Jun 142016
 
Voting 101 in North Carolina

Voting 101 in North Carolina

Click here to read the entire Summer 2016 Newsletter.

Dear Friends,

North Carolina has been in the national news a lot lately. Passing the nation’s worst voter suppression law, it eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ended straight-ticket voting, and scrapped a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day. It also included the nation’s strictest voter ID requirement.

Here’s how the law affected me in the last primary election. Before I could vote, the poll monitor required me to hand over my ID. He scrutinized it with great care and at great length. Then he put my ID face down on the table with his hand covering it and demanded to know what the address is on my license. Next he wanted to know my license number. Now, I don’t know about you, but telling someone my address is no problem, but I haven’t memorized my license number. But neither of those questions should have been asked in the first place.

I moved home to North Carolina at just the right time, since this state is considered “ground zero” in this election year and reflects the political shift that is going on in our country. After spending two years listening to low-income community members, culminating in a community visioning gathering, there were three major issues they identified as critical: jobs and wages, healthcare and education.

Here’s why. Our minimum wage is $7.25, way below poverty level. This wage is less than half of what is needed to provide a living wage that would afford people basic necessities. Instead, one out of four children in North Carolina goes to bed hungry.

In healthcare, North Carolina’s legislature rejected federal money that would have expanded the program to cover a half million of the state’s lowest-income adults. Innocent people are dying – five to seven people every day, week in and week out, year after year.

Education is a critical issue because while state lawmakers found the funds to create a voucher system for private schools, they reduced the number of openings in the state’s highly successful pre-K program for at-risk children. They ended tenure for public school teachers, abolished teachers’ supplemental pay for advanced degrees, and eliminated thousands of teachers and teachers’ assistants. Lawmakers failed to include even a token pay raise for teachers. (Since 2008, teachers have received a 1.2 percent raise.) Adjusted for inflation and a growing state population, 2014 education appropriations are more than a half billion dollars less than in 2008. By the end of the coming year, North Carolina will drop to 47th or 48th in pupil expenditures and teacher pay.

Other headline news you should know – gender-specific bathrooms are only one part of the HB2 bill recently passed by the legislature. Referred to as the “bathroom bill,” our state government is creating fear among many people about non-existent public safety issues in bathrooms. But there is much more to HB2 than this critical issue, and it affects workers’ rights.

The state now has the power to keep minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, and makes it impossible for cities or counties to create their own minimum wage. You can now be fired for your age, religion, ethnicity, etc. and are not able to sue your employer in a North Carolina court to get your job back. Finally, you cannot sue in North Carolina, but you can sue federally. That means it takes more time and money. It is so difficult to do that it makes it impossible for people without extra time and money on their hands.

It’s easy to live in a progressive area where you don’t have to fear for the work you do or who you are. But I know my work is needed here in North Carolina more than ever. And I believe we can really make change!

So, one of the things our local project, We the People: Working Together, is doing this year is training leaders, working to train poll monitors, and creating statewide popular education voter materials. We’re encouraging people to vote, even when it’s uncomfortable. It may be that the Supreme Court doesn’t think the Voting Rights Act is necessary anymore, but I can tell you from “ground zero” that its loss is having a huge impact.

Spirit in Action has joined with Democracy NC and Blueprint NC, as one of 41 non-profit, non-partisan groups working together across issues and racial lines to advance equity and social justice in North Carolina.

We are especially focusing our work in organizing in trailer parks. Trailers make up 14 percent of all North Carolina-occupied homes and most are low-income. We are having a lot of success reaching folks because we know how to talk to people. We don’t just canvas. We ask people for their opinions and we listen to them. We discuss the critical issues – jobs and wages, healthcare and education– and what’s in people’s hearts. That is real civic engagement work at ground zero, and that’s why I am in North Carolina.

Peace, Power and Love

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

 

Linda Stout
Executive Director

 

 

Jun 112015
 
WTP 2015 photos stills 8

We the People April 2015 Community Visioning in Swannanoa, NC

Click here to read the entire Spring 2015 Newsletter

A Letter from Linda Stout

Dear Friends,

We are at a time of great unrest and unimaginable opportunity. In the words of YES! Magazine, “A new civil rights movement is being born.”

We watch in horror as practices that are ages old are brought to light through new technology like cellphone videos. Savvy young people are drawing increased attention to police brutality, poverty, and a country built on systemic and institutionalized racism.

The outpour of protest seen from Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL to Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond has brought hope that practices targeting and criminalizing African-Americans will be rejected at last.

Young people rallying their generation (and ours) for transformation can take us down a new path where everyone is treated equally and with dignity.

While protests to bring attention to what is happening are critical, this is an issue that requires a long-term solution. We need movement infrastructure in order to organize and build power for long-term and systemic change. Supporting youth leadership development is one vital step. But we must also mobilize for voter registration and voter turnout to elect local officials and government as well as state and national representatives who will be accountable to their communities.

The protests have called for a new level of democratic participation.  In 2016 we have a chance to begin to elect folks at the local level that truly represent people. North Carolina has been referred to as “ground zero” for the 2016 elections, due to changes in demographics and population, a major senatorial and governor race, and state representatives that can turn around repressive policies.

Spirit in Action will be working in collaboration with other state organizations to build a voice for power among disenfranchised people.

Peace, Power and Love,

Linda Stout signatureFINAL

 

Linda Stout

Executive Director

 

Sep 252013
 

syd new photo

I am sitting at the dining room table at my sister’s home, watching my 7 year old niece twirling and skipping around the living room, rocking her Asperger’s world with so much joy and grace. She is bold, unfiltered, vibrant and real. I lapse into daydream as I watch her, wondering, what if each of us, regardless of age, ability, class, employment status, race or identity, were able to access the space(s) in our own selves that allow us to move through the myriad twists and turns of life with this pure expression of our power. Can you see it too?

Learning to embrace my power took a lot of exploration, a bottomless pocket of patience and an unwavering commitment to my own healing. My journey has taken me into the nurturing embrace of many healers, connecting and learning from different traditions, practices, experiences and beliefs. Some fit, some didn’t, yet each experience moved me deeper into a more full experience of who I am called to be.

My journey has woven through the ivory halls of academia, circling in and out of the non-profit sector, mentoring young women, working in film production and consulting for socially-responsible finance and philanthropy. The connecting thread however, has been my practice of deepening relationship to Spirit and a softening into my gifts of clairvoyance, mediumship and of being an Empath. These gifts have been a part of who I am at my core since day one, yet it is only in the past few years that I have given myself permission to fully own these gifts as mine – as real, necessary and valid.

Today, I make my living as a healer, building a community-based practice in Los Angeles, Blue Jaguar is Love. I work with people one-on-one and in small groups, helping them to access the spaces within themselves to transform suffering and move into more embodied expressions of wholeness.

The three guiding principles of my healing practice are also the principles that guide my own feet as I walk through life.

1. Healing is possible.

Healing is absolutely possible if we choose it; but we have to practice at our own healing. It is not a linear process. In sixth grade I was determined to learn to play the violin. I had grandiose visions of making jaws drop the moment my bow hit the strings…then I found out I had to practice every day. My heart sank. What I soon discovered was that practice had a sweet side: the more I practiced the better I got and the easier it became. I could then try out new techniques and more difficult music. It wasn’t about being perfect, it was about learning.

Healing is like learning to play the violin. We do learn from teachers outside of ourselves, yet ultimately, it is ourselves to whom we are accountable. Why do you practice? What keeps you focused? What are you working through? When do you choose to walk away? As I learned with my violin journey, the expectation of speedy rewards actually slows us down: it is the process that matters.

Try This: The simple act of breathing is a potential lesson, an opportunity to connect deeper with ourselves, with the world and with Spirit. Begin a daily stillness practice. Start with just one minute to sit still and simply breathe. Notice your inhale and your exhale, say hello to your body as it is right now. What are you feeling? Where are you? Just notice. Call back in all the parts of yourself that you may have left with other people, or in that meeting that went too long, or even in your bed this morning. Call yourself back into yourself. Find your center now in your breath. As your heart slows your mind will follow suit. When you are ready, tack on another minute to your stillness…and then the next day, another minute. Notice what happens. What do you hear when your mind is still? What do you know? The more we practice the easier it becomes to access stillness, inner wisdom and our own personal wholeness. This is healing, one breath at a time.

Coming in Part II: My other two guiding principles and two more exercises for embracing your power.

Stephanie Syd Yang is a coach and co-facilitator of the Standing in Our Power 2013-14 Transformative Leadership Institute.

Sep 252013
 

Next week, October 2-6, thirty-five leaders will convene in Ohio to kick off the Standing in Our Power (SiOP) 2013-14 Transformative Leadership Institute for women of color. This unique 10-month program consists of coaching, trainings and peer mentorship to strengthen and advance the leadership of women of color who are working for a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

Programs like SiOP are needed now more than ever as we prepare for a shift in our nation’s demographics. In July 2012 the Center for American Progress released an issue brief on “The State of Women of Color in the United States.” The issue brief takes an in-depth look at the status of women of color and makes clear that our voices are missing at a time when national demographic trends continue to shift toward women of color becoming the majority among all women.

Women of color today are largely underrepresented in the national debate on key issues, including reproductive health care, women’s rights, and the economy—despite the direct impact these issues have on us personally, as well as on our families and communities.

SiOP is building the leadership and capacity of women of color across generations who are at the helm of movements for racial, gender, economic, reproductive and environmental justice. Together, we are organizing, shaping policies, shifting culture and building new institutions that impact our lives.

Reviewing the applications and pre-interviews of the amazing leaders, ages 21 to 72, who will gather in Ohio, I find myself in between heartbreak and hope. We are convening women who are:

  • Community Organizers
  • Policy Advocates
  • Cultural Workers and Artists
  • Fundraisers and Communicators
  • Social Entrepreneurs

Together in Ohio next week, we’ll explore what it means to have an impact without sacrificing one’s well-being and sustainability. We’ll build a network and community that they can consistently lean on and support each other, and participants will develop roadmaps to foster personal and leadership transformation that increases their effectiveness.

Many of the women will return home ready to ignite a cultural shift within their organizations and communities that allows for radical inclusion of the vision and voices of women of color.

No small task, indeed. Especially considering that many of these women are running organizations with minimal support, and have very little access to resources, capital and networks of privilege. I am hopeful because of the indomitable spirit and passion of this year’s Institute participants. I feel heartbroken because of how many adversities they face as leaders and the trauma they’ve experienced – and we were only able to accept one-fourth of the 100+ applicants. Your partnership at this time will help heal the heartache and support us to live into all that is hopeful.

Will you stand with us by making a personally meaningful contribution today?

Support SiOP

 As women of color, we live and lead at the intersection of multiple oppressions. Often this is a lonely and isolating place and we’ve seen that through community building and holistic leadership development we can rise and succeed. Yet, there is a dearth of resources for critical capacity building programs like SiOP that focus on women of color.

Whether you’re a woman of color or an ally, there’s a place for you in this community.

By joining the SiOP community as a donor, you are supporting women of color leaders, and choosing to sustain this work with them over time. Please check out the short video above of highlights from our inaugural SiOP gathering in 2012 and consider investing in the personal and leadership transformation of women of color who are creating change that will benefit society as a whole.

I hope we can count on your support as we support a powerful group of leaders

Sep 242013
 

linda with drawing of her journey

I was blessed to learn from one of the greatest women of color who taught me my first baby steps into organizing. But it didn’t stop there. This is the beginning of my own cultural shift in how I understood and thought about things. In this blog, I tell this story and progress to the now.

I first began organizing in Charleston, SC when I was living in a Black community which primarily consisted of low-income apartments and projects. At my bus stop, I was always the only white person, and kept complaining to other bus riders about the fact that the bus didn’t take us down to Broad Street where I worked. Many of the folks that I rode the bus with worked even farther away.

People would mostly just smile, chuckle, or shake their heads at this young, naive white girl and tell me, “That’s just how it is.” Some were more direct: “’They’ don’t want busses full of black people coming into their neighborhoods.” And so we continued to ride on the bus, then get off and walk several blocks into those white neighborhoods where we worked.

But several people told me that if I wanted to do something about it, I had to go talk to Mrs. Clark. I walked by her house several times before getting the courage to knock on the door. A young person answered the door and took me to Mrs. Clark, who I immediately fell in love with — an elderly, caring, strong, and wise woman. It was almost a year later before I learned she was a very famous leader, Septima Clark, often referred to the as the “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mrs. Clark wanted to know my own story and then asked me to join them for dinner. After dinner she asked me why I was coming to visit her. When I explained what I thought was the unfairness of the bus system, she perked up and started telling me what I needed to do.

First, she told me to knock on all the doors of the community and to ask them how they felt about this injustice. Intially, this was difficult, but quickly became easier as I told people I was sent by Mrs. Clark.

Next, she helped me put together a proposal. She informed me that I would need to go to the NAACP to present it to them and see what they suggested.

This was in the 1970s, but I had no idea what the “NAACP” was. I grew up in the rural south and segregated schools. We never learned anything about civil rights. When I first went to the NAACP meeting, I was mostly ignored and felt too intimidated to ask anything or speak up. I went back to Mrs. Clark, whining, saying “I was the only white person there. They didn’t like me; they don’t trust me.” She quickly responded, “Well of course they don’t, what did you expect? Now, next time you go back….” I went back three times before a gentleman finally asked why I was there. When he heard Mrs. Clark had sent me, I immediately had the platform to present our proposal and eventually, a few years later after much hard work, we won – the busses began to run all the way past Broad Street and beyond.

It was one of my first steps in learning to be a white ally. I learned that I could not walk in immediately expecting people to trust me and waiting for them to show me that they liked me. And being a better white ally was essential to becoming a better leader.

Just as Mrs. Clark taught me, I have continued to learn a different way of working and of organizing from strong women of color leaders. It has been a wonderful, challenging, and joyful life-long journey.

After hiring a young, powerful woman of color leader to work as a program director at Spirit in Action, I continue to be challenged to go even deeper in my understanding. Taij Moteelall is an experienced leader and the founder of Standing In Our Power, a project of Spirit in Action. As a white Executive Director of organizations for thirty years, I still have privilege and power in my position and even while I try to “share power,” ultimately I have the final power in decision making. As I move into a time of transitioning into sharing leadership, Taij is stepping into a more powerful place of leadership within our organization. And while there have been moments of challenge, it has mostly been an amazing gift of love, learning and support.

siop group in circle of appreciation

The leaders emerging from Standing in Our Power are creating a new paradigm of leadership that is holistic, healing, and practical. It is more inclusive, loving, and powerful and will allow us all to move toward a truly inclusive, love filled and joyful movement.

As a white ally, I am called to act in a new way forty years after my lessons learned working with Mrs. Clark. As I stand in solidarity with the women of Standing in Our Power, I continue to be challenged in the way I think, to look at other ways of doing things that are outside of my “norm” only to learn a smarter, more effective, way. As a supervisor, my privilege and superiority sometimes let me say to myself “well, let them [a staff person] do it their way and when it doesn’t work, it will be a lesson learned”. My lesson is that instead of finding it doesn’t work, I find new ways of accomplishing the same goal – better than the way I might have done it. This helps me understand that the way I do things is not the “only way” or even the most successful way. It makes me begin to look at other approaches and understand new ways of doing things.

That is why I’m so proud that we can support women of color to come together and bring their amazing wisdom that has often been ignored or seen as “not the right way to do things” by white culture. I am standing with these powerful sisters and ask you to join me. I hope you will consider supporting this network as they get ready to kick-off a 10-month Transformative Leadership Institute.

Standing In Our Power will give us a new way of thinking that will help all of us: men, women, different cultures, ethnicities and colors. The way members of Standing In Our Power are recreating leadership is inclusive, healing and powerful. As we learn from this group of women new ways of leading, we will also be guided to build a movement based on peace, equity, and love that will allow all of us to move forward together.

I have been blessed to have many women of color in my life who are leaders and who sometimes harshly, but mostly lovingly, taught me what it means to listen and to follow. It has been the most valuable lessons I have learned and has taught me to be the kind of organizer and leader I am today.

This is the ultimate cultural shift we must make: learning to listen to those whose shoulders and backs we have often stood on to have the privilege and benefits as white leaders is a struggle that we need to embark on in order to be transformative leaders and true allies; learning to listen to the varied and often enlightened voices of women of color who can shed new insights and cast great light upon our vision for a more equitable and just future for all I will continue to share my journey of learning in future blogs. I hope you will join me in that journey.

If you are interested in supporting Standing in Our Power, please use the link below:

 

Aug 142013
 

nitika blog2
Some days I love to write. Most days writing loves me back. Some days I hate to write. I want to share with you my story, but it is a hard story to re-tell. I don’t want to repeat facts with a stone on my heart, because they are heavy words to disperse. But I also don’t want to hide the story, because it is not shame that holds me back, but my own powerful self that is rooted in the current moment, one that does not look back.

“It’s true”

At Resource Generation where I work with young people of color with wealth, we have a tradition: when someone gives you a compliment, you have to respond with “It’s true”. I find a lot of women, and a lot of women of color, often deflect praise. Truly absorbing and receiving what we hear is difficult.

When people in my life share their reflections of me, I often hear the words: fabulous, strong, inspiring, brave, bold, joyful, sexy, divine, and full of life. (I also hear stubborn, funny, fierce, wise and committed). It’s TRUE! One thing I want to ask of all women of color, of all people whose divine power has been systematically suppressed, is to join me in believing.

 #1 Have faith in your own radiance.

How we tell our stories matters

Each of us is living many stories – our own individual life, our ancestry, our history, and all the identities that result from having a body; age, gender, class, dis/ability, nationality, immigration status and so forth. Then there are significant life experiences that shape us – trauma, spirituality, abuse, illness… the variabilities of being alive in the world at this time.

How does one tell a story of overcoming trauma and squeezing through life’s many breaking points, without the portrayal of self as victim at some point(s)? To stand in my power, in each re-telling, I have no desire to keep deconstructing my experiences, to keep analyzing my family of origin, or to keep grieving losses.

In each telling, let it serve the need of your current moment – to heal, to connect, to break silence, to share, to share pride, to vent, to reflect, or to let go. You don’t have to tell your story to serve what other people want from you.

 #2 Tell your story for YOU.

Social Justice / Swimming Pool

Do you ever hear the words “social justice”, or “racial justice”, “economic justice”, or “the movement” and have absolutely no feelings? That happens to me quite often. These days my eyes glaze over, and I suddenly picture myself jumping into a swimming pool.

When I hear the word “trauma,” I get quiet and my heart feels heavy. The opposite of standing in our power must be stripping us of our power. When that terrible thing happens to a human being, or groups of human beings or entire nations, we call that trauma.

As women of color, we have been forced to de-emotionalize our traumas, so that we are not called “crazy”, irrational, or overly sensitive. For our own survival, women have been forced to quieten/not listen or respond to what’s happening in our bodies. For the many survivors of violence who are women, we have learned to escape, to separate body from spirit from mind, in order to live through the experiences to even have the option of healing.

From what I understand, social justice is about the world getting to a place where it’s truly just for all people. But to know that it’s unjust, you have to hear from the people to whom injustice is done. But if we only tell the “facts” and we cannot identify our needs because it is not safe to feel into our bodies, then how will we open ourselves to truths that fill out a more complete picture? We can’t. We must create spaces where we can both tell the facts and let out the emotions of our traumas and truths.

 #3 The truth-telling of women of color is an eternal fire. Eventually, it burns and cleanses all of us and those around us.

To validate our full selves, we must believe and support one another, and to use women of color spaces to amplify our voice and visibility.

Spirituality

This is a magical power. Our spirit is the center of hope, interconnection, and a source of creativity and bliss. These are the components of true power – the kind that builds connection through love and acceptance. It is similar to maternal love, that source of unconditional loving unique to one who has the divine honor of being a gateway to new life. We do not create life, we simply create space for it to pass through us to take visible form in the world.

#4 Women are goddesses.

Connecting to the spirit level requires prayer, an intentional tapping into that larger power. Pray in whatever way is right for you: pray in silence, pray to music, pray with your body, dance, do yoga, do what is accessible to you that moves your heart in sync with your spirit.

nitika3

#5 Pray your way.

A spiritual community will hold you like no other. Elements of a spiritual community are: a) operating from a place of eternal love and non-judgment, b) caring about the whole person, not just about what they can do or what you are trying to do together, c) singing, dancing, meditation – practices that center and align our spirits, d) sharing good food! e) providing space to share delights as well as grief, f) reading and collective learning from a shared text – whatever has been powerful and grounding , from fiction novels to quotes to Audre Lorde.

We have to bring our whole selves to our social justice work, including our sacred ways of being and doing.

 #6 Build a spiritual community, be a part of a community of faith.

One version of my story

My parents were born in the mid-1950’s, in newly independent India post British colonization. Both were raised poor/working class; they had a traditional arranged marriage. Free local education led to upward class mobility, and joining the professional middle class. They migrated to Kuwait in the late 70’s where I was raised, and was sexually abused until the Gulf War, when our living situation changed. (The violence in my life ended, only to be replaced with the violence that happens in war – to people of all genders and ages). Fast-forward. In 2000 I moved to the U.S., studied computer science, found that the men in my department sexually harassed the few women (10%) in the program. I joined anti-violence work on campus. I went to get a masters in social work, then got married, realized I was queer, came out, and my family confronted the man who had abused me, my uncle. My parents in the meantime had started a business, gotten rich, paid for my undergraduate and graduate education. I got divorced, got a job, found out I have endometriosis, and have become eternally committed to working for equal dignity for all people. Now I live in New York, where I am happy and in love with God, and also with my life and all the people in it.

Another version of my story, on days when I don’t have the energy to tell it all, or days when I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s the past and it’s not Now.

All that happened was meant to be. I learned a lot from it, about how to stand in my truth first, and then to stand in my power. Now if only we can keep standing in love as we work for justice, it will all be okay. The path will not end in peace if the process is not gentle.

#7 To have a peaceful life, it really helps to make peace with your family of origin.

And healing takes time. To live is to heal, and to heal is to become a phoenix. We burn our old self and renew our life. Spiritual growth is being open to all the ways of loving and living, and letting go. If this is how we are living, we are leading lives centered in spirit and in integrity with the world.

#8 Healing is inevitable.

When i lived in You

When i lived in Beauty

i smiled easily and often

When i lived in Truth

i became bolder and kinder

When i lived in Love

it gave me pleasure to give

And so,

Beauty, Truth and Love came to live in me.

#9 To be a leader is to be your own true self.