Saturday, February 4, 2012

Conscious Accountability: Moving from Theory to Action Part 1



Conscious Accountability: Moving from Theory to Action Part 1
 Published by Dayanara Marte  1/31/2012

The sustainability of social justice movements lead by people of color  will depend on how committed we will be in having self awareness, creating self care action plans, hold personal and collective accountability for how we are showing up and have integrity with our word.  A good way to measure where you are in this process is looking at your personal relationships. Being in relationship to another human being is collaboration in of itself. The challenges start to present themselves when our individual trauma starts showing up and we are not aware of it but our partner feels it, sees it and experiences it. With no tools to go through the journey we create co-dependent and un-healthy relationships and play out negative beliefs and attitudes. Ultimately recreating violence and dismantling what we are trying to build. Often times we meet people that mirror to us the things about ourselves that we need to work within ourselves. This holds true when we are creating coalitions, collectives, networks, organizations, campaigns, teams and movements.

 When I think of creating another world free from violence, I think about myself, my sisters and the community that I collaborate with in social justice every day. I think about us, women on the frontlines, grass root workers and change makers. I call us warrior women because we often, are too from the very community that we are fighting for and with. We experience first hand the injustice, the poverty, the abuse and the neglect that our communities face every day. I think about us because even when we attempt to create them, we still feel like there are no systems in place, nowhere to go to talk about the trauma that we have witnessed or experienced in our personal lives and the ones we face every day while on the frontlines, leaving us with a few trusted friends. If we the warriors don’t take a good look at ourselves and see how we have internalized the very oppression that we are fighting against,  if we don’t create systems of personal accountability for how we show up in the movement and in our lives, then we will surely replicate the same world.

We are dying!  Our movements are dying, our coalitions or collective efforts don’t last, our organizations are not sustainable and our collective health is deteriorating. The political times are getting worse and we are getting confronted with police brutality and death of our community at an increasing rate. We are workers on the front lines transforming the world with a bag pack full of fear, guilt, shame, loneliness, resentment and anger that is killing us. In our life time many of us  have experienced sexual assault, child abuse, rape, immigration, homelessness, and addiction. While there is a resiliency we bring to this work , we often feel powerless in the mist of the many wars we hear, see and experience in our own lives and we have mastered so many ways of dealing and surviving that we go home to do the very things that we are supporting our communities’ not to do. How many of us drink, self mutilate, eat, sleep , don’t eat, don’t sleep, have unsafe sex, are in abusive relationships, are the abusers, violent, or getting violated. We are dying from the various dis-eases that we are being  diagnosed with, depression, chronic stress, anxiety disorders, drug use, mental  illness, abusive relationships, self mutilation, disordered eating, smoking, STD’s/ HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, cancer, that  render us powerless to create another world, to advocate, to organize and effectively lead.

I am writing this as blunt as possible because we no longer have the luxury to hide behind institutional rules that say that our personal story should be kept out of the office or that we can’t mix business with “pleasure”, what’s happening in our personal lives. The reality is that, that has never been and will never be possible. There is no way that a women, a person who is being abused at home can show up at work and be productive without someone noticing a change in her behavior or without an internal change happening that impacts their self esteem, their self worth, their dignity, their humanity and as a result the way the show up in the world. There is no way that our past doesn’t creep into the way we lead, the way we dream, the way we love, the way we create communities, families and  the way we work with each other.

Have you ever wondered who is really sitting next to you at work, in your organization? Who are you really collaborating with, what is their story? Why is that they show up with great ideas to a meeting but never follow through, or why is it that they follow through on other people’s dreams but never have a dream of their own?  Not too long ago we called that people with different strengths. You know the list we make to see if we have found people with all the skills we need to create a great team.  How many of you have done that, created a great team based on peoples resume and still something falls short and a year later  you are evaluating what happened that you didn’t reach your goal, or wasn’t effective or why that person didn’t show up they way they sounded on paper?

I call that trauma, trauma showing up disguised as people’s strengths rendering them powerless to show up in their full capacity.

Fort thirteen years I have provided trainings and organized healing circles for community wom(y)n, activists and organizers, locally, nationally and internationally using the model of emotional release. In a safe space we would  use our tears as healing tools and walk through hard issues like how does power & violence and internalized oppression impact us and show up in our lives. We would create a safe space and used our culture & spirituality to support each other in breaking the pattern of individualism, isolation, guilt, self-blame, self -doubt and dis-ease.

Some of these womyn were the womyn I work with, build coalitions with, organize with, and dream with. But it wasn’t until we shared this space that  I started to understand who they  really were and what life experiences kept them from being the powerful women that they are. It was in sharing stories that we can mirror to each other the potential to strengths we didn’t think capable of having while also bringing awareness to the ways of being that didn’t let us build anything sustainable beyond the moment. It was in these moments that we shared why even though we were showing up to meetings, to our families, to our relationships, still at the very pit of our stomach what was determining our future in these spaces was that we didn’t trust anyone. It was in this space that I understood what were my own ways of self sabotage, of being afraid of success or where my own fears of failure where coming from.

It’s a new year 2012 and the conversation of violence against women, gender justice , sexual assault, domestic violence  and all other institutional  and  interpersonal oppressions  and violence’s are being weaved  into the conversation of  healing trauma. We have come a long way and our movements are incorporating meditation, yoga, health and wellness, natural medicine, acupuncture and deep conversations of how trauma is being replicated in our movements because there are no safe spaces to address it leaving us to address them alone or go through trial and error often times leading us into what feels like a hopeless cycle.  

While there are papers of transformative justice, post traumatic slave syndrome, emotional justice, and self care we have yet to have people in our lives that can mirror to us what a healthy sustainable relationship looks like or what it looks like to disagree and still be connected?

In real life we are still struggling to live these theories and create healthy boundaries, practice self love and be in partnership  without the other person feeling neglected? How do we ask community to disclose stories of rape, child abuse, and sexual assault when we have not set up another system of accountability? How do we create safe spaces for self awareness that supports us in disclosing our stories that bring us shame, that have grave impact on our families if we disclose them, or that we have not come to terms with and to some degree have buried far into our subconscious?

Unfortunately, the answer lies only in practice.

The Process of Conscious Accountability
  1. Build self awareness of behavior
  2.  Contextualize it in personal and historical trauma
  3.  Identify Impact on personal and collective relationships
  4. Take conscious accountability for behavior and impact
  5. Create self care action plan A, B and C to transform behavior
  6.  Share and communicate with people who can hold you accountable
  7.  Commit to a process of healing/transformation towards sustainable relationships
  8.   Develop a system of evaluation and self reflection
 Conscious accountability  depends on our commitment to take ourselves on first and others second. To create spaces and movements that have systems of accountability where you can show up in your past and trauma and it can be processed without punishment or gossip? We are so use to living in a world where we get punished for our actions or lack their of that we get addicted to punishment. How great would it be to create spaces where no one is going to punish you or let you punish yourself, instead, we have a great conversation of impact that leads to your healing and transformation.  

Conscious accountability provides healing tools so that individuals and collectives can delegate, make decisions and share a common goal because everyone at the table is committed and responsible for the whole to win.  When this process is excluded it leaves one person or a group of people exhausted and burnt out because they feel like they are doing all the work while at the same time being blamed for the lack of integrity the other members have.

Creating a structure with a system of personal and collective accountability that creates self discipline is about one of the hardest things to do because it requires being humble, listening, letting go of being right and truly practicing collective power and responsibility. Everyone wants power and no one wants the responsibility that comes with it. Currently in most organizations all meetings and workshops start off  with laying out ground rules creating what I call a superficial  safe space that sets people up for failure and  that at best deals with people’s behaviors but does not address the trauma that impacts their decisions and actions during the meeting nor does it create a system of accountability when people don’t follow the rules.

Conscious accountability requires that we stop and take a look at ourselves, show our vulnerability and lay it all on the table. This is who I am, this is the self awareness I have about my life, how its impacted me and my behavior and this is what you can count on me to do when I show up in trauma or in my past. It requires us to be responsible for the future we are creating and the experiences people have of us along the way so we can say, if I for whatever reason don’t keep my word this is how you can hold me accountable; returning the power to the individual and the group at the same time.

How great would it be if we started coalitions, organizations and movements, relationships, families, collectives and communities with a simple question, who is in the room? With the process of conscious accountability we provide an opportunity for people to make informed decision on how to proceed but more importantly it lays a framework for us to create  a system ,a plan of action that can help us plan to address trauma when it shows up and create plans a, b and c when we are out of integrity.

Self awareness and communication is the key to conscious accountability. Accountability without judgment looks like getting your work done, showing up and keeping your word no matter what is happening in your life. Its about communicating in time so that we can have a conversation about plan a, b or c. Once you have created these plans then its about sharing it with someone and being in communication about them. When there is no time to create alternative plans to get the work done then accountability holding comes with judgment and we are good at judging ourselves before anyone else does. If your trauma shows up as gossip, blaming, suffering and excuses then by default you can’t be in collective work and responsibility because these are the same self destructive patterns that destroy communities.

In addition, conscious accountability creates an internal check and balances system where no one else is responsible for you. It requires those of us on the front lines to rethink the culture of the organizations, coalitions, networks, and collectives that we are creating where we require folks to create self care action plans and quarterly evaluations of how they are being.

 How great would it be if we had the tools to process folk if we  knew that seven out of ten of us in our  organization have experienced some form of sexual assault , or that we have been abandoned, don’t have money, had abortions, dealing with sexuality, child abuse, domestic violence, are addicts or live with addiction and violence  in their homes. If we gave ourselves a chance to know those stories before hand, before dreaming, before committing, before setting goals then we would know what to expect. It would also give us time to know that those traumas will show up as fear, anger, people not keeping their word, lack of trust, not following through, people feeling like they are not good enough, silence, and not thinking they deserve to live in anything different, to be loved, heard or seen. If we knew that then we would be prepared to deal with a group of folk that might have the best intentions but will replicate their lives and all its dysfunctions within the group because they have lost their ability to dream anything different from what they know or change the way they want to be.

You would think that being a healer, an organizer and human rights activists for the past 13 years  would  save me from having to go within and look at who I had become and the past that shaped me but it didnt. In fact, the more I fought for justice the more I knew it was imperative for me to do the internal work necessary or it would get to the point where I could not stand for, by or with anyone not even myself. So for the past 5 years I have been on journey of self healing, self love, rebirth forgiving and letting go.  It is from this space that I have created Conscious Accountability.

Most recently, I took the time to do my own evaluation of the experience of  violence, sexual assault, racism, and oppression that where played out during the Occupy movement in New York. It got me to think about unspoken myths that drive organizers. For one we believe that movements unto themselves, coalitions and organizations will somehow automatically undo the racist, classist, sexist, trans/homophobia/, xenophobic, patriarchal ways of humanity by the mere value of good intentions or political unity.  We believe  that if we document, label it, write it, name it, publish it, create it into models that internalized oppression will get transformed  on its own. We also believe that interpersonal oppression will magically disappear once people come together for any cause. But the most important myth is that we believe that the past and histories of trauma, women and people of color carry will hold their own when we have to experience and witness violence during rallies, protest and movement building.  And because of this we enter relationships with so called like minded folks with our guards down, I mean after all  isnt this suppose to be a safe space?,  then why would men exercise patriarchy? Why would white folk be racist?  Until we don’t get that people take themselves everywhere they go replicating the violence they know , until we do not create systems of accountability for peoples way of being and until we don’t create safe spaces of healing and self awareness...as a people we will rise, over throw and recreate the same world , unjust and violent. Coalitions, campaigns, relationships, organizations and communities will not create sustainable change or relationships.

Conscious Accountability is the practice of self awareness, self healing, self love and self empowerment where one takes totally responsibility for our actions and contextualizes our behavior in our personal history of trauma and collective oppression towards building sustainable relationships. Dayanara Marte teaches, facilitates and consults with people and organizations about this model through IN BOLD REBIRTH @ inboldrebirth.blogspot.com.
Copyright © 2012 In Bold Rebirth, All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

" In the Pursuit of Justice" by Dayanara Marte

Rusia Naureen Mohiuddin was born in Bangladesh 1973, the year that two important cases dominated the United States news; Roe vs. Wade and the start of the Water Gate hearings.  Born an identical twin, middle children of four, her journey of social justice started before the age of 13 by which point she had lived in 5 countries; Bangladesh, Australia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and, completing her high school and college education in America.

Although she was not aware of it at the time, Mohiuddin was being prepared to be a pioneer in the community organizing movements of New York City.  After having lived in Bangladesh for nine months after graduating from college, Rusia launched herself as the lead organizer for the Moshulu Woodlawn South Community Coalition. Without any formal training Mohiuddin successfully organized the first bilingual Bengali program in New York City at PS 20 in the North West Bronx, a community with a high concentration of Bangladeshi families. There she organized more than 100 community members to start tenant associations and run four campaigns in their neighborhoods.

This was the start of the many wins Mohiuddin would have in her 18 year run as an organizer in New York City. Since then she has co-directed organizations, passed bills, wrote curriculums and trained over 500 youth, men and women in leadership development and organizing.

 One of her greatest accomplishments to date is the co-founding of Social Justice Leadership (SJL); an organization based in New York City supporting leaders, organizers and supervisors to build authentic open relationships with who they work with as part of their organizing strategy.  Having worked in the 5 boroughs of New York City, Florida and California with both youth, women and people of color, Mohiuddin started seeing a pattern among them no matter where they were at.  For one, people where feeling stuck in old habits, old ways of  being  that no longer served  a purpose in their lives  and yet not  knowing how to be any different, two, staff across the board are under paid and over worked with no real structure in place  to appreciate or value the work they do and three, while there is a range of organizers the needs of communities are so vast and global, that the day to day does not as much as put a dent in the work;  unintentionally creating the exploitation of staff who get burnt out and leave.

In late 2004, Mohiuddin crafted a 5 year vision for the work she felt she must do to infuse highly skilled, balanced and sustainable organizers into the social justice movement. Already in development, Mohiuddin, as the chief architect of ACTIVATE! The Community Fellowship Program, decided to house this intensive 3-month program for intermediate, entry level folks and whole organizations to train together and develop skills sets that take care of their human and organizing needs as one of the launching programs of SJL in the Fall of 2006.

During the first year, Mohiuddin generated over 100 applications from all over the world, each vying for a spot as a fellow in the program. For the past three years she has supported folks in providing a real assessment of who they are both personally and as organizers. In her coaching she reflects back to them the ways that they are showing up while at the same time helping them understand the  impact that their way of being has on other people.    “ Some people want change that is tangible, that you can feel but the most stark changes are small and  have huge impact but we are only able to see them if we are engaged in day to day relationships with people” says Mohiuddin.

Over 5 years later, ACTIVATE! has not only become the staple of how Social Justice Leadership does their organizing work today  but also has revolutionized the  way that organizers think about themselves within the movement. It was through ACTIVATE! that Mohiuddin solidified integrating somatics into community organizing work forever changing the way organizing is done while having a transformative impact in the lives of the people who attend the training. Ultimately, this innovative integration became the basis for what will be the SJL model of transformative organizing.

“Somatics is the missing element in organizing,” says Mohiuddin, “it forces people to see their own humanity and the humanity of others in the pursuit of justice”.  As a women of color in various leadership positions, Mohiuddin always had the opportunity to connect with the staff of where she worked but found it hard to be taken seriously by her male peers in leadership no matter the race. In addition, the many displaced and disempowering positions she found herself in at the end were a direct result of her being a women. No matter the injustice or oppression she faced, Mohiuddin made the struggle  for gender equality secondary for the sake of maintaining relationships and getting her work done.   “ When our humanity comes up against what is being done to us we have to choose between ourselves and the work as if they where two different things when in fact our humanity is intrinsically tied to who we want to be in the world”, says Mohiuddin. 

Using her own experiences as a catalyst, in 2007 Mohiuddin embarked on her own healing journey. “I grew up all over the world and was always the new kid. I had to learn to do things fast and, in many ways, that hardened me. I had never cried in public or revealed my weaknesses. In time that life gave me a hard edge that most of the time was coming from a place of fear. I became meticulous to never become overcome by my emotions in order to survive” stated Mohiuddin. 

What Mohiuddin was not aware of was that that was not the initiating incident that would drive her to go through a yearlong intensive somatics healing journey for herself, instead, she would have to go back and visit March 12th, 1979. At the age of 6, Mohiuddin found herself in Melbourne, Australia witnessing her father grieving from a death of her maternal grand father, a revolutionary and founding father of the Republic of Bangladesh, Mashier “Jadu Mia (Magic Man)” Rahman.  He was sitting in the dark and when she asked him why he was crying, he would not explain. At this very moment Mohiuddin made the biggest agreement she would ever make with herself, my father is crying and it is because of me, because of something wrong I did. “From that day forward I excelled in everything, I promised I would do my best so I would never find my dad crying in the dark again” shares Mohiuddin. And she has been living powerfully into that agreement ever since.  Sometimes at her own expense she saves her parents from being upset especially from anything that she might have caused.

In order to get a deep assessment of who she had become as a result  and who she needed to be to win in this game of humanity and organizing Mohiuddin attended the Strozzi Institute, where she was mentored by Richard Strozzi-Heckler and Staci Haines, where she would embark on her own journey of healing as well as  get her certification as a somatic coach.  It was through this training that Mohiuddin, realized that not only could she transform herself from her “old shape(old way of being  to a new shape (new way of being)”,  but she could  also transform organizing  by using the principles of somatics to create a new model and methodology for organizing. They where a match made in heaven. 

The training in somatics softened her edges, it deepened her connection and relationship to people while it also served as personal development to build her capacity to continue to do her work of coaching people competently and responsibly. 
Somatics is the understanding and integration of mind, body and mood, as we are continuously being  influenced and shaped by people, experiences  and the world. Soma is the living body and all its wholeness. When our mind, body and mood  are misaligned they work against who we want to be in the world because we become fragmented. Fragmented organizers need a methodology that can help them navigate and figure out who they need to be to get to have,  create and live in their vision of the world.  In order to win battles and struggles as front line organizers we need to be whole and complete say Mohuiddin.

After 5 1/2  years of successfully working at  SJL, Mohiuddin is embarking on taking her work into the Universe reaching as many people as she can. “I want to be a part of something that has personhood at the center, I want to work for an organization not looking to be bigger than itself, where the expansion becomes more important than the work it is doing” says Mohiuddin.

The only way to secure that she will get to find this place is by creating it herself. This  Winter,  Mohiuddin will be launching Universal Partnership. A consulting and training institute that believes that at the heart of sustainable movements must be the beat of sustainable people. In the meantime, Mohiuddin believes that you don’t have to have an ego to make it in the world. “We must remember that there is no light without darkness and that justice cannot be justice without love. But not just remembering as mere rhetoric as egos often can askew but as a modality for basing actions on and a true orientation to life. The world has no room for ego-driven intentions and our work cannot and should not tolerate those seeking identity at the expense of what we must truly do to bring forth a just society.” Movement work is all encompassing and affects every single living being and by nature there is a place for everyone in it.

For those of you in on the front lines, Mohiuddin says “ Its important to believe in yourself even when everyone tells you not to, surround yourself with people who care about you  and allow yourself to be impacted by the work that you are doing. It is not about changing the world , its allowing the work to shape you and who you need to be” Of course this is easier said than done so look forward to Universal Partnership to support you on your journey of finding  your humanity and dignity if you have lost it along the way.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living in a Spiritual Wasteland...




“For those of us who pick up the call, we need to take care of ourselves” says Nina Mercer as she embarks on a journey to pick up a call her ancestors made many years ago. Tracing her mother’s lineage back to the middle passage, she founded Ocean Ana  Rising in honor of a relative named Ocean Ana after her birth  on the ocean during the transatlantic slave trade .  “I understand the culture of violence to include rape, poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition and I wanted to start my own nonprofit so other women of color can share their stories and heal in private and public forums” says Mercer. 

 Picking up the call is what many women of color in the United States are doing as they open up their own organizations to fill the needs the government is not meeting in their communities. The challenge is that these women are every day women like me and you, also holding roles of being partners, daughters and mothers while living in the same neighborhoods they are organizing in.

 For Nina Mercer, however, the fact that she lived in her community was not a challenge at all. She used her story to organize her community into action and start her own organization called Ocean Ana Rising. Straight out of college and pregnant, Nina Mercer eventually found herself in a cycle of violence born out of her partner's substance abuse addiction, something experienced far too often in our communities. While focusing on raising her daughters and graduate school,she often times turned a blind eye to her situation in order to feed herself and her children.

“I needed to turn my eyes to the codependent and abusive relationship I was in with my husband because we needed money,” shares Mercer as she proceeds to admit that she too was engulfed in the cycle of emotional abuse and was aware of her participation in the destruction of her home but couldn’t do anything about it.
Internally, Mercer struggled with her code of ethics as she watched the drug culture of the 90’s plague her family; a culture that demanded money to sustain itself and left behind a family ravaged by anxiety and depression due to loss of jobs and food. “People self medicate in order to keep up” says Mercer but I knew that my calling was bigger than that.

After going to doing some deep spiritual work and counseling, Mercer understood that what was happening in her house was stronger than her. “ I had to save my girls,” says Mercer”.  So one day she changed her the looks on the door, and has never looked back.

Although she was liberated, Mercer felt like she was living in a spiritual wasteland.  As a result she turned to art, painting, writing and spiritual creativity where she gave birth to Gutta Beautiful, a theater piece that spoke to the challenges of people of color, their daily lives and the choices they need to make in order to survive. “ I produced Gutta Beautiful to  be able to talk to my community, to my brother trying to sell crack while he also helped me with my groceries” says Mercer.

 Gutta Beautiful was performed from Washington DC  to New York City making remarkable impact in people’s lives. As a result during the year 2005, Nina Mercer incorporated Ocean Ana Rising. “ I didn’t think economic sustainability when I thought of creating Ocean Ana Rising, I thought about community” says Mercer.

Although she is a mother of two her decision to create an organization in the height of the economic crisis was heart driven.  Without an operating budget , Mercer had to turn to her community; she knew that  they could help sustain it but at what level?

Like most women of color grassroots organizations, Ocean Ana Rising has struggled with getting big grants leading to the creation of organizations with a one woman show.  “ I am a single mother, an educator and a playwright. Even though it’s a challenge, I have to work but I don’t want to loose myself or my sanity” says Mercer.

For more than four years Mercer did not have health insurance through Ocean Ana Rising. Even now as an adjunct professor, her health insurance is always in question, as the labor union continues to fight to maintain health insurance for adjunct professors.When looking back, she says that she was so plugged into the work that her health was not a priority anyway. Unfortunately,  when Mercer gets stressed she  breaks out into hives and has swelling of the limbs, an auto immune dis-ease called Sarciod affecting people  of color but has not been researched sufficiently.

As a result, “ I am now committed to holistic health” says Mercer. As a priest in Palo Mayombe, Mercer has been able to minister herself. Her spirituality has given her the tools to strengthen her core so she can continue to do her life’s work.  “ I do spiritual cleaning, create medicine using medicinal plants and herbs, I do rituals that connect me with my ancestors” says Mercer. "I am happy!"

Through it all Mercer does not consider herself and expert; she says that tearing herself down and building herself back up is an everyday process. “ Just because I choose not to take prescribed medication to deal with my anxiety doesn’t mean I don t have challenges, I too deal with anxiousness, isolation and fall in and out of depression but my spirituality keeps me from hitting walls, instead I now  have the tools to keep going” shares Mercer.
However, “ our health and  wealth cannot be measured in finances alone” says Mercer.

Ocean Ana Rising has been here  for six years but they need support, there is a community in need, more stories need to be put out there and they deserve to have financial support to create an operating budget, hire a development person, grant writers and researchers, Mercer cannot do this alone.

“ I cannot heal if I am crumbling in on myself” says Mercer as she tells me that we all need people because the most important thing is human touch and love.  “The biggest mistake we can do is get so caught up in the work that we lose fun, play and laughter, the moment you lose these then you become unjust with yourself and that is violence”.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not on My Back, This Time I'm Doing it Differently!

Wanda Salaman, Executive Director of Mothers on the Move!



“I was 100 pound lighter before I became an Executive Director”, shares Salaman as she offers me fruit that she is eating for lunch as part of her self care action plan this year.  People don’t understand how hard it is for an Executive Director to make decisions says Salaman. There are days that she doesn’t sleep , being stressed about everything, “I m not only carrying the whole community on my shoulders but staff as well, making sure they have bread on the table”.

In addition, Salaman  shares  that when she is stressed she does not show it and keeps it within adding to the anxiety she already has.  She also believes that  this is a cut throat business  so she  guards what she can tell  people and as a result  she feels like she does not have a safe space to express issue’s that may arise for her personally or about the work.

“I am not the best in practice yet, but I know that working 70 or more hours a week is not sustainable, actually, it’s not cool. I have learned over the past year that if you have people take care of themselves they have more love for the work, if not then you develop a cycle where the movement is on their backs” says Salaman.

In 2010, the Movement Strategy Center (MSC) published Out of the Spiritual Closet: Organizers Transforming the Practice of Social Justice, validating the sentiments of Salaman. The report is the first in a series looking at how leaders and organizations are transforming the social justice movement by integrating transformative and spiritual practice.

The report contextualizes the stories of social justice organizers as they deal with leading within the current global environmental, economic and political crises.  “Confronted with the burnout, isolation and fragmentation so common in the progressive movement, many leaders are seeking a “new way” to practice social justice — a way that can meet the challenges of our time, sustain our leaders and transform our movement and the world”.

“For staff appreciation day, I took my staff to the spa, after everything we have been through this year we all needed it and if we want to have a sustainable place then the people need to be sustained” says Salaman. 
There were times over the last two years that the she and her staff did not get paid. They had to work together to have the necessary foods to eat and depended on their partners and family for support.  Salaman also lost some of her staff as they needed to go find other jobs. These where hard days in which she had to make hard decisions, either stop, become more dedicated or continue for the love of the work and for each other in the organization.

Salaman says “there were a lot of days I couldn’t sleep worried about closing down. There were questions running through her head like how do you pay Peter and leave Paul starving? And do you pay rent or pay staff? 

Knowing that there are other organizations with a lot more money, one of the biggest questions Salaman had to ask herself was , does her organization  go under another organization name and possibly lose their identity but knowing the staff will be okay?

The sad part about all of this is that Salaman is not alone. She is one of over 100 women of color Executive Directors in New York City having to ask themselves the same questions. Since 2006, organizations have been feeling the impact of the economic crisis at devastating rates. “ I know that there are a lot of Executive Directors going through the same things but not having the conversations as a group, says Salaman.

In 2006, collaborating organizations: Artemisa, Elige and CREA published the Self Care-Self Defense Manual for Feminist Activist  providing a unique tool that supports women  in social justice in  working through “the breach that exists between our discourse on human rights and social justice, and the reality of the labour practices adopted by our organizations and work spaces”. They put this manual together because they feel that  we don’t  recognize ourselves as  workers with rights and duties and therefore  create a “sacrifice” mentality that justifies forms of violence that we would never accept in a factory or workshop, yet continue to live with and perpetuate every day in our very own NGOs, collectives, and groups.

Although Salaman had been organizing in the South Bronx many years before, she didn’t become the Executive Director of Mothers on the Move until 2002 and “sacrifice” is what she has been doing for the past nine years. 

“When I took the position, I had a white man as a co-director and he had different relationships with funders than I will ever had says Salaman.  As a woman of color Salaman feels like she was not prepared for the position, all she knew is that she wanted to make changes but didn’t really understand how much it was going to take and all the skills she needed to have.  Salaman wanted to be outside with people,  that is what she knew how to do as a resident of the South Bronx herself but she would later find out that that was not going to pay the bills of her organization.

Salaman was up against a lot when she took on the position, not only was she the youngest lead and had a different organizing style; she was also Black Latina women with no status. This meant that she had to get creative, know who her allies where and create relationships with people. 

What she created instead was a transparent organization that can make it through the toughest economic times.  Everyone in her organization can read the financial reports understanding how much money they have at any given time as well as decide when they need to collectively fundraise or come up with a different strategy.

This is a major accomplishment for Salaman and the South Bronx. “ My accomplishments at the end of the day has nothing to do with the work but the transformation a person goes through because of the work”, says Salaman.  Salaman recently cried after seeing one of her co-workers Nova Strachan singing in a play, her dream come true.  

Another major accomplishment for Salaman is that Mothers on the Move is turning 20 years old next year. In preparation for the big celebration  Salaman is combining self care into her sustainability and fundraising agenda.  She is taking Mothers on the Move to the next level and going green.

As I walked into her office today, I was greeted by over 20 summer youth employees that have organized a farmers market for the community and had installed an herb wall in the meeting space that they will be harvesting throughout the year.

 Building a green economy is part of Salamans strategy for personal, organizational and community self care and sustainability.  “The South Bronx has the biggest food market in the world and although its kicking our ass because the community get the poorest fruits and vegetables, we are going to use it to our advantage and grow fruits and vegetables, herbs and make food to counteract its impact on the community”.  

Not only is Salaman going green, this year  Salaman is also committed to doing it differently. She is going to put herself first, know her limits and be 100 pounds lighter.  But, she doesn’t want to do it alone. This year, Salaman will be organizing healing support circles as part of her plan. “ I want to do a women’s group because we have to cry, we need to build sisterhood, break bread and share stories, that is the only way we are going to build trust. Only then can I say, I can do this project because we are on the same page and have the same vision” 

Salaman is asking other Executive Directors to join her and learn from her mistakes. “Please don’t think you can do this on your own, its good to have solidarity we need to hold each other’s hand and not compete”.

For More information about Mothers on the Move go to www.mothersonthemove.org/

Global Connect blog assignment  August 30, 2011
Behind the Movement Series Part 2 
Title: Not On My Back, This time I’m doing it differently!
by Dayanara Marte

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dear Mom do you still feel me inside of you because I never left---from an Abandoned Child trying to create another world.

Inspired by Stacyann Chin writing " A Single Lesbian Quest for Motherhood", I share with you my story of the need to find my mother in order for me to own being a single lesbian mom and the lessons i have learned along  the journey!  

My Respone to Stacyann.....and other single lesbian moms. 

I parented both with men and women and my children got to see that no matter the gender what is important is the commitment that any person makes when they are in a childs life and how important it is to keep their word. I dont think people get that when they date or are in a relationship with someone who has children they cant just see you , you are a whole package and if they leave you they are leaving your children's lives too.  

At 36 I havent found the gender that wants that level of commitment or responsibility. As an abandoned, adopted child myself , i understand the need to promise our children that we will never do the same and yet i have found myself  abandoning my children in order to heal my own loss, find love and  find myself. For those of us who have been abandoned by one or more of our parents the primal wound is deep, we search and search for them in all the wrong and right places but there is nothing like the universe sending you children to finally find yourself and heal the wounds. 

Below you will find a re-edited letter to my mom that  I wrote her NOV 2010. A letter she will never read but i needed to write. 



Dear MOM,
I renamed myself tainadelsol, thats a big name for a little girl born on May 6th, 1975. I wonder where you are right now. Do you think of me the way i think of you?. Do you wonder like me what life would be like if I was in your life? Do you wonder where I am? , what I look like?, how I am doing? Do you want to reach out but don't know how to find me? Do you lay in bed at night, guilt consuming you, wishing you could take it all back or do you cry yourself to sleep like I do? Do you feel me running aimlessly in your blood, not ever finding peace or un- settled?
I find myself constantly searching for you in the face of the women I love. Does you have bruises that will never heal? Do you have one bruise for every child you gave away-like me?. I followed you, your every move, you paved the way on my body leaving footprints for me to follow and I have. Step by Step i fit perfectly in your shoes. I wonder, do you feel me inside of you still becuase I have never left!
35 years, 101 questions and a letter to my mom later.... I went to find her!
During the year 2008, I went to find my real mother in the Dominican Republic. Finding my mother at such a late age was very important to me as I was witnessing how my relationship with my children and my partner was being affected by my issues of abandonment. You would be surprised that instead of feeling like I gained something, got clarity or gained sanity when i found her,  instead i had one hundred and one more questions about who I am , my existence, what I’ve learned, parenting  and loving. I felt as if my head was going to burst and i had just opened the Pandora's box to my life and the secrets I was keeping from my children.


You see my children had  been living the same lie I lived for so many years because they didn't  know that  I was  adopted. Finding my mother got me to think, about what  if something was to ever happen to one of  my children(if they ever get sick) and they would have to find someone that has their blood type, they would be fucked because they don't know who that would be if I wasn't here. They would  have no access to my birth moms family, my brothers and sisters. They don’t know their family health history because mine has been a lie up to now. I remember every time I go to the hospital and they ask me my family history, its a lie, I am not susceptible to breast cancer, or ovarian cancer, alcoholism, blood pressure etc, those are illnesses that belong to the family that raised me and I don't know my birth moms family history. My biological dad is dead and so who is left?
Damn this adoption thing is crazy, it has so many impacts on so many levels. But being a lesbian adds to the challenges in my life as well, it complicates this even further.
Now that my dad is dead, I look around New York and I’m like oh shit besides my adoptive mother, its me and my kids. My family tree according to my birth certificate is real little, just us three. If and when I decide to take my partnership with a women to the next level it would have to be faster than heterosexual marriages because there is no time to waste in a world that does not recognize same sex partnership and children are involved.
If I was to die my children would only have me. No real relative that is" blood" related to take them in by law. Since they have not been recognized or adopted by my partner and since I am not married, my partners would have little to no access to my children.
If I die then my partner has no right to inherit anything that I leave, unless I write it in a living will right now.
If I I get sick , she cannot make decisions for me and would probably have a hard time accessing my chart since she is not my wife or recognized partner.
The more I analyze this, the dimmer the light shines on my situation and same sex relationships overall. .
Its especially hard us as we work so hard for everything we have and then when you die or something happens you have no right to any of it. If your partners family has no love or compassion for you and is homophobic at that—your partner is left in the dark, as if they never exsisted. And the children suffer more. Because the state will send them to their biological fathers if they can find them and not care that your partner raised them, if not they become wards of the state.
So where does being an adopted lesbian leave me, well, It feels like there is only three people in my family, me makes four. My dad passed and my mom is getting old. If I happen to pass before her or even after her, who will my children have?  Who do I trust that could take them and make sure they are okay? Who will make decisions for them if they get into an accident? How will anyone contact my birth mom if they need blood for any reason?
P.S mom..... I am a  single lesbian mother trying to create another world , another family for my children.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Financial Healing First--Fundraising Second!



Financial Freedom!
Are you in a position in your job where you handle money, whether you help vision, manage it or raise it. Have you thought about how easy it might come to you to raise money for your organization but not in your personal life or vice versa. Does your org budget reflect your personal budget? Did you become a fundraiser, join a board or volunteer to raise money but then couldn't make it happen? Do you manage the budget of your organization similar to how you manage your own money at home?

During this financial crisis, we are asking more and more for young and adult women to step into the front lines and fund raise, actually, we don't have a choice but i know how frustrating it is to have a team come up with really great ideas, to sit and strategically plan, create a beautiful fundraising strategy and budget to go with it and then it never quite happens. Only a few step in and step up, others try but never really can and for others there is this overwhelming paralyzing fear that doesn't let them ask and no one knows really knows how to even begin to have the dialogue of what happened because know its evaluation time and some people are resentful. We have really great intentions we do and we know that without money somethings just cant happen, so what happens to us?

Ill be honest, I  happen to me and the collective. I had to take a good look at what my relationship to money was in order to even figure out how to manage someone-elses money. As Executive Directors, women on the front lines, young women in the movement,  we have no choice and if we cant do it we hire someone else who could. We have to hire a team although as women in these times that team is just us and maybe another person who is really trying, sounds good but doesn't really know where to start to help us figure out the finances in our organizations. How many of us have the same  strategic plan or a diversified fundraising plan for the past couple of years? Why?

The struggle of financial hardship for people of color non profit organizations come way before capitalism. Like inter-generational violence, scarcity mentality and the impact of poverty also get passed down. Sustainability has a meaning for us often times related to struggle, giving up what we like in order to get what we need, it meant working hard, seeing our mothers, families busting , hustling, being slaves and never getting enough, never having enough, stressed, burnt out, being silenced and dis-empowered. Sometimes it meant starving or prostituting ourselves mind, body and spirit. And we saw and we witnessed and we had to even contribute, growing up way to soon, heading households, taking care of brothers and sisters. Sending money back home, taking care of two families. And we did it , we did it all, we stretched the dollar we didnt even have. And we prayed, we had faith, we communed and we took care of each other. That's what women do , we make a dollar stretch.

We were, we are and continue to be philanthropists, that's what makes us resilient during these hard economic times. That philanthropy is innate, we give with our hearts, we take care of our communities, we take care of each other and each others children way before foster care. And that is why we are still standing no matter what recession comes because we have been in a recession for most all of our lives. I saw, I saw my mother make it with nothing, leave her family, become a domestic worker, be a slave and she never complained. I was always like this lady has money somewhere this cant be true. But every month, every penny was accounted for, she would go to broad way and send money back home and supported her eight sisters, her mother and family and friends she met along the way.

While there is a beauty in this story I think about my own relationship to money. My own debt. I think about how to pull an organizational into financial stability when I don't have it. i think about the women I work with and I wonder what is our collective thinking about money. Do we think we are worth it? Can we undo the scarcity mentality and ask funders for what we think we are really worth? When we have to go ask for money what do we really think? Why have we not increased our budget, how hard is it really for people to ask for something they believe in? What comes up?

When we have to put price for a workshop, membership, a fundraising event what do we think about? when we have to fight with our community because they can give the white mans institution money to get the same info they can get if not more at your place but they cant pay you, how does that impact our movement?

I know for me I had to learn to let people make their own decision. I remember having a donor drive and people saying we cant ask the community for money, they don't have money, right?  they are the ones we are saying that resources are scarce for. And then one day this little girl about 5 years old walks into my organization and  hands us a jar full of pennies cause she had been in the program and heard us talking about needing money.

So many things came up that day because some of us believed we shouldn't take it. And I remember thinking i have the opportunity to make or break this innate sharing ability, philanthropy within this young women based on my reaction. I was holding her relationship to money in my hands and who she would become as a result. And so we took it because she had made a choice, she wanted to contribute to something she believed in whether it was her last dime or not.

And we often time make those choices for people because of our own agreements, we never ask. We say they wont, they cant, we don't deserve, I don't believe  and with that we are telling our community that they are powerless in the face of money. It is our right to ask as is the right of our community to give their last cent if that is what they choose to do!

So, for our organizations and for ourselves here is a beautiful meditation for healing debt that i found.
Enjoy!


The Meditation For Healing Debt Fears 
http://www.newspiritservices.com/healing.debt.meditation.html