Spirit in Action logo

Omisade Burney-Scott

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.

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.

Spirit in Action