seven year old me wanted desperately. A community of peers, powerful women of color, who accepted me for whatever it is that I happen to be.

However, ten years later, believing that I was still afraid of scaring others, I realized that I was afraid of truly wielding my own power. As I worked to create a more just world for others, I allowed myself to be silenced. When colleagues ignored my opinions, I stopped sharing them. I even silenced myself–but there was no more peace in the silence.

Today, I am reclaiming that power that my four-year-old self so effortlessly wielded. I find it in glimpses. For me standing in my power is about seeking and finding those glimpses. Sometimes it is easier than others. A new pair of Mary Janes still helps.  The beautiful brilliant sister friends are certainly helpful, too. In the end it is–much like everything else worth doing–a choice. A choice to speak loudly even when I know that others would prefer my silence.  A choice to make uncomfortable decisions, because I know that they are the right ones for me. Because I know that they will help me serve myself, and in turn, my community and in turn the world.

My absolute highest hope for the Standing In Our Power Network is that it would be a place to BE with other powerful women. It would be an encouragement to make the choices we know are right even when they are hard. I hope this network will help create a world where little girls stay loud–a world where we hold tight to our parasols and maybe even our smiles as we defy those who wish for our silence.

Allison Conyers is currently an organizational consultant who lives in Washington, DC.  She has a special passion for implementing strategic campaigns to empower marginalized communities and change policy.  Recently, Allison lead communications efforts at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.  In those positions she developed comprehensive message frameworks and developed and facilitated trainings for hundreds of health care providers, attorneys, advocates and others across the country.

The immediate past board chair of the Progressive Communicators Network, Allison was one of the founding members of its Katrina Information Network in 2005, when she served as the Communications Coordinator for National ACORN–the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

A former journalist, Allison received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations from Howard University in 2003 and obtained a Master of Science in Organization Development in American University’s NTL program in 2011