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Women of Color

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

 

Nov 102014
 

01.sia logo_webIf you are like me, there are a few dozen things (or more!) that feel like they need our urgent attention. I could work full-time on the many different issues that pull at me. All seem equally necessary and critical. I know that if I could put all my time and resources into it, it might make a difference. But how do I decide? (continue reading by downloading our fall newsletter)

Apr 102014
 

Zakiyah Ansari is an outspoken advocate for public schools and the loudest voice on the transition team for New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio’s. Ansari is the advocacy director at the New York State Alliance for Quality Education, a non-profit. She first appeared on the public radar in 2007 as a parent leader for Coalition for Educational Justice. Ansari, a mother of eight, criticized the creation of charter schools, saying it set parents against each other. All her children have graduated or are studying at New York City’s public schools.

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, Zakiyah reminds us of how important public education is for us as a nation.

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?

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:

 

Apr 242013
 

As I write this morning, I’m struck by the contradictions in our lives.  I look out at the beautiful Cherry and Red Bud trees in full bloom and celebrate with joy the coming Spring.  I look at the news and feel overwhelmed with images of bombs, guns, people hurting, and the ongoing onslaught of violence and hatred in our country.

I am so excited about work we’ve been able to accomplish in Spirit in Action this past year.  Our dynamic work includes building powerful networks, helping make changes in communities and organizations, building trust and bridges between groups who often don’t work together, and creating leaders of the future.  Unfortunately, such tremendous organizational strides have been counter-balanced with struggles and sufferings of the people we work with, staff overload of work, and the pressure of facing decreasing funding as we try to do more and more work.

So how do we continue to hold hope and determination to move forward in the face of all that is so hard?  How do we counter the huge forces with billions of dollars that are working successfully at undoing the steps we have made toward justice over our lifetimes?

I believe it is possible.  It is also imperative.  And, counter to some thinking, I don’t believe it is too late. 

Although we have many progressive groups actively working for justice, there are an increasing number of people who are disheartened.  This disillusionment stems from a place of mis-information and mis-education in addition to oppression and poverty, which leads to hopelessness and lack of civic engagement that would improve people’s lives.    It is up to us to reach this group of disenfranchised population.  Research shows us that the majority of these folks also share values that coincide with ours.   But to reach these people requires a major cultural shift in how we think about our approach and the messaging in our work.

We must also strive to address the whole:  mind, body and spirit.  This requires holding hope, love, and joy while we work to create a world that is equitable, just and sustainable.  It means “walking our talk” and living into the future we want to create.

Today’s Exercise:

For us to do this work and bring people into our work for positive change, we ourselves must seek balance and joy in our own lives in order to create a future that works for all. 

I can hear some readers asking “how can I do that?  How can we hold that balance?” 

For today, just take some time to be grateful for the beauty around you and to others who support and give love to you.  Take deep breaths and connect to what inspires you on a day to day basis.  Remember when and why you first started working for justice.  Try this practice every day this month for 5 minutes when you wake up.  Notice what difference it makes in how your work takes on new meaning.

In the following month this year, I will include a blog giving ideas and exercises toward making the cultural shift on how to reach beyond the choir and build our base to include others we don’t usually think of as part of our movement but who are natural allies.  You will learn about a new approach or how to do one thing differently that will make your work more successful in reaching others.   

Mar 282013
 

The Progressive Communicators Network (PCN) and Standing in Our Power (SiOP), two networks organized by Spirit in Action, are teaming up to bring a dynamic one-day skill-building event to women of color leaders in New York City on Saturday, April 27th at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.

We’ll bring women of color leaders who are on the frontlines working for racial justice, gender justice, and economic justice for a day of networking and communications skill-building.

Workshop sessions are in development. They include:

• How effective is your website?

• Creative social action — actions that get attention

• Building relationships with reporters

This is based on PCN’s Be the Media! mini-conferences that have been hosted in Boston for seven years. We’re eager to bring this successful model to New York City for our local social justice community.

To help get folks there, we’ll be offering childcare, Spanish-language translation and a low registration fee ($40 per person).

A committee of leaders from the Progressive Communicators Network and Standing in Our Power are setting the agenda and carrying out the event.

Dec 212012
 

On the Winter Solstice, we welcome the longest night of the year as an opportunity to dream big and ignite the spark of collective action.

While we cannot predict the future, we can shape it.  We can choose now to build the world we want to live in and leave for future generations.  We can decide that this pivotal moment will indeed mark the end of the world as we know it–the world in which violence, fear, hatred and inequity causes so much needless suffering.  And, we can begin co-creating a world filled with hope, love, generosity and equality. We are filled with gratitude that we don’t have to struggle in the dark alone. Check out our newest video to learn how–together–we can bring forth a new era.

The Spirit in Action Team

Jan 232012
 
Our 2011 national Education Circle of Change gathering of educators, organizers, parents and youth lifted up the importance of trans-local organizing to transform our public education system. This year, in partnership with several members of the ECoC, we will be holding local and regional gatherings throughout the country.
We are delighted to support this network to live into its collective vision. Laura Ramirez explains that “the work of bringing to life the regional Education Circles is a reminder of the dedication that is entailed in making a vision a tangible reality.  I am excited to see that we are co-creating a nationwide effort to share, at the local level, the practices and ideas that have been incubating in the national ECoC for over three years.” Through this new phase, members of the ECoC will be keeping their ears to the ground while building bridges to connect their local communities to a national movement.  According to Bonnie Tai: “Each day it seems we fracture ourselves into competitors for federal or state dollars, media attention, political correctness, or moral righteousness.  A regional Education Circle of Change promises to bring the power of the collective visioning process to a group of people who are close enough geographically though distant in experience…to realize a shared vision of education and community.”
Finally, Jayeesha Dutta, reminds us about what it really takes to both co-create and live into a collective vision: connecting deeply to build strong, trusting relationships. Jayeesha tells us that “the ECoC has provided me with a nurturing network of brilliant progressive educators across the country. Through creating a collective vision and truthfully sharing our experiences from the heart, we have formed insoluble bonds with each other. In fact, I have found a well of inspiration that brings me strength, resiliency and most importantly, love, during these times of struggle in education.”
Spirit in Action