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Mar 202014

judy ford blog

MY JOURNEY TO “Live YOUR Light!” – PART 1:

In 2007, on the heels of being ‘let go’ from my job of 4 years, I was offered a high-level senior leadership position in one of the nation’s largest national foundations with nearly a $500 million endowment – a career coup for any philanthropy professional; especially a black woman; especially a young black woman; and especially one who just experienced the shock and heartbreak of an unexpected and undeserved lay off.

The true value and meaning of an event is rarely what it appears to be – especially when the lens through which you’ve been encouraged to view that event is not your own. Let’s back track.

Over the course of my four years with that organization, I was promoted from senior program officer to associate director; I received annual ‘outstanding’ performance reviews; I represented the organization on the board of directors of national professional associations and funding collaboratives; the organization published press releases about my accomplishments; I had been chosen for a prestigious international leadership development program for mid-career leaders; and two months prior to being ‘let go’ I was awarded the highest available merit bonus for performance above and beyond. I was, by every accepted and traditional measure, a success!

One spring day, I received an email from one of the executive vice presidents asking me to meet with her. When I walked into her office she was there with the director of human resources. The executive vice president cried what seemed to me to be crocodile tears, and claimed that this was the hardest thing she had ever done: my position was being terminated in two weeks. The director of human resources pushed a separation agreement across the table, and I was told I should feel free to retain an attorney. They said it was not due to any cause on my part but that the organization was restructuring. Restructuring? Separation agreement? Attorneys? Termination? My mind was spinning. I felt ill, confused, shocked, angry. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to hit something – someone. I wanted the pain I was feeling to be felt by those I believed to be the cause of it. What I did manage to do was remain icily calm. I remember saying one thing, and one thing only: “Is there anything else?” There really was nothing else. I got up and I walked out.

My self (my feelings and perspectives about work, life, success, self-determination, value, purpose and fulfillment) – and my professional life – all changed forever after that meeting. In walking out, I not only walked out on that meeting and that organization, I also was taking my first steps in walking out on my habitual ways of being, on belief systems and paradigms that no longer served me personally or professionally. I didn’t realize it then, but getting up and walking out were my first steps on my journey to “Live YOUR Light!”

By the time the offer from one of the nation’s largest foundations came, that career coup I mentioned earlier, I was already a very different person. How did I feel about the ‘opportunity of a lifetime,’ about the ‘opportunity any black person in philanthropy would kill for,’ about the ‘opportunity that doesn’t come around for black people in this field very often?’ In a word: I didn’t want it! Or I should say, I didn’t want what I would have to give up in order to take it – my home, my life, my community, what I truly valued, my sense of place and being in the world. But the problem was, I didn’t yet know I had every right not to want what everyone else said I should want. I didn’t yet know my Soul was calling forth from me the courage to free myself to follow and live my own light. I had been broken wide open by the unexpected loss of a job well done, and made wiser because of it. No longer was I the eager, wide-eyed, ambitious, career/accomplishment-driven philanthropoid willing to do anything, go anywhere, give up anything for the next big position that would advance my career. No longer did I care about positions and titles and the perceptions of power they proffered because I now knew that that kind of power isn’t real; power is not real when it can be given or taken away by others. No longer was I naïve enough to believe that playing the game well can provide you with the job stability or the financial security you assume comes with your adherence to the rules.

So, what does one do when offered such a career coup, on the heels of such a heartbreaking professional experience, in the midst of all this new-found wisdom and paradigm shifting about the true nature of life and work? Well, you accept the position, of course!! You pack up your things. Lock up your home. Say goodbye to family and friends. And you move clear across to the other side of the country for that career coup. All the while, in your deepest being, you know this is not for you because this is just not who you are anymore.

……And exactly three weeks to the day you moved across the country, you find yourself back home kissing the living room floor having quit that career coup of a job, moved back home with no job and no real plan, but feeling lighter, happier, freer, more authentic and more rooted in your own power than you ever have before. Ready to redefine what ‘stability’ and ‘security’ mean, and to provide those for yourself in ways others can never again disrupt. And somehow, without anyone telling you; without any societally-approved, socially-imposed, external measures of success, without any need to seek anyone else’s approval or validation, you not only know you’re going to be ok, you know you are on the threshold of a life success greater than any career coup society has to offer.

Click here to read MY JOURNEY TO “Live YOUR Light!” – PART 2 .

Mar 202014

siop 2012-13 group picMy hands are at 10 o’clock and 1 on the steering wheel, and I am running off a to-do list in my head, stuck in traffic. It is 7:14 am. So far, my hands have changed 2 diapers, cooked oatmeal, washed up dinner dishes, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of coffee, wiped a dirty face, held my daughter while she nursed, and edited a 7th grade paper on Jim Crow. Did I mention that it’s only 7:14 am? I cannot remember if I brushed my teeth. This is what my mornings look like most days, and lately each morning I wake up with stiff hands. Alarming to a 36 year old who needs to type, chop bite-sized pieces of carrot, and learn to braid hair. I never really think about all the things my hands do. There is never intention there, only a sense of duty to my family and my work. Recently, I have become fascinated with my hands, noticing how they become tired more easily, how they creak when I wake. I often need to rest them after typing

I remember my great-grandmother Nell in the winter of her life. She was unable to use her hands to open juice, unfold a letter, dust her prized silver serving set. In fact, I cannot remember a time when her hands worked with ease. At 16, she taught me how to cook, telling me how the dough should feel, explaining it as if her hands were kneading flour and water into food. My hands followed these directions reluctantly then, not realizing that this was a life lesson in appreciation of what your hands can do as service for your family. Our hands make things; they heal each other when there is pain and wipe away tears. As women, our hands cook and clean, nurture and massage, teach and comfort…all in the service of love for ourselves, I think. As adults who know the power of touch, we seek out the laying of hands to soothe our souls. When I make bread I no longer have to measure water because I know what the perfect dough should feel like: smooth to the touch, soft and pliable, then rounded into a ball ready to rise.

When I was pregnant with my daughter I would often rub grape seed oil into my protruding round belly in the same way I knead dough. Using my hands I would pour all the love I had into the warmth penetrating my belly. In the spring I pushed a baby girl out into this world and my hands held her tight to my breast, my fingers holding her head as her instincts latched on to my breast, her hand resting on my flesh. My daughter Zuri gripped my index finger two minutes out of the womb. At 1 month, her hands clutched into fists, sometimes opening up, a finger finding its way to her month. Zuri’s grip was certain, everything within its reach held close and tight. Tears swelled in my eyes easily as my index finger became engulfed by 5 phalanges that had never touched a rock, held a rose or been pricked by its thorns.

I will teach her how to use her hands, and there will be others things she will learn on her own. At 2 months old she used those fists to focus. I’d watch her arms move those little balls of fingers and palms from side to side with all the wonder of possibility. At 3 months, she opened and closed her hands, still watching in amazement. From 4 months on it was all about discovery. She laughed when she touched the dog’s wet nose, as I explained the words wet and nose. When she pulled my dreadlock closer for examination, I told her it was hair, and that she too has hair on her head. These textures, all new, are being compiled and filed away into what things are: wet, nose, hair. At 10 months old, I hold her hands tight as she begins to take her first steps. During all of this time, Zuri’s hands lead the way in her process of learning. It was not until I woke up with stiff hands that I realized the importance of touch. It was then that I remembered my great grandmother and how she would curse under her breath when she could no longer be of service with her hands. I consider, laying in bed as I opened and closed my hands, attempting to work the stiffness out, that one day my daughter will hold my hand to help me walk from the house to the car in the snow – her grip tight, making sure I do not fall – a circle of student to teacher closing up. She will climb into the car, her hands gripping the steering wheel at 10 o’clock and 1, rattling off a to do list in her head, and I will remember my great grandmother Nell, and smile as I tell Zuri for the 100th time how she taught me to make bread. I will then pray that I have taught Zuri how flour mixed with water feels when it is ready to bake.

Mar 182014

trauma and transformation

In mid-December my life was going exactly as planned. Work was wonderful, family was great, I just celebrated two significant birthdays and I was doing well personally and professionally. In fact, I was on a bit of high after receiving acknowledgement for being an Emerging Leader in the social work field.

Then something happened. My organization decided that we should part ways. At that time, it felt like the most traumatic event that I could experience.  I was never consulted on this decision, I was informed. So, I found myself unemployed and without my life’s worth. My job was something that brought me pleasure and fulfillment. I  spent that last three years pouring my soul into this organization. I was finally reaping the benefits of developing my staff and was witnessing the positive impact we were having on our program participants.

I was devastated to say the least, and I knew I had to move on.

This experience compelled me to engage in a process of healing and transformation.  I want to share my process through these Moving Forward Healing Steps to support others who are experiencing trauma.

What I’ve learned is that going through the healing process does not undo the negative effects, but it does allow the trauma to co-exist with your healed being. I’ve outlined three phases that are critical to relieving yourself from the burden of the trauma. They are as follow:


It is extremely difficult to experience something traumatic and not take the private time you need to process the impact of the traumatic events. One must take the time they need to honor the pain and mourn the loss before they can move on. I would caution not to stay in this phase for very long, as it will not serve you very well to be there longer than necessary. However, it is critical that you honor your feelings, process what has happened, and grieve the loss.


After any traumatic event one most free themselves from the hurt, pain and any feelings of rejections they may have. There are two choices; wallow in self pity and become the victim or decide to be the victor by releasing the trauma.

There is no scientific way or a timeframe that states how or how long it will take to move forward. You just have to do it and it must be purposeful and mindful. These following steps will help you to move forward:

  • Professional Therapeutic Care – seeking out a professional to support you as you process your feelings can be helpful therapy, as well as an effective treatment for mental and emotional trauma.
  • Attitude of Gratitude – If you focus with gratitude on the things that are good, you will find the strength to confront the things you want to change. Be present in the moment. Learn to appreciate the little things.
  • Positive People – Surround yourself with positive people. Their energy could sustain you. Also remain positive, the universe has a way of returning those positive vibes.
  • Kindness and Compassion – Be gentle, kind and loving with yourself while you are healing.
  • Faith – Prayer and/or meditation will make all the difference.


  • Exercise – When so much is out of your control, exercise is one thing you can start and finish.
  • Laugh – Laugh! It will change the chemistry within your body. Watch a funny movie.
  • Network/Support – Allow yourself to be supported. Learn to lean on your network. Sometimes one has to lean into their power until they are strong enough to stand in it.
  • Create a New Story – You are the author of your story, and you decide how it will end. Keep showing up for life and define it on your terms. For me, I consciously choose to remain a leader; a leader that needed healing and support, but a leader nonetheless.


Mar 182014

Leigh Patel is a researcher, educator, and writer. With a background in sociology, she researches and teaches about education as a site of social reproduction and as a potential site for transformation. She is an Associate Professor of Education at Boston College and works extensively with recently immigrated youth and teacher activists. Prior to working in the academy, Professor Patel was a journalist, a teacher, and a state-level policymaker. Across all of these experiences, her focus has been on the ways that education structures opportunities in society, and her daily work has been with youth who are marginalized through those structures.

As part of our 2013 Education Justice Listening Project we interviewed educators, students, parents and organizers about what’s the best path forward for improving public education. In this clip, Leigh reminds us of an often deliberately-obscured fact: that the public education system belongs to us. What does it mean if we take action based on that idea?

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