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Feb 232012

The Spirit in Action team has been thinking a lot about love lately – what role does love play in our work together and our work with others?  Recently, I spoke at Georgia Southern University at a conference, and on the way from the airport in Savannah had a conversation with my taxi driver, Tim.  Hearing I was from Massachusetts, he wanted to know how I experience healthcare.  He believed that the healthcare law that requires every person to have insurance–providing lower cost or free insurance to those who cannot afford it–had “bankrupted the state.”

I explained that it had not bankrupted the state, but actually saved money in the long-run, and certainly improved healthcare for everyone.  I told him about the stark differences I had witnessed in recent visits to emergency rooms in Massachusetts and North Carolina. When I took my 20- year-old nephew to the emergency room in North Carolina, a hundred or more people were in the waiting room. They were there for problems that could have been prevented or taken care of at a doctor’s office or clinic, if only they had the insurance coverage that would’ve been available to them in Massachusetts.

Hospital employees told my nephew he had a nine-hour wait to see anyone. Only because my partner is a nurse and could advocate for him was he seen sooner. They rushed him into surgery for an emergency appendectomy.  He is fine now, but without insurance, my nephew—a community college student–is now saddled with a $50,000 medical bill.

As I spoke with Tim, he began to see more sides to the healthcare debate.

Our next discussion was about people he referred to as “illegal immigrants.”  Tim informed me he was a member of the Tea Party.  I took a deep breath and remembered the only way for people to change is for us to be in conversation with them – not in an adversarial way, but listening deeply and explaining our understanding in a way that is filled with real curiosity.

Sometimes, we forget to express love and openness to folks with different viewpoints from ours.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m far from being a fan of the Tea Party.  However, I know from many life experiences that by not limiting my interactions, friendships and conversations, I can reach people and see major shifts happen through asking open questions and authentically listening to the answers.  In this way, I have no problem saying what I believe, even though it may be an opposite perspective.

When Tim and I parted after our 30 minute taxi ride, he asked if he could pick me up when I returned to the airport. I knew something had shifted for him. And for me too.

Feb 202012

z.santiago-blog-imageI come from a long lineage of strong and resilient Dominican women.  I was born on the island of Puerto Rico, but have been raised on the ‘mainland.’ I identify as a proud queer Latina, with strong ties to the US South. We arrived in Louisiana from Puerto Rico when I was six years old. At that young age, I was able to quickly acquire the English language and with that came tremendous responsibility.  Not only to my mother and our immediate family members, but anyone in the community who required the services of a young, but capable, cultural liaison.

It came easy to me….this dance of acculturation and bridge-building.  Indeed, this is the first recollection I have of standing in my power.  Being able to navigate a new place, a new culture, and new people, sometimes even better than the adults that surrounded me.  As a young girl my intelligence and ability to quickly adapt felt like tremendous strengths and vehicles for expanding power.

Of course, as quickly as I learned this, I also learned that feeling powerful for me is something that fluctuates…ebbs and flows.  Sometimes a fleeting feeling that disappears for months, other times a strong marker of identity that lingers.  And this has been what continues to be true for me in this journey….recognizing that sometimes I stand firmly in my own power, others I am barely held up by the mere memory or reflections of my inner strength.  This does not in any way negate my authenticity, resilience or magnificence.  It is just a good and humbling reminder that every journey has peaks, plateaus and valleys.

Like many who have dedicated their lives to social justice, I too have been greatly shaped by the nonprofit sector.  At times I have been a powerful change agent, at others I have felt like a defeated hamster trying desperately to jump off that damn wheel. Truth is, I entered this work trying to heal others’ wounds and quickly realized I had not dealt with my own.  It took me a while to realize that my wounds are completely interconnected with others’.  Now, I strive to look at myself more clearly.  Being present to my own healing…recognizing that this is the only way I could ever help others.

There was a time when I believed that most effective form of power was the loudest, the kind that stood out front, made the most headlines, gathered the largest masses.  I’m not so sure anymore.  I am in a much more quiet phase in my career and in my life.  Remembering the type of power and change that happens on a much more personal and interpersonal level.  Recognizing that it takes all of these, all of us, to bring about any significant change.  Trying hard to practice non-judgment and expansive love in all that I do.

Over the years I have tried to ‘decolonize my imagination’ searching desperately for alternative leadership models that welcomed wholeness and truly supported liberation.  Models that appreciated my unique and powerful contributions in this lifetime, were not threatened by them, and wholly embraced me and my quirky ways. A network of strong women of color such as Standing in Our Power is the womanifestation of that dream.  To have the opportunity to continue and deepen these conversations with other strong, powerful, and magnificent women feels like an act of great resistance, resilience and love-building.  Undoubtedly this will strengthen and clarify my own leadership. UNDOUBTEDLY, the impact of this work will be felt in the larger social justice sector.  It has to, and it already does.

M. Zulayka Santiago, SiOP Core Committee Member:  After over 14 years of working for institutions large and small, Zulayka has found her home as a FREElancer. Her spirit has come into this life to surrender more deeply to freedom and joy, and the projects that she chooses to work with fully support this marvelous journey.Most recently, Zulayka contributed to the work of building health equity in North Carolina in her role as Program Officer for the NC Health and Wellness Trust Fund.  Prior to this, Zulayka stretched her entrepreneurial muscle by launching her own small business, Liberación Juice Station LLC, a mobile juice bar serving fresh-pressed organic juices, smoothies, and teas.  The vision of this business was to “create a vibrant and thriving community, where nourishing our bodies, caring for one another and healing our collective soul share common space.”

In the last few years Zulayka also worked as the Co-Manager for the North Carolina Peoples’ Coalition for Giving, a multi-racial statewide network devoted to amplifying the wealth and power of giving by communities of color; and also for El Pueblo Inc., a statewide Latino advocacy organization, first as Youth Program Director and then as Executive Director.  She has also served as the Operations Manager for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona.  These are just a few of her many other worthy endeavors.

Zulayka received her undergraduate degree in Pan-African Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University. In 2001 she received a Master of Public Administration Degree from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management.  She is a proud fellow of the 06-08 William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations through the Wildacres Leadership Initiative.   Zulayka has had the fortune of traveling to nine countries on three continents, expanding her worldview, deepening her sense of self and heightening her appreciation of other people, places and cultures.  There are still many places to visit, but for now she peacefully resides in Raleigh, NC with her life partner and 14-year old dog.

Feb 202012

I am the first born daughter of my mother, 3rd born daughter of my father and 15th granddaughter in a line of 16 granddaughters (clearly an Amazon tribe by way of North Carolina). I am a African-in-America-Southern-Soul-Sistah who has an “urban scent” so people want me to be from NY, Oakland—anywhere, but New Bern, NC which claims me and is where I will return to when I am dust. I am a perpetual student of righteous liberation, a dragon slayer for justice, a mommy and two beautiful boys (Taj and Che),a sister, friend, truth teller, light bearer, fire breather, community coach/midwife (be birthing big ideas, solutions, and tools) and servant. I am from Mars and Osun’s bosom which gives me the identity of being a child of all that is fire, love, culture, femininity, headstrong, abundance, fertility and divining. I am in direct community with my ancestors and I elevate them daily by engaging in my reasonable service on this plane, this lifetime.

My journey has been a constant reminder of my cosmic/divinely destined role of teacher, student, guide, midwife, encourager, broker, translator, advocate and activist. My “work” has called me to careers in higher education, the non-profit sector, philanthropy and consultancy. I love being a member of and/or facilitating communities of practice which translates to me having a high tolerance for messiness or bumbling when people are learning and growing together across lines of difference and complexity. I am called to support transitions for people and for organizations which means often giving folks the opportunity to give themselves permission to be bold, to take risk, to claim their place or space or to let go.

I believe in the power of women and sacred spaces and so I am unimaginably compelled by the idea and potential of Standing in Our Power (SiOP). SiOP is about creating those sacred spaces for women of color who lead, lean, cajole and create safe righteous places for our communities to be whole and just. To have what Ifa/Yoruba calls “Egbe”– a collective of your kindred where you learn, support, protect and build with your tribe is beautiful, it is power and it is very necessary. Building the space, holding the space, calling sisters to the space and recognizing how necessary this space if for the liberation of our communities and for those women who lead that process.

What do I imagine is possible because of SiOP? 

I imagine a bold reclaiming of our multifaceted identities and to have that reclaiming be full of new meaning, new ways of being and new ways of reanimating our connections with each other and building our collective strength. Because our identities, narratives, dreams, bodies and spirits have been co-opted over and over again, we need to be the architects of the vehicle to our own liberation and empowerment; it is critical that the space we come to be crafted by us as well. If we are going to continue to accept the call to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors to be about the work of liberating all our people with all our hard angles, soft spots and intersectionality, then we must be wiling to create those sacred spaces that nurture, support, refine and embolden us to operate with a sense of agency that reflects the complexity of our identities and our work.

I am looking forward to this journey. To connecting and being in community with a new collective of powerful women, to deepening the connections and love I have for the sistars I know in this circle and for being bold together — Tribe recognizes Tribe…….Ase!

Omisade Burney-Scott, SiOP Core Committee Member, is a native of New Bern, North Carolina and a 1989 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the Founder and Principal of Ananse Consulting and sees herself as an “Organizational Belayer” or “one who secures the rope, enabling the climber to ascend safely to new heights.” Omisade’s professional career spans higher education, non-profit leadership, philanthropy and organizational coaching. In addition to Ananse Consulting which provides organizational capacity building, coaching, program design, philanthropic leadership development, and board development, Omisade has worked as the Director of Community Partnerships and Learning for the Southern Rural Development Initiative (SRDI) and as a Program Director with both the Warner Foundation, a small private family foundation in North Carolina and Public Allies North Carolina, a national AmeriCorps leadership program.

Omisade is a founding member of a Triangle Area African American Giving Circle called NGAAP, The Next Generation of African American Philanthropist that directly addresses the “supply/demand” paradigm inherent in philanthropy that is connected to issues of power and privilege. She has served on various non profit boards including stone circles and the Fund for Southern Communities. She currently serves on the board for The Beautiful Project and SpiritHouse.  In addition, Omisade was selected to be a member of the Core Faculty for the Leadership Practice. The Leadership Practice is a collaborative partnership between the Asset-based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University and the national office of Public Allies which provides Asset-based Community Develop (ABCD) technical assistance to AmeriCorps programs nationwide.Omisade believes in the interconnectedness of spirituality and activism and the mighty and righteous work of indigenous leaders tethered to local communities and small organizations.  She resides in Durham, NC with her amazing sons Che and Taj.

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