Thursday Dec 12, 2019
Thursday Dec 12, 2019
Thursday Dec 12, 2019
Earlier this year, Rockwood partnered with the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to release Empower, Change, Transform, a free guide about building successful leadership development programs.
So, for the fifth episode of the podcast, we thought we’d highlight the guide. Our panel of guests for this episode are all very familiar with leadership development programs:
- Abby Saloma, Director, Leadership and Talent for the Schusterman Foundation
- Sharon Price, Director of Strategic Initiatives here at Rockwood
- Neil Spears, Executive Director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, and alum of both Rockwood’s Art of Leadership and the Schusterman Fellowship
The guests discussed a wide range of topics, including the value of vulnerability in leadership development, the importance of building connection with cohorts, and how not to measure transformation.
The panel also referenced a poem by Micky ScottBey Jones called “Invitation to Brave Space”. You can find that poem here.
For more information on developing and strengthening leadership development programs, download the free guide:
Last but not least, this is our final episode of 2019…. but not our final episode of the podcast! Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.
Thursday Oct 31, 2019
Thursday Oct 31, 2019
Thursday Oct 31, 2019
In this month’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast, Darlene talks philanthropy, decolonization, family, healing, and music with Edgar Villanueva, Vice President of Programs and Advocacy for the Schott Foundation and author of Decolonizing Wealth.
The song in this episode is "Addis Ababa" by The Mini Vandals.
Darlene: 00:06 Hello, I'm Darlene Nipper, CEO of Rockwood Leadership Institute, and your host for this episode of Leading from the Inside Out. My guest today is Edgar Villanueva, Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the author of Decolonizing Wealth, Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. Edgar, welcome to the podcast.
Edgar: 00:31 Thank you. It's a pleasure to be on with you.
Darlene: 00:33 Thank you for saying yes. We really appreciate it. I would actually offer you a second to just add anything by way of introduction of yourself that you think I should mention.
Edgar: 00:43 Sure. Well, thanks again for having me on and hello to all of the Rockwood family and the friends of Rockwood, folks listening in. Of course I was so happy to do a conversation with you, Darlene. Because of our personal relationship and our professional relationship and all that Rockwood has meant to me. It really was a very pivotal moment in my life when I went through my experience with Rockwood and everything that I'm doing now kind of sprang from that week that I spent in California. So it all comes back full circle. So yeah, happy to be on here and to talk about the work that I've been doing over the past year with this book. And it's an exciting time to be indigenous, it's a exciting, terrifying time to be in this movement work. I think leadership is demanding all types of new things from us that we have to step into. So thanks for the work that you do and for having me.
Darlene: 01:48 Absolutely. And I'm glad that you mentioned this moment. I want to, we'll come back to that, but I want to take you back maybe by way of your website where you mentioned your mother was the first philanthropist that you knew. And I would love for you to share a little bit just going back about more about your family and community and you talked about your indigenous identity, but go back a little bit and how that relates to philanthropy for you.
Edgar: 02:27 Sure. You're asking me who's my people, right? Yeah. So I am from, originally from North Carolina, from the Lumbee tribe. We are a tribe that is in South East, North Carolina, a very rural, impoverished area. And my mom was a teen mother and at age five she scooped me up and we moved to the big city of Raleigh, North Carolina. That's about probably about an hour and a half West of our tribal community. And so I think when I say that my mom was the first philanthropist that I knew, a couple of reasons that I say that. One, for me and my background coming from poverty and a community that is very marginalized and does not have a lot of resources or power. I was not growing up rubbing elbows with the Rockefellers of the world, yet traditions of giving and reciprocity, philanthropy were all around me.
Edgar: 03:30 And I began to learn to give back and what my role or responsibility was in terms of giving and taking care and being in community from my mom because although she was a single parent and worked two or three jobs at a time, there was always space in that schedule the work of ministry. And for my mom that was happening predominantly through the church that I grew up in. And I tell this story about my mom in the book where she started what was called a bus ministry. And it simply was going around and inviting the children of the neighborhood to this opportunity to jump on a bus on Sunday and come to Sunday school and be in a place where they will be loved on and taught. And my mom was just passionate about extending that opportunity out to kids. And at one point on a given Sunday, she was busing in over 300 children to this church.
Darlene: 04:29 Wow.
Edgar: 04:30 So I just grew up every Saturday we did outreach in the neighborhoods. We went out and visited the kids. I would dress up like a clown or whatever to entertain and be silly and just love up on the kids. So that was from as early as I can remember, we were a family that was just called to service. And although we were poor, in a sense I didn't quite know it or I had an awareness that there were folks who were even in worse conditions that I needed to help. So that's how I grew up being oriented to that.
Edgar: 05:08 And I think that that type of culture that many of us come from, those traditions of giving and philanthropy are things that we need to reclaim and be very proud of and understand that the giving of our time and of our treasure and our talent very much makes us all philanthropists. You don't have to be a millionaire or a billionaire or have buildings named after you or whatnot, but we are often, many of us are folks who come from communities that have given us just a part of who we are.
Darlene: 05:40 At first, I was going to ask you what do you mean by decolonizing wealth or philanthropy but maybe I would add to that. Are you saying by what you just described, that there is another definition for philanthropy that maybe ... It sounded like you said reclaim, so maybe that we've always known but have lost touch with or has fallen out of the mainstream around philanthropy over time. So how would you define this decolonizing and how does it relate to this reclaiming of the term that you're talking about here?
Edgar: 06:24 Yeah, so philanthropy has become an institution and it's a relatively new formalized sector. Some foundations are about 100 old, but I would say it's really been in the last 70 years that we have this institutional form of philanthropy as a part of the nonprofit sector. And philanthropy as a word literally means love of people, love of mankind. And something that is a quite, I think it's actually a very beautiful word, but in many ways because of how institutional philanthropy have shown up in a way that we have institutionalized and made philanthropy this thing of a transaction. It's kind of tarnished the word and philanthropy is not a word that warms the heart of a lot of people and actually kind of gives a headache to some. My work around decolonizing wealth, to sort of simplify that, I mentioned I'm Native American, so I am a very unlikely person to find myself working in institutional philanthropy. It is a field that has a lot of work to do around diversity still. You see more and more people of color, but by far around 90% of foundation executives are white, 90% or higher.
Edgar: 07:48 I think about 92% of board of directors for foundations are white. So it is a very, very white field and a lot of folks, you have to think about who has the money, who has the money to start a foundation, you're going to see that that tends to be a white folks who start foundations and then they hire within their trusted network of friends to run the foundations. And so for someone like me coming from quite the other end of the spectrum to find myself working in that space is sort of a phenomenon in a sense. And so as I came to philanthropy, I chose to take the job 15 years ago because I again felt called to service and called to ministry. I really resonated with the mission of the organization that I went to work for the Kate B Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina.
Edgar: 08:40 And like most people who choose these jobs, I thought, wow, I'm going to be a part of something big that's like giving back and moving resources into the community. But what I found is that the dynamics that exist in that space, because of the wealth and the extreme concentration of privilege, the dynamics of sort of the light white dominant culture of white supremacy of colonization are very, very pervasive. And they show up in all kinds of ways. And so what seems like the charitable sector on the surface, as this like really awesome thing that is a good thing. And yes, there's a lot of good work that happens. In many ways the philanthropic industry has evolved to mirror colonial structures and actually can reproduce hierarchy, ultimately doing more harm than good.
Darlene: 09:35 What kind of challenges have people brought to you around your thinking about this? Given that mindset of money being the actual evil versus the way that we do things?
Edgar: 09:47 It's interesting because regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, whether we're conservative or liberal, money is something that we all need and we all want, right? Money makes the world go round or that might be another song, I don't know.
Darlene: 10:04 Yes.
Edgar: 10:04 There's a lot of songs about money, right? And money is a topic for those who are people of faith. Kind of going back to my upbringing, money is the most talked about topic in the Bible. Money is a thing that we should not shine or shy away from. But yeah, absolutely. I understand why anyone would take issue with the idea of money, but it's not that money again in itself is a bad thing, it's how we use money. In that scripture that is misquoted, it actually says the love of money is a root of all evil, right? So not money, but it's the love of it. And if the love of money is higher than our love of people or more ... The love of money is a priority over the planet and each other and community then therein is the evil. So the reason that there are children in cages as we speak right now is because of money, right? And so it all comes back down to money.
Edgar: 11:09 And so I think it's really important for those of us who are in movement work, those of us who are in social change leadership to understand how money and capital is flowing through the world and how it is being used in ways to oppress and dominate. Because in any campaign or any type of work we're doing to address those issues, we have got to disrupt and use money in a different way. And so money has been used in ways historically that have been super helpful, right? Philanthropy with all of its ills has supported the civil rights movement, innovation, and what not. So we have examples of how money can be used in a good, there is nothing wrong with having wealth and having money. I actually, I want to build wealth. I want to have the feeling that I have more than enough and that I'm not one car accident away from being homeless. I've done pretty well for myself, but I'm like a lot of folks where my check is a community check where I'm taking care of the grandma and the mom and all of those things, right?
Edgar: 12:17 So I would like to get to the place where I have enough money in the bank to feel super confident that if I pass a quarter on the street, I don't have to pick it up. I still pick up quarters. And it's not because I love money or want to hoard it, but there is ... I'm totally okay with the idea of having money. I just want everybody to have it. I don't want to have money to the extent the others don't have it, right? I don't want to exploit or harm people or this planet so that I can have money. But the thing is we have so many resources, right? If we put on our abundance mindset hat, there's enough wealth to go around that we all should be coordinating those resources and sharing those resources in a way that we all mutually benefit.
Edgar: 13:05 And so I think sometimes those of us who don't come from wealth have a poverty mentality almost out of a defense mechanism. Or if we work in nonprofit organizations, we think that we're supposed to underpay our people or struggle or not have cute offices. And this is something that I pushed back on. I think that we're worthy to have all of the nice things, right? But we're working toward a world that everyone benefits and has equal access to the same types of privileges and opportunities.
Darlene: 13:38 But how does healing play into this notion that you have of decolonizing wealth?
Edgar: 13:45 Yeah. For me, on a personal basis, I think when I was at Rockwood there was a lot of frustration coming out for me at that time as a person that has been in the sector for some time and really trying to push forward change and to practice the work of equity and diversity and all of the things that we talk about. But to put that in practice in my institutions and there's just a frustration, the particular cohort I was in was all folks who work in philanthropy and I reached a point where I was like, we're having these same conversations. I'm so tired of people feeling oppressed and limited and stifled in these jobs because of these underlying things, dynamics within philanthropy that we're not allowed to really talk about publicly.
Edgar: 14:44 Those are really the root problems, right? And so I was sort of angry and it was also right around the time of, after the election where I started this writing process, and I'm not a person that holds that emotion of anger and frustration. I am a silly, silly bird, and just a very forgiving, kind of just happy go lucky person. And so as the anger and frustration was just kind of howling on, I felt like I had to do something to get this off of me. I spent some time back in North Carolina with my community there and I was talking with an elder about, I was saying to her, I just feel angry. And I was reminded that I needed to do some healing work.
Edgar: 15:37 And especially in times like now where there's so much pain and so much happening around, we've got to be intentional about our own healing journey as much as we are being involved in work that is helping our communities. So for me decolonizing is the work of healing because I had realized that I was so colonized. I had so assimilated and given up my original structions to this idea of the type of leader that I felt like I had to be in philanthropy to be successful. I had tried all the things like code switching, like all the things to really show up and be the kind of leader they wanted me to be. And I felt completely sort of like empty inside and that I was not being the type of leader that I was designed to be.
Edgar: 16:28 And so for me, getting back to that place of wholeness was a process of decolonizing or unlearning, kind of these sort of dominant ways of showing up and being. And I've found that journey to be connected to healing in my own community of shedding myself of this frustration, of this anger and really getting on a path to doing something about it. And that journey that was personal for me is something that I believe can be something that groups of people or organizations kind of go through together or communities. In fact, this entire country could go through a process of truth and reconciliation. So I call ... To boil down the large word of decolonization for me is just really about healing because we can't undo colonization. But what we can do is acknowledge the trauma that it has caused in all of us. Whether you're a person of color, indigenous or white and begin a healing journey to repair from that trauma.
Darlene: 17:33 That's really powerful. So as we're thinking about this word decolonizing as a healing journey, what are some of the ... I mean, what could that look like in practice? What are some of the ways that ... I heard you say we can do this at many different levels. So are there particular ways that either you're working with yourself or that you've seen folks in groups or organizations do that are really useful or could be instructive for the rest of us? You know, of what it looks like to decolonize either our own wealth or our own relationships to money and or if we're working in one of these systems, how do people bring some of this possibility to the institutions they're working in?
Edgar: 18:21 Like a lot of things, it starts with awareness and like you said, we are so desensitized to colonization. We often think of colonization as something that happened years ago, but it's actually still happening in real time. And so actually being aware of the dynamics of colonization and how they're showing up and not allowing ourselves to become so desensitized to that. We live in such a culture of sort of white dominant narrative that we've internalized that to the point that it's normal. We have all sort of collectively agreed at some level that white is better and that white is right and that white is beautiful. And that is a product of the books we read and the shows we watch on television, all of this narrative has just been driven by folks who are white.
Edgar: 19:19 And so I had a friend who described it really beautifully, like we wake up every single day with a pill in our mouth and we have to make a conscious choice to swallow that pill or to spit that pill out. And that pill is white supremacy. It's just a default. And so how can we become so aware of the dynamics that every morning we make very intentional choices to spit the pill out? And that is the hard work that we all have to commit to doing. It's like walking backwards on a moving sidewalk at the airport. Everyone's coming this way, right? We're turning around with our bags and just busting through the crowd in the opposite direction. And so that's the level of commitment and awareness that it's going to take for us to begin to dismantle white supremacy. But to make that a little bit more tangible, the processes that I outlined in the book around healing.
Edgar: 20:17 The first step is grief. And that sounds like not super exciting, no one wants to grieve. But the truth is, in order to heal as people, as organizations, as a community, we have got to have a process of truth and reconciliation. And the fact is when we understand the truth of what has happened in this country, the truth about how we have perpetuated some of this injustice, either voluntarily or whatnot, we're going to feel a sense of grief about that. And that's a good thing. We should have a conscious about it. But in this country especially, we are so programmed to be futuristic and forward thinking and not look toward the past. And so we often kind of bury these things under the surface where they fester until there's outrageous acts that are horrifying because we haven't dealt with the root of the problem.
Edgar: 21:19 And even in our families, there are certain conversations that need to be had that we're not having. Right? Pain and abuse and things that have happened that we sweep under the carpet and we just move forward. And I was kind of raised that way personally. Right? It's like there was sort of the sentiment, well, we're still here and we're still on our two feet, so let's just keep moving forward. But the problem is if we don't confront trauma either in our families or in our communities or in our history as a country, those things begin to faster under the surface and we're not able to get to a complete place of wholeness or wellness. And I think that's a major problem that we have as a country. We don't teach the true history of our country in our schools. And I'm not asking for folks to ... I don't like the idea of being sad and I can't even watch some of these great new shows that are out because I know they're going to be really triggering for me.
Edgar: 22:15 Right? But we do need to have a process in this country of truth and reconciliation. We've never had an official apology from the US government to First Nations people for genocide. We've never had an apology for every single treaty that was broken. Every one of them was broken. We've never officially apologized to Black Americans for slavery, our original sin. And so when we as a society just refused to acknowledge really these things that have happened, then we are all holding that under the surface and we can't move forward. If we can just put it all out there once and for all and speak the truth and know the truth, then our actions in terms of how we respond are going to be so much more authentic. Right? For an example, reparations which is related to money. I'm super excited about the conversation on reparations that we're having in the United States.
Edgar: 23:14 I'm thrilled that it is a part of the democratic sort of platform kind of at this point. But what I am concerned about with that is that it feels like a quick fix to me if to just kind of throw some money and say, okay, once and for all we're going to move beyond that and we're going to be on this equal ground in a post racial society. I think money needs to be moved to repair that harm. But I also think that we as a community have to have a process of truth and reconciliation to do the necessary healing and acknowledgement. I just want to be acknowledged for .. I want my history to be acknowledged and I want to be apologized to. And if we were, if the US government was truly sorry for what it has done, if it truly wanted to apologize, there would be no question about reparations.
Edgar: 24:01 That would be an easy policy solution. But the reason that we keep kicking that around and we're not getting a resolution around reparations is because we haven't grieved our history as a country and we definitely haven't apologize. And so with the moving of money, we have to also deal with the underlying trauma and truth of our histories so that we can use resources in a way moving forward that is respectful to that history. Whether you're moving money literally as a foundation or if you're designing programs or if you're in education or healthcare. We have to understand the historical context of the problems we're trying to solve. So we're not applying blanket approaches to groups of people who are impacted by issues in different ways based on our history.
Darlene: 24:53 Yeah. Thank you so much for that. So look, I'm not going to let you get away without saying something about practices because I heard you, I didn't jump on you, but I heard you earlier talking about you shouldn't be the one to talk about certain kinds of self care or personal ecology or that kind of thing. But what kind of practices are you doing? Or what ones resonate with you the most as something that you really, as a part of your leadership feel like it's critical for you to pay attention to? I mean, it could be purpose, it could be vision. I hear you around ecology, that's probably the hardest for all of us, by the way. And yeah, just want to begin to wrap up in a little bit on that note so that folks from the network kind of hear your experience around carrying the practices forward.
Edgar: 25:51 Yeah. I'm not consistent, but for me, especially because I live in New York City now and it's just constant noise and people around. So for me, I enjoy the moments of solitude. I really enjoy getting massages. I try to go about every two weeks to get a massage, which is quite a commitment. But I think there's something about just being in a quiet room for one, it's like I tell people I pay to take a nap in a quiet place in New York City. Okay? And I think there's just something very therapeutic about the human touch and that transference of energy in some ways and that release of anxiety from my body that is physically healing for me. So that is my practice. I also try to, I tap into things that bring me joy. And one of the things from my past growing up in the South and growing up in the church is that I've always loved black gospel music.
Edgar: 26:56 And so when my partner's not at home, I will put on my black gospel music wide open while I'm washing dishes and just shout around the house and let it all out. And so it's kind of bringing back to me just lots of happy memories from how I grew up. And there's just something about black gospel music that is like truly liberating and empowering to me. So I think it's finding those things that bring you joy and holding those close. And making time is the hardest thing I think for all of us. And regardless of how busy I am, I will always squeeze in that phone call to a friend on my way to a meeting or wherever to that's going to crack me up on the phone and give me that deep belly laugh. I try to have a deep belly laugh at least once a day.
Darlene: 27:43 Oh, wow.
Edgar: 27:44 I think those go far. Yeah.
Darlene: 27:46 Wow. That is ... I'm going to have to take that with me. You know, I take what we talk about into the rooms, a deep belly laugh once a day sounds like it's right up my alley. I love it. I love it. We're going to go ahead and wrap it up. You know, I always ask people what song is on your movement mix tape?
Edgar: 28:09 There's a song that I sing every day that a lot of people may not know. Again, that's going back to my roots in a church, but it's just a song that just says peace, peace, wonderful peace. And I think it's for me living in a pretty chaotic moment right now in terms of schedule and New York City and just all the noise. I just hum that song in my head as I'm walking somewhere. It's just peace, peace, wonderful peace coming down from the father above. And so I just try to be intentional with my peace, because as they used to say, growing up in a church, the world didn't give it and the world can't take it away.
Darlene: 28:51 All right now. I so appreciate that. On that note, I want to say thank you for that and for everything, Edgar. Really, really want to appreciate you for taking this time. I know how busy you are and how demanding it all is and I'm so immensely grateful to be one person among the many that's following your leadership right now and I'm really grateful for you joining us and for being who you are in the world. Thank you brother.
Edgar: 29:21 Thank you. I appreciate you and thank you for the work of Rockwood.
Darlene: 29:25 Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, folks, listen, that's it for this episode of Rockwood's Leading from the Inside Out Podcast. Thank you again to Edgar Villanueva and from all of us at Rockwood. We wish you joyful leadership. Thanks for doing this.
Thursday Sep 05, 2019
Thursday Sep 05, 2019
Thursday Sep 05, 2019
In this month’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast, CEO Darlene Nipper and Executive Director of Thousand Currents Solomé Lemma discuss transformational leadership, US perceptions of Ethiopia and the continent of Africa, the changing role of philanthropy, and much more.
The song in this episode is "Los Angeles" by Quincas Moreira.
Darlene Nipper: Hello, I’m Darlene Nipper, CEO of Rockwood Leadership Institute and your host for today’s episode of the Leading From the Inside Out podcast. My guest today is Solome Lemma, Executive Director of Thousand Currents and of course a Rockwood alum. Solome, welcome.
Solome Lemma: Thank you. It’s such an honor to be here. Thank you for having me.
Darlene Nipper: So we’re going to get into more about your work in a minute, but tell me a little bit about your story, like how you got from where you started in life to where you are now.
Solome Lemma: I was born in Ethiopia in East Africa and I lived there until I was about 11. Then I was in London. I came to the United States and we moved to Marietta, Georgia. And in Marietta, Georgia I encountered a community that was very different from what I grew up in. The kinds of questions that I faced from my peers shocked me because I didn’t expect it.
Solome Lemma: And of course now that I know that was a shared experience by most African immigrants, right? But I didn’t know that as an 11 year old. So when kids say to me, “Oh, what did you eat?” Or, “Were you starving during that famine?” Or, “Where did you live? Did you have a home?” I didn’t understand because even though I don’t come from a family that was wealthy or even middle class, I came from a place that was abundant in love and I never felt like I lacked anything.
Solome Lemma: So my sense of identity was not rooted in lack or deficit. It was actually rooted in pride and I actually thought I would come to America and tell people about how awesome Ethiopia is and how I can’t wait to go back.
Solome Lemma: So the fact that I came to a place where in some ways my story was already told for me before I even had a chance to articulate it myself, helped inform my educational pursuits as well as my career proceeded around really focusing on shifting narratives about Africa in general, about social justice and about Africans and the agency and self determination of Africans. That became the driving force behind that pursuit. Which led me here.
Darlene Nipper: Amazing. Amazing.
Darlene Nipper: There’s so much in what you’re saying that I have to take my first detour of the interview now and just say, you know, this conversation and say, what would you say about the history of Ethiopia?
Darlene Nipper: I know just a little bit. That actually might be useful for people to understand in terms of your knowledge and understanding about social justice and equity and colonization and those kinds of issues. What would be important for people to know?
Solome Lemma: Right, right. That’s a great question. You know, it’s complicated. It’s a great question and a really complicated question and depending on what Ethiopian you have sitting in this chair, they would answer it different. And I think that’s the one thing people need to know. The story that people know about Africa in the States when I came, was that there was a big, about Ethiopia in particular, it was that there was a famine. And it’s this idea that we helped you. We saved you.
Solome Lemma: We sang a song for you and raised a lot of money. Right? That’s the story people know. That you’re poor, you’re hungry, you’re despondent. That wasn’t my experience. There was certainly inequity in Ethiopia. There was certainly challenges there.
Solome Lemma: There was a famine. And famine that was worsened by political choices and decisions. Not because we didn’t have the resources. But depending on where you lived, you experienced that differently. And I grew up in Addis Ababa. I was a kid, so I don’t even remember it. I didn’t even know there was a famine in the country. Right?
Solome Lemma: Where it’s for Americans, Ethiopia was hungry as a whole. So that’s one part of it. The other side of Ethiopia that I think people know is, that it’s the only country that defeated and won against European colonization and imperialism, because Italy attempted to colonize Ethiopia. And there’s this idea that Ethiopians in the Battle of Adwa defeated Italy. And remained an uncolonized country.
Solome Lemma: And to a large extent that is true. The current state formation of Ethiopia, was not colonized by Europeans or Italy in that way. But we have a complicated history in which, in terms of how the state of Ethiopia itself was formed, that Ethiopia, what we call present Ethiopia, is comprised of different ethnic groups.
Solome Lemma: Some were switched, joined to the union or the state of Ethiopia by force. Then that consent. And that there are issues and tensions around that.
Solome Lemma: There are political differences. So, when I came to America I realized the narrative of Ethiopia was either you are hungry or you’re the black star. Like you’re the nation, you’re Ethiopian. There’s a bit of truth in both, and there’s a huge middle, that’s actually really complicated. That there are some Ethiopians, many Ethiopians, that feel like they were colonized within the state of Ethiopia under Ethiopian leadership, including the ethnic group that I come from.
Solome Lemma: So I think the one thing that I want people to know is that, to understand the history of a nation like Ethiopia, let alone a continent like Africa, which is often described as a country. It’s nuanced and complicated and you have to dig deeper than what the news media is feeding you.
Darlene Nipper: Your story, it crosses continents, it crosses. It’s bulk spread, it’s Pan-Africanist and then beyond that it’s like, you came to the States, you just before we got on, you just said, you’re an East coast person in the United States. Who are your people?
Solome Lemma: My people are everywhere. Everyone. Everywhere and everyone. I am an Oromon and African from Ethiopia, right? And those are my people. Oromo’s are my people. Africans are my people. Ethiopians are my people.
Solome Lemma: But beyond that, my people are people that reject the status quo. People that really understand the importance and necessity of sovereignty and autonomy and self determination and people that work to preserve and protect that. And people that for whom, justice inequities are ways of life and not just ideas to be debated or floated around.
Solome Lemma: So my people are people who are working not just to resist current systems of extraction and exploitation that you see in the world, but people that are giving us glimpses into the new futures that we want to run into with the creators, with the innovators, with the experimenters. Those are my people too.
Solome Lemma: And to be honest, I often think about my people, where I come from and also for my people, what is home to me in that respect. And who is home. And my people and home to me are where my loved ones are. So in many ways, home to me right now is Atlanta, Georgia, because I still have family there. It’s Ethiopia of course, then Africa in general because I still have folks there. It’s California. It’s wherever I have loved ones.
Darlene Nipper: Beautiful, beautiful. I know that you founded or co-founded Africans in the Diaspora. Tell us about that work and what was important to you and just whatever you want to talk about about that work and what it … Make sure you tell us what it is, so that folks can understand it.
Solome Lemma: Absolutely. Africans in the Diaspora is an organization that I co-founded that works to harness and mobilize African diaspora philanthropy. To connect the resources, financial, intellectual of Africans in the diaspora, with the work of organizations in Africa that were working to build new and transformative futures across the continents.
Solome Lemma: That’s what Africans in the Diaspora was. How I got to Africans in the Diaspora. If I can tell it kind of briefly is, the summer between my first year and second year of graduate school, I ended up going to Liberia in West Africa. And there I found myself entering a country that I had never been to, that was coming out of a long conflict, where refugees were being repatriated back to their homes. So returning home. And that’s who I was working with. And I saw how in many ways they had some really clear ideas and brilliant ideas about how they wanted to rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities once they returned.
Solome Lemma: But then our organization’s budget were dictated by donors. So we couldn’t necessarily fund their ideas. So I left that a little bit disenchanted. But also with a clear awareness. If I was going to stay in this field of social justice, from an international perspective, I needed to tap into what I thought was a personal identity as a bridge.
Solome Lemma: I ended up in philanthropy in that way. And after a year or two in philanthropy, then I saw another problem. When it comes to Africa, philanthropy still had a deterministic lens and view. We were still doing things for Africa. Our idea of where resources come from are the global North, are American. And then we send it to Africa. We don’t think of Africans having resources. Africans being solutions and agents of change.
Solome Lemma: We see Africans as recipients and needs beneficiaries. Meanwhile Africans in the Diaspora were sending 40, 50 eventually $60 billion a year to our families in the form of remittances. Which is all bilateral and multilateral aid to Africa and larger than a foundation giving to Africa.
Darlene Nipper: Wow.
Solome Lemma: So I thought, well clearly there’s a gap. Because if we have Africans with resources here, what would it look like, to actually tap in to African resources and connect them directly in a way that is not vertical top down. But that’s horizontal.
Solome Lemma: Because Africans in the Diaspora also seek connection and belonging to and with the continent. And how can you facilitate those relationships, where resources that are financial are definitely transferred, but also eventually relationships are built that are kind of that crossed the boundaries of geography and borderless for Africans around the world.
Solome Lemma: So that’s kind of what gave birth to Africans in the Diaspora, because I was frankly tired of the way development and philanthropy continued to approach the continent. And I still believe it’s imperative that Africans build institutions of their own. To help not only open up space at the table, where these decisions are being made, but to also model what alternative solutions look like and how we can do this work differently.
Darlene Nipper: Wow. And what were … First of all, that’s remarkable. And the data that you just spoke of is staggering. But what were some of the challenges in doing that? How was this incredible idea received?
Solome Lemma: I heard a lot of, wow, this is such a great idea. We would love to support it. Because initially the case I was making was, essentially this is an organization that will be self funded by diaspora communities. To get it off the ground, we will need support from allies and friends of Africa.
Darlene Nipper: Makes sense.
Solome Lemma: So there’s a lot of, yes, yes, we want to support it, but nobody really came through because I don’t think people really bought into the idea and really understood at the political and tactical implications of the work that we wanted to do. And then there were others who loved the idea and copied it, but didn’t support us. So that was a challenge.
Darlene Nipper: Wow. Yes.
Solome Lemma: From Africans. My gosh, the response was incredible. From diaspora, it was incredibly positive. We set out to do our work in the U.S. initially. Because we thought, start small and just organize U.S. Diaspora and then we’ll move globally.
Darlene Nipper: Sure.
Solome Lemma: We were getting responses from all over. From all parts of Europe. Even parts of Africa with people saying, “This is what we needed, this is the type of organization that I’ve been waiting for.” And I think we spoke to people’s frustration with how Africa is perceived and also presented by development and philanthropy organizations. And also spoke to the aspirations around what it would look like to have self-determined Africans owning their own change. Right?
Solome Lemma: So we got so many beautiful letters that I think for me, sustained me throughout the initial year of challenges that come with something like this.
Solome Lemma: And of course those were mostly personal challenges around, to start Africans in the Diaspora, I knew I couldn’t stay at my job, which was highly demanding and I left it. And when you leave your job, then you’re not just worried about about the future and success of that which you’re trying to give birth to, but also your own wellbeing and livelihood.
Solome Lemma: And asking yourself, you know, I walked away from a significant promotion, and significant opportunities, and et cetera. And was it worth it or so on? I never questioned the values and principles behind that choice, but there’s realities of a choice like that. Right?
Solome Lemma: So that part of it was hard. And then also it was really instructive for me in realizing, engaging diaspora communities, it’s very different from engaging other other funders or donors. Engaging diaspora to translate individual giving into institutional giving requires a different strategy that’s really centrist relationships and not transactions.
Solome Lemma: And that really focuses on connection and not just the work. And it takes time. It takes a long time. Africans give generously and abundantly. So to make a case for something like this, the strategy orientation needs to be different.
Darlene Nipper: And that takes me to your next journey. Because now after all of this fantastic work as a leader, you’re leading Thousand Currents. And there are two aspects of it that I’m deeply curious about. One is your transition, obviously, like from what you were doing before and your time at Thousand Currents before you became the Executive Director, into the role that you’re in now.
Darlene Nipper: And two is just like, what do we need to know about what’s happening in the world of the work that you’re doing, so that we can be better partners with you as well.
Solome Lemma: Yeah. Yeah. Thousand Currents is an organization that has been around for 34 years now. We used to be called IDEX, we changed our name to Thousand Currents about two years ago. And from the very beginning we were committed to supporting communities at the front lines of change. I think maybe it was in the second year of Africans in the Diaspora, the previous ED of Thousand Currents, [inaudible] reached out to me, to ask me how things are going. And we started having conversations and I realized the extent to which Thousand Currents was so valued in the mind with Africans in the Diaspora.
Solome Lemma: The deep rooted commitment to transforming not just the wave, this sector of philanthropy works as a whole, but also really transforming what building organizations that are healthy and resilient looks like. That was inspiring to me. So when she said there was a possibility for partnership in that IDEX at that time, could fiscally sponsor and incubate Africans in the Diaspora, I was thrilled. And that’s how we started our transition relationship.
Solome Lemma: Africans in the Diaspora was incubated at IDEX then. And we worked in intubation for two years knowing that if the partnership worked we would make Africans in the Diaspora a program within IDEX. And if we felt like it needs to go in two different directions we would do that.
Solome Lemma: And it worked really well and now Thousand Currents has a diaspora partnerships program. The first of which is Africans in the Diaspora. [inaudible] The Africa Program and Thousand Currents.
Solome Lemma: Today, Thousand Currents not only supports grassroots organizations and movements that are working on issues like food sovereignty, alternative economies and climate justice, but we also have a robust program that focused on transforming inequity. Focused on making it more just and equitable. That through initiatives like the Thousand Currents Academy, which is a training for people involved in philanthropy. Or through experiments like the [inaudible] fund. Which is a different form of impact investments. Or a CLIMA fund, which is the collaborative fund for climate justice.
Solome Lemma: So Thousand Currents has multiple programs running across its veins right now. It’s organizational veins. But I would say the core and heart of our work is the supports to grassroots groups and social movements, mostly primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America, right now.
Darlene Nipper: I heard you talk about transformative leadership. I want to ask you what has mostly shaped the way that you lead? Because it sounds like, this shared collaborative leadership style works for you, and that the work that you’re doing is really about transformative leadership.
Solome Lemma: Yes.
Darlene Nipper: So what’s shaped that for you the most, the way you are now around these ideas?
Solome Lemma: I mean my leadership has been informed by the way that women in my family show up and lead. In the personal space, that I actually often draw upon in the professional spaces that I hold. And it’s been shaped by board leadership experiences, or bad leadership experiences of note. That reminded me or taught me what I don’t want to do. As well as really great leadership models and leaders that inspired me to be better.
Solome Lemma: But if I had to kind of give you one example right now, I would give you my very first example. When I went back to Ethiopia to work, when I was young and 22 and thought I can do anything and everything. And I ended up getting a job at a big international organization. And my boss, her role was that of national economist for that organization. And I was really surprised by how much responsibility she handed to me immediately.
Darlene Nipper: Wow.
Solome Lemma: For an organization for whom status is really big, and an organization that has bureaucratic lines around who talks to who and who has access to who. She literally tore down all those barriers for me. So she had me interacting with the [inaudible] secretariat general back in New York. She had me interacting with ambassadors in the country. She opened doors that I really didn’t deserve that time, but what that taught me was that, she was really invested in or committed to investing in young, emerging women leaders.
Solome Lemma: And that was an intentional practice of hers. And also this idea of leadership as a starting point for leadership, of being trusted.
Darlene Nipper: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Solome Lemma: She trusted me immediately. And gave me space to make mistakes and to learn from them. And also she never told me what to do.
Solome Lemma: She asked me questions. She had me write the country’s development cooperation report or begin the process for that, which was a big responsibility for someone my age at that time. She gave me guidance. She held the container for me. She asked questions about the direction and created a space for me to ask her questions. But she didn’t really dictate or tell me what to do. And I think those are leadership attributes that I hold dear to this day.
Solome Lemma: I think my leadership practice is inquiry based. I ask a lot of questions to help people get to answers that they’re seeking. And where I need to help give those answers, I’m willing to. Because my starting point is inquiry. And also I strongly believe that leadership exists at odd levels and layers of organization.
Darlene Nipper: Yes.
Solome Lemma: The leader of an organization is not just the ED, right? We know that.
Darlene Nipper: Right.
Solome Lemma: We should be at every level. Everybody exercises leadership. And I think she was my first practical model of how you support leadership at all levels.
Darlene Nipper: What is your purpose these days? It’s like what are you sitting with as a … We understand a lot about how your vision, some of your visions have come to fruition and a lot about your work, but how would you describe your purpose in this moment?
Solome Lemma: In this moment. My immediate answer is, I think my purpose is holding fiercely and loving to the visions of a just equitable world, that are different from the one that we have, and to maintaining a space for unburdened imagination to flourish.
Solome Lemma: I think we have so many challenges that are being thrown our way that are aiming to help us believe that there isn’t another way that another world is not possible. That the only world we have is this. That the only political structures that we can build are the ones that we have. The only economic structures we can build is the one that we have.
Solome Lemma: And I think it’s my purpose now is to really hold tightly to that vision and that imagination that other possibilities are viable. That they’re right here and it’s our job to nurture, cultivate them, and to resist and reject the dogma of the current systems and structures.
Darlene Nipper: Ah, so incredibly beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that. So just a couple of more questions for you. So if you were gonna say something to the next generation, you know, you talked just briefly about our younger people. But you’re going to say something to the next generation or leave something for future generations. If you could meet with them, say they were here right now, imagine that these future generations are actually listening to us right now, what message do you have for those folks?
Solome Lemma: Such a good question. I think my message is, first of all, thank you. Thank you for carrying the work. Thank you for building these [inaudible] new futures where people, land and climate are implanted like driving.
Solome Lemma: I’m sorry, we burdened you with a lot of the hard work. That you have, everything that you need to do what you need to do. And that your ancestors in the past has accompanied you on this journey that you’re on.
Darlene Nipper: Thank you. Powerful.
Darlene Nipper: And finally, if we had a movement mixed tape, you know, I’m going to go for it, because this is the Rockwood way. What song is on your movement mixed tape, right now that you can share?
Solome Lemma: Right now?
Darlene Nipper: Yeah. What’s a song on that mixed tape?
Solome Lemma: A Luta Continua. Miriam Makeba.
Darlene Nipper: Oh. One of my favorites. Yes. Solome.
Darlene Nipper: What a joy it is to spend, you know, this kind of time with you. Really.
Solome Lemma: Thank you.
Darlene Nipper: Thank you so much. Folks, this is Darlene Nipper with Rockwood Leadership Institute. We’ve been talking to Solome Lemma, Executive Director of Thousand Currents. An amazing journey and a wonderful leader in our midst. Thank you so much Solome for talking to us.
Solome Lemma: Thank you. Thank you for this inspiring conversation for me. Thank you for having me.
Thursday Jun 27, 2019
Thursday Jun 27, 2019
Thursday Jun 27, 2019
In this episode, Lillian Rivera, Executive Director of Hetrick-Martin New Jersey, talks about what inspires her, what brings her joy, and her hopes for our collective future.
The song in this episode is "Garden" by Spazz Cardigan.
joi foley: I'm joi foley, and I'm your host for this episode of Rockwood's Leading From The Inside Out podcast.
joi foley: The guest for this episode is Lillian Rivera. Lillian is the executive director of the Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey. She's a writer, advocate, youth ally, and a Latino lesbian wife and mother to two girls. With over a decades worth of experience in youth development, she has facilitated workshops and trainings across the country on working with LGBTQ youth, and was nominated for the Presidential Advisory Council in HIV/AIDS. She's written articles on her work and her life as a Latino lesbian mom for Huffington Post and Feminist Wire. She's an alum of the 2015 Fellowship for Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in the HIV/AIDS Movement. Lily joined me via video chat, and I asked her 10 questions about her leadership.
joi foley: Can you share more about the kind of work that Hetrick Martin does?
Lillian Rivera: Absolutely. Hetrick Martin Institute, and specifically Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey, where I'm the ED, is nonprofit organization, and we serve LGBTQ youth. What we do is we have a unique model where we create the environment where LGBTQ youth are affirmed and nurtured in ways that they aren't in other spaces. So we have a youth development sort of do the same youth work that other adolescent providers do, just through the lens of LGBT affirmation. I like to go beyond inclusion. Right? I want to affirm and nurture our young people in order to have them internalize that they are whole, beautiful individuals that have a great life ahead of them, and their gender identity and sexual orientation and race and class, all of those things, are just facets of who they are and they're all beautiful and they all should be valued. And the rest of our work is really youth development work, giving young people the skills and the resources they need to thrive in their life.
joi foley: Do you have any favorite moments or memories from your work there?
Lillian Rivera: Yeah. We had the unique experience to be able to work with young people from the age of 13 to 21 in New York City. They worked with them until they're 24, so you see a huge progression in their growth. I think every time a young person reaches a milestone and they succeed around things that they thought they weren't going to succeed, it's a huge celebration. So they graduate high school, it's a great celebration, or they get their first job and they get their first paycheck. It's amazing. Or they get their name changed and they're affirmed in ways that they've never been affirmed, or for some kids is just us saying to them, Oh, you want a binder or you need a binder? Sure, let's go to the pantry and get it.
Lillian Rivera: And that one small thing just let's them move in the world in ways that are transformative. For another person, they might miss that opportunity, but we get to see all of that beauty, in terms of their growth and their blossoming, because we are affirming things that other people will alienate them around.
joi foley: Do you ever get inspired by the youth that you work with?
Lillian Rivera: Yeah, I am inspired every day. A lot of the young people that we work with are battling extreme poverty. I see their hope and their inspiration and I see their possibilities and I see them having that thirst for life that I think for me, someone who's been doing social services for so long, I could not have sustained myself if I weren't working with young people. I had the experience of working with adults in the past who were HIV positive and were either homeless, had a history of homelessness.
Lillian Rivera: They're usually battling mental illness, managing the addiction, and it just really crushed my soul because the world had been so unfair to them. The world had not put anything in place to address the issues that they were dealing with, and that's when I knew I had to work with young people. I had to work with young people, one, because they are not cynical or bitter, regardless of their life situations. They are a light to follow. I also find that I make the best decisions when I let young people lead. They're on top of things. They understand things in the world that my 47 year old mind doesn't understand anymore and they're a constant inspiration to keep going, to be able to give them platforms to lift them up, open doors for them, because their ability to innovate and think of ways that older folks don't is new and vibrant.
Lillian Rivera: I think I've always relied on youth leadership, and the older I get, the more certain I am that I want young people making decisions. I want them not only making decisions about technology and the stuff that I don't understand, but I want them making decisions about the world in general. I want them to impact the environment, I want them to, because they're going to do things in innovative ways, like the glasses on my face. Right? My 10 year old picked out because I would've never picked these out. But she's just like, yes, do it, go for it. I think that's what I get from young people every day. When I understand their world challenges and I understand that they're struggling with this and they're struggling with that and they're going to bust out this dope ass ... Sorry, this dope poetry that speaks about the future, that speaks about possibility, that speaks about like the beautiful many identities that they, you know, thrive in.
joi foley: Why were you born for this time?
Lillian Rivera: I think I was born for this time because I need it to be born working class. I needed to be born Puerto Rican. I needed to be born in New Jersey and I needed to figure out that I was a lesbian. And I needed to figure out all of those identities in order to create visibility for folks who look or sound like me or who come from where I come from or all of those important things. And I think the class issues that are surfacing today because of our current environment deserve the critical analysis that someone from my background brings forward. Right? And I think even in the nonprofit sector, I think I need to be there to challenge how these issues play out, right? I will often find myself amongst other nonprofit leaders, the only check off whatever box you want.
Lillian Rivera: Right? So the landscape is changing. I think our role in society is changing as nonprofits and if we don't figure out how to sort of dismantle systems of oppression within our own organizations to be possibilities of hope within society, then we're going to become obsolete. So I think my lived experiences from a kid whose dad was a farmer and then became a factory worker and whose mom also worked in factories. Understanding what the unions did for our society. I think I need to be here talking about that as white presenting or red Latina. I need to be working on anti-blackness in the Latino community, right? And being the person of color in spaces where on some level I need to be the one doing that talking, using my privilege to do that talking. And I think LGBTQ youth needed me. They needed me to to say, hey, you are worthy and you are valuable and you are beautiful and the world is better because of you and we need to hear your stories.
Lillian Rivera: Everyone needs to hear your stories. And I needed to be that messenger for some kids, some really valuable kids. And there's still a whole bunch of them that hopefully I'll get to talk to you.
joi foley: What's on your heart?
Lillian Rivera: Yeah. I think on my heart, what's on my heart today is, or at this time, is staying hopeful, stay hopeful and centered and in the community. I'm lucky that I'm in Newark, New Jersey, now, or Candor, New Jersey because Newark is a small city with big, big heart and getting, you know, I think in big cities like New York, you can get lost and lose sort of the connection to community. And in Newark it's what I need to keep going. Like I need to be in community with folks. I need to know that these conditions within our country will be over. I want to stay hopeful for the work and for my family.
Lillian Rivera: And you know, just stay focused that this'll end, this too shall pass and we will be stronger for it and our voices will be the loudest.
joi foley: Who is leading today that you'd love to work with?
Lillian Rivera: Well, you know, well anyone that I'd want to work with, I think I've got to the place where I'm feeling just a little insular and I feel that because I need to take care of my community, right? I'm feeling like I need to work with Latin x folks and I need to do that because the assault on us has been nonstop when Mexicans are called rapists. You're calling me one as well. You're calling my children one as well, calling all of my family one as well and I think I need to work with that community and I need to be there for our folks.
Lillian Rivera: I think we don't have the national infrastructure to be able to say, hey, let's have this convening and do this as you know, as Latin X folks. But I think some of us are working to do that and to stay connected and to take care of ourselves. And you know, I love hearing about what other leaders are doing in the Latino, Latina, Latinx community. I love hearing what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing and because I think she gives me hope and possibility, because she's in there fighting our fight. So I'm working with Elicia who is another Rockwood fab person. So staying in community, building those networks, making sure that we're taking care of each other. And you know, we do a lot of healing. Justice is where I think our community is right now. Like I said before, these assaults are too great for us not to be impacted by them.
Lillian Rivera: So how are we going to heal from this and how are we going to create and sustain a healing network for ourselves?
joi foley: What was most memorable about your Rockwood experience?
Lillian Rivera: I think the most memorable transformative thing about my Rockwood experience is one that I understood myself as a leader. Ah wow. Right? When society tells me lots and lots of things that I've internalized, right? Working Class, Puerto Rican, lesbian from Jersey City. That's not a leader, right? That's what I thought. But I am. Right? And people reflecting that onto me helped me internalize that. So not only did I learn, but I internalized and I created that expectation for myself, which is beautiful, right? You're going to lead. Does everybody believe that you're a leader? Doesn't matter. Are there things that you need to say in this world that are important that may impact people's lives.
Lillian Rivera: That's what matters, right? Is there space you need to create to welcome everybody? That's what matters. Are there connections that you can make to build community? That's what matters? So I think me internalizing that I'm a leader and me connecting with such beautiful people that were in the same spaces I was, right? Our cohort for our leadership too, was really focused on HIV around race and gender. And these people are incredible thinkers. Incredible, have incredible big hearts. People who are doing work in places where it can be dangerous to do the work and they do it anyway. Building that community for myself, people is invaluable. And then knowing that, you know, we're part of a legacy of folks who have been through Rockwood who are changing the world. That's a little scary, right? That's a little scary. Like what's my contribution to this?
Lillian Rivera: But it's beautiful and in inspires and I can't tell you how many people that I've said to have you gone to Rockwood? Do you know about Rockwood? Like so many people that I come across that I see could really benefit from the space and the knowledge that's shared in the community that's built in the moments that transform us during a Rockwood training.
joi foley: What message would you want to share with future generations?
Lillian Rivera: I'd want to share with them that we're living in a really horrible time and that we are able to come together. And the most important thing about the coming together is that the coming together today is happening with people not in segregated communities but from all communities. Right? We all care about black lives matter. There's no sort of qualifications for that. Bottom line. Black lives matter. We all care that children shouldn't be separated from their families.
Lillian Rivera: Families belong together, we all care about that, we all care that black trans women should be killed, we all care about that. And we're coming together across class, across race, across sexual orientation and gender identity. And we're coming together, this horrible time has taught us how to come together, build community, take care of ourselves, and really strive towards that nation that we know we could have. So if we can do it now in this really difficult time, there's no holding back what future generations can think about in terms of possibility, all sorts of possibilities, right? What does equitable language look like besides the things we're thinking about now in terms of condominiums, that sort of thing. There's a lot of possibility for generations to come and hopefully they're able to inhabit our planet because we haven't ruined it to the point where they can't.
Lillian Rivera: But I would say to future generations to pay close attention to the history that we're making today.
joi foley: What has changed or shaped your leadership?
Lillian Rivera: I think all of who I am. Right? Where I come from. And I think the idea is that, you know, I grew up in Jersey City in sort of the area that has been gentrified, but when I was growing up here in the 70s it was the bad area. Right? I think about like my brothers and cousins talking about, I don't understand why they felt it was the bad area. Right? And it was the bad area because my brother and his friends were walking around with a basketball. Right? And that's why it was the bad area because the Puerto Ricans came in and the black people came in. I mean, that's why it became a bad area. And my leadership was shaped when my parents took me out of this area and moved me into a predominantly white area.
Lillian Rivera: And I saw the differences and I experienced the stereotyping and I experienced sort of the lower expectations of people of color and I experienced how our lives are so different and how my difference was not welcomed. And I think that's what really shoot, I think in my heart, I feel that the world should be just always for everyone, regardless of whether I agree with them or like them or whatever. I just feel like it should be just, and maybe that's the Libra in me, right? We should be just the people. And as I grew up, I've always had a sense of who I was in the world and who I was to other people in the world, specifically the ruling class in this country. And I also have an amazing brother who's a social anthropologist, and he conditioned me very young to be a feminist.
Lillian Rivera: So I was really young when I received this branch and I was like, why am I reading this? I really don't understand. So he really worked to make sure that I knew my foremothers, that I knew the women who were paving the path for me and having sort sort of the [inaudible] and be able to say, hey, this is wrong, or we have to change this in order to make space for people. And I think the most recent sort of impact on my leadership is becoming apparent. As a parent, there is nothing I want more than for our daughters to be whole people and to stand in their strength and be able to make the choices that they want in life. And for no one to tell them that they can't. And I want that for their friends as well. They should have that as well, all of their friends.
Lillian Rivera: So I think I fight a little stronger now because it's not as abstract. It's about these children that I love and I'm going to, you know, call out or invite in whoever I need to to make sure that children are okay in kindergarten being who they are. It's okay for this boy to wear a pink skirt. It's okay. This is not the problem. Right? The fact that the child may not have dinner at night, that's the problem. Right? And how we have those conversations. So I think there's a lot of things that sort of shaped who I was. I also like come from a long line of women who have been really strong and have stood up for what the believed in. So I want that for my girls to know that as well. And believe it or not, I think, and this might not be a popular opinion these days, my Catholic upbringing, I am one of those fortunate kids who had a positive experience in Catholic school and all of the values that the nuns taught me around community, around giving back around how we live our lives are ingrained.
Lillian Rivera: I'm not a practicing Catholic. I will never be a practicing Catholic again. But those values are essential to the choices I make in life and the values that I won't compromise around because I believe that people should be housed. And I believe that people should have access to healthcare. And I believe that people should have food. And I believe regardless of their contribution to our workforce, right? Like that's what I believe and that will never change. So I think there's a lot of things that have influenced my leadership. And I have to say also the young people that I've worked for for almost 17 years, they not only inspired me to be the best person I can be. They also taught me that ... So I worked with a lot of ballroom children and they taught me that the world is a runway that we could choose to sort of sulk and hide away from the world.
Lillian Rivera: We can pick up our chin and do a fierce front way anywhere in the world and be okay and be celebrated.
joi foley: What brings you joy?
Lillian Rivera: What brings me joy? My children definitely. My family definitely brings me joy. If I could be with them 24/7, I would be with them. They make me laugh, they make me, they make me ... I feel safety with them, right? My entire family. I feel safe. I love that our youngest is a defiant little thing. I love that our oldest constantly sings musical theater. Like I love who they are as people. I love and I can argue about politics with my brother. I love that, you know, my wife is just part of who I am, like in my heart. Like she's just the, the Rock in our family. I love that. You know, my other brother, plays the congas and makes me laugh till I can't breathe anymore.
Lillian Rivera: Like, I love and get so much joy by being with my family. I also get a lot of joy by writing. Writing brings me a lot of joy to write my stories, and get them out there and have people you know, wonder about where does this stuff come from? How is this possible? It's awesome because I exist, right? So I think that brings me great joy. Playing video games, it brings me joy because it's a challenge and I love challenges. Ooh, cooking food and feeding people brings me great joy. That's sort of the Puerto Rican tradition and it's almost meditative for me to make food for folks. So I think there's a lot of things that bring me joy.
joi foley: That's all for this episode of leading from the inside out. Before you go, could you use some time away from your stressful day to day obligations to reconnect with yourself and your purpose? Grab your spot for the art of leadership. September 16th to the 20th in Leesburg, Virginia, right outside of Washington DC. Visit Rockwood, leadership.org/schedule to learn more. From all of us here at Rockwood, we wish you joyful leadership.
Friday Apr 05, 2019
Friday Apr 05, 2019
Friday Apr 05, 2019
It’s finally here! The first episode of Rockwood’s new podcast, with alum and CAIR SF-BA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. Zahra dropped by our offices to talk about joy, family, privilege, music, practicing resilience, and much, much more.
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Friday Feb 01, 2019
Friday Feb 01, 2019
Friday Feb 01, 2019
Yes, you heard that right – Rockwood is launching a podcast! The Leading From The Inside Out podcast will combine classic Rockwood curriculum with alum interviews and tips for leading from a place of love, grace, and power. Stay tuned (and subscribe to our email list) for info on how to subscribe!
Friday Apr 21, 2017
Friday Apr 21, 2017
Friday Apr 21, 2017
How do we lead when we’re angry?
That was the question almost 70 Rockwood alums explored during this Community Call about managing and honoring anger, a topic that has gained interest with many social justice and nonprofit leaders in the months since the election.
At the beginning of the call, Rockwood CEO Darlene Nipper read a piece from Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, and then shared a story about how suppressing anger after the election had physical ramifications for her body.
SAYING “HELLO” TO ANGER
As both the piece by Thich Nhat Hanh and Darlene’s story illustrate, we can either mistreat anger, or honor it for the messages it is bringing us in the moment. Although we might fear or condemn anger, anger itself is not the issue. Anger is neither intrinsically good nor bad in and of itself. It is a natural emotion that expresses itself in very complex ways.
TENDING TO ANGER WITH MINDFULNESS
Regularly practicing mindfulness can improve our ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings when triggered, and allow us the space to be reflective instead of reactive.
When triggered, immediately stop and notice your anger, try to understand the source, and allow yourself time to really feel and experience the anger before releasing it. Blocking the anger often turns into repression and stress which, as demonstrated in the model above, can lead to physical pain and long-term effects within the body.
By creating a mindfulness practice for releasing and channeling your anger, you can bring reflection, insight, passion, and creativity to your life.
Friday Dec 09, 2016
Friday Dec 09, 2016
Friday Dec 09, 2016
After the 2016 Presidential Election, Rockwood hosted a conference call for alums and community members to make space for connection and reflection, and to thank our network for its commitment to creating a more just and sustainable world.
There were a lot of wonderful things said and shared, so we encourage you to listen to the full call, but here are three threads we saw throughout:
- Staying connected to Purpose. Purpose is like fuel. It’s the inspiration for why we do what we do, and also what keeps us moving forward. It’s a key element for joyous and effective leadership, which is why it’s usually where Rockwood trainings start. During the community call, participants took some time to reflect on their purpose, and then shared those reflections. For some, moments like the one we’re in, caused their purpose to be more present than ever before. For others, it created new questions about what is truly meaningful to them right now. What was clear, however, was how important it is to reconnect with purpose on a regular basis, refueling to sustain ourselves through the work. If you’d like to get reconnected with your purpose, check out the resources available here.
- Staying connected to our bodies. During her talk, Darlene shared a profound experience she had after receiving some bodywork, a reminder that sometimes, physical pain can be the manifestation of emotional pain. It may feel like now’s not the time to slow down, but being in touch with our bodies can actually provide us with a lot of strength and resilience. The simplest way to stay connected to our bodies? Mindful breathing. Taking just 5 minutes during the day to focus on our breath can have a profound effect on our physical and emotional well-being.
- Staying connected to each other. Towards the end of the call, people shared their reflections, and what’s come up for them since the election. A recurring theme was staying connected to other leaders, across movements, geographies, and more, with many people expressing interest in connecting through Rockwood’s network. Darlene also shared a story of seeing a member of her LIO cohort in Oakland the day after the election, and how important it was for the two of them to be able to be their vulnerable, authentic selves together in that moment. Connecting with others can have a lot of benefits at the best of times, but it can be especially useful for decreasing depression and anxiety. The best part is, it can take many forms: circles, gatherings, phone calls, social media, or even doing something distracting with others, like going to the movies. If you’d like to connect with other Rockwood alums, we encourage you to reach out on Twitter, in our alum-only LinkedIn group, and through any cohort listservs you may be a part of.