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.

The Meditation For Healing Debt Fears 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Behind the Movement with Valery Jean!

Valery Jean, Executive Director of FUREE! 

Recently, Compass Point Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation released "Daring to Lead 2011", a national study of Nonprofit Executive Leaders focusing on the recession’s impact on organizations and leaders. More than 3,000 executive directors participated in this study finding that twenty eight percent (28%) of people-of-color-led organizations were severely impacted by the recession, compared with 18% of white-led nonprofits, however, men report burnout at half the rate of women and are significantly more likely to report having the work-life balance that’s right for them.

“I thought  I was going crazy, that it was all in my head, but when I spoke to other Executive Directors locally & nationally, especially women of color, I found out it wasn’t just me. It was a good feeling to know I wasn’t alone but then it made me think wow, how far have we really come?” stated Valery  as she takes a deep breathe and prepares herself to continue to answer personal questions about being both an executive director and a women of color on the front lines and the impact this has had on her life.

Her question is one that people of color ask themselves everyday not just in non profit and community based organizations but also in their personal lives as they look at the world they live in today and when these two worlds collide within social justice the feelings get overwhelming and magnified for everyone involved.  There seems to be a myth that once we become staff, a member, or a board within an organization, when we take a position of some sort that we can divide ourselves in half and that the personal lives we live stays outside the door the minute we are on the clock.  Valery however, knew that the one thing she could not leave at the door when she took on the position of Executive Director was her gender and her race. If anything she knew that this would be the first thing people would notice and that it would have a major impact on how the organization was viewed.

 Like many women of color on the frontlines, Valery Jean became the Executive Director of FUREE , (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality) by default. Five years ago she was the Development Director and when the position opened she hesitated as she not only thought about the economy and sustainability but more importantly how she would handle the unspoken challenges of being a women of color in that position and how would she handle the different standards she would have to face, created both by funders and other co-workers in the movement.

Valery recalls a very specific moment that happened when she was about six months into her position.  She was told in what seemed to be an advice wrapped up in compassion and empathy but really was a condescending expectation, its okay to fail!. “We might have set backs but failure has never been and will never be an option for me” says  Valery as she recalls what she responded.  As a poor immigrant women with two children Valery stands on the shoulders of a very conscious and politically active family who taught her how to survive and value that today she can vote, sit on a bus and compete for a job. “This keeps me being a mother charged to change conditions so my children don’t have to worry” says Valery.
And I say but at what cost? At what cost are women of color , executive directors , in management positions or on the frontlines being charged with social justice, running and leading organizations both in times of economic crisis and everyday where crisis is happening in their lives and communities?

 “ The clock ran out a long time ago, our communities where in crisis way before this one was published and I am not apologetic about saying it” says Valery but as executive director during this hard time Valery Jean goes to bed every day  thinking about her staff and her membership who have to deal with evictions, public assistance and  losing their jobs, while also  struggling  with paying her own bills and rent in the same way her members struggle.  As a result Valery  works 50-70 hours a week and around the clock  to provide economic sustainability  and healthcare for her staff. However, this year FUREE has lost half their budget  but doing about 75% of the same work, while funders continue to have 3 times as high of standards to produce because she is a women of color.

According to “Daring to Lead 2011”, beyond their organizations’ balance sheets, the recession has taken a personal toll on executives. Sixty-five percent (65%) of executives reported significant levels of recession-related anxiety.

“There are days it is hard for me to get out of bed, the stress is literally killing me” Valery says as she quickly mentions that she spent two weeks dealing with a near death experience. Valery and her almost exclusively women of color staff have been attending transformational organizing trainings with Social Justice Leadership, a nonprofit organization located in New York City that has supported them in linking biological stress with organizing. As a result she says, “ when there is a lot going on in the organization, then we all get sick and we pass it on; our health and our work load go hand in hand, not having a big staff stresses everyone when one person is sick  but we can’t  do less work or the organization will not be sustainable”.

On top of that because she is understaffed Valery holds several positions, she is lead organizer, development director and administrative assistance all at once leaving her to also take home work to do later.  This is had a major impact on her family. “I mean how available am I, when I am filling in gaps and doing hands on organizing, building alliances and creating policies locally and nationally; I need a break” says Valery.

However, despite the exhaustion in her voice, Valery laughs as she tells me that this is her life’s purpose, to challenge the system but something has got to change, she cannot win this fight on her own.  So for the past year, Valery has not only embarked on a journey of self care but has taken her staff along and is using this economic crisis to build alliances within and outside of the organization.

Today, Valery creates space to take care of herself, she journals, rants on face book, plays games and spends more time with her children. As Executive Director, her and her staff have created a space to address personal challenges and respecting each other as human beings first.  As a result there is a lot more communication and support. “ We operate more as a team now” says Valery.  “Together, we have created a women centered model because we know we cannot organize without addressing our needs”, this is one of the major accomplishments for her today. In addition, the most important accomplishment to date has been that organizationally she has developed one on one relationship with other Executive Directors from Mothers on the Move and the North West Bronx Clergy Coalition.

Valery Jean has come full circle since her organizing days at Hunter College, where she took classes on race, class and gender disparities. In spite of what she has gone through, she believes that this recession is a great opportunity for funders to support for and by people of color led organizations. However, they must first look at the quality of life for social justice leaders and how much is being requested of them?  “The political landscape and public policy are shifting at a fast rate and it takes lot of energy  and time to address them because they cannot be predicted and forecasted” says Valery as she finally advocates for self care, urging funders to think about pay rates so executive directors can pay themselves and their staff what they are worth.

As for other Executive Directors, women of color and women on the front lines, Valery has an important message for you, BREATHE!  “I know self care seems like a long path but it only takes 5 minutes to breathe and reflect, take a pause and check in on how you are feeling” and NETWORK! “Make sure you have a supportive network of people that you can vent with”  

For more information about FUREE log on to http://furee.org/
FUREE is a Brooklyn-based multiracial organization made up of almost exclusively women of color. We organize low-income families to build power to change the system so that all people's work is valued and all of us have the right and economic means to decide and live out our own destinies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Burn Out or a History of Oppression Impacting Women of Color Leaders today?

Recently, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation released "Daring to Lead 2011", a national study of Nonprofit Executive Leaders focusing on the recessions impact on organizations and leaders. 
More than 3,000 executive directors participated in this study bringing to light major challenges in their organizations sustainability during this recession like burnout, the boards involvement or lack their of, ED roles, lack of support, resources, funding and succession planning. 

However, in general  for  people of color organizations,and specifically for women of color in leadership,  this is nothing new. In my new series Behind the Movement, I will be giving a face to this recession and its impact on our health , mind, body and spirit by featuring intimate interviews with woc executive directors and their journey of personal and organizational sustainability and healing. I will also challenge "burn out"  by taking an in depth look at how the trauma of  poverty, violence, oppression and often times neglect  we face by funders and the "movement" has on our lives,  putting us in difficult positions to choose between leading an organization and taking care of our selves and our families. 

My first interview is with Valery Jean, Executive Director of FUREE, who couldn't say it better when she states, "the clock ran out a long time ago, our communities where in crisis way before it was published".  

Valery talks candidly about her inspiration to organize, her family, past and present. reminding us that while, the spirit of people of color never dies and we are standing on top of an amazing ancestral legacy of creating from nothing, as leaders we are also standing on a foundation of spiritual depletion and scarcity.. Unfortunately, we have also  inherited a history of personal and institutional trauma within  the non profit industrial complex passing down scarce resources, competing limited access and visibility and loosing our front line leaders to prisons, addiction, cancer and internalized oppression breaking up movements.  

Join us on a journey to discover ,
1.Why do we continue to do it as women of color? 
2.What is it really costing us? 
3. what is  at stake if we walk away from our selves and our communities? 
4.At the end of the day do we have a choice? 
5.What tools of sustainability and healing are we using through the journey? 
6. What alternative structures are we creating in the process? 

and since this is a transparent conversation and a dialogue please send me some of your own questions, share with us the healing tools you use to keep you going  and  you stories.... looking forward! 

STAY TUNED ! Be the first to get the launching issue and subscribe to my blog today! There is lots to talk about! 

Read Daring to Lead article below...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Leading with my conditioned tendency! SOMATICS and my experience!

I have been in my second Somatic training @ SJL with Staci Haines for the past two days and I thought I had heard it all. All the things about my past, how it had affected and impacted me. I mean its been 13 years that I am on my  healing journey and in a position of leadership in all areas of my life but as i well know, the universe always conspires to put those that have chose leadership, social justice, those that have chose transformation and healing themselves and others on the right path. And this means that we will find ourselves in relationships, training's, conferences, and situations that will move us closer to our higher purpose and that is what it did for me this weekend.

Today, I got that when people acknowledge me, when they see me, when they want to express gratitude for something i did, who I am or something I have bought to their life I deflect my feeling onto them and respond as a facilitator. So, instead of responding with a  thank you or a reciprocal acknowledgement of some sort, instead I say (and you probably have heard this before), so, how was that for you or good job how did that feel for you to tell me that or no, you did everything I didnt do anything or what did you get out of it or wow, I know that was hard how do you feel? I mean damn, all that and all the person wanted to do was exactly what I complain about all that time is that  is see me, tell me they heard me, I made a difference or thank you and sometimes even offer me some unconditional love or something back in return for who i was being that impacted their life.

It gets better , when someone acknowledges me , not only do I deflect but then in asking how are you, what are you feeling etc, I  switch positions and put them first , I also dismiss their gratitude and acknowledgement of me and i put myself in a position where its an hour later and I have just processed and facilitated them, leaving me exhausted and  thinking hey wasn't this about me, how did I get here. Great!

Remember now, I have been a facilitator of something, someone or another all my life. Translating for my mom, helping her navigate the system in another language, being a teen mom, putting myself through college, being a healer, with friend, in relationships, workshops, programming, directing you name it. So I just  thought well this is who I am , I am being humbled and not conceded, collective not hierarchical, a good daughter, partner, mom and leader.

What I wasn't realizing is that in facilitator mode I dont have to be present to my feelings, I get to remove myself from everything and everyone because even though I want to be seen and heard, lead and be on the front lines, be in inter-dependent relationships I really don't. Because bieng seen and heard would mean that I put myself in a vulnerable situation where people can leave me because they dont like what they see. And if they see all of me and then leave then what will this mean about me? What if they dont like what they see , then what? Then it would be my fault just like i thought it was my fault when my mother left me.

So instead, I create an environment so the people in my life, my staff, my children, friends, community, partners etc can be and do anything without boundaries and well if they leave at least it wasn't my fault or because I did anything to them or didn't give them anything?

In reality, all this time I have been working from what somatic calls my condition tendency to let everyone into my life without boundaries, to be their healer, coach, friend, rehab, weight loss program, sanctuary, counselor  therapist, midwife, lover, 12 step program etc...in  all areas of my life all because I dont want to be seen, so i cant hold acknowledgement because that means that you see me and that's too much responsibility for me to hold as well as too many feelings of abandonment for me to feel. Being seen threatens my sense of belonging and connection, so I am my own facilitator 24 hours a day. I am exhausted!

Are you exhausted? from what? What is your condition tendency? (A reflex reaction out of habit, "auto-pilot patterns formed through experience over time from the past, a conditioned response, your own default setting that kicks in when you unconsciously react to a situation). How does this impact your life and your ability to lead?

Dont Worry 99% of us are reacting to situations unconsciously its the beauty of your bodies innate ability to protect itself even from you. However, this means that we are not being fully present instead we are living in a constant state of the past that may not any longer serve us. At this point  we are  following, not leading! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Collaborate with "In Bold Rebirth Institute" and  inspire revelations, breakthroughs and completions to stand in your truth, clarify the vision you want to birth into reality while healing from the wounds of oppression, trauma, violence, neglect and separation. Discover the parts within yourselves that you have disowned, reclaim your space of belonging and live with spirit & purpose, intention and intuitive knowledge in your every day existence. 

  • In bold rebirth is not a moment or a destination. So stop asking yourself  if  you have arrived or are you  there yet. Your  bold rebirth is a journey where every moment and every day is your birthday, where you get to forgive and recreate  yourself  from nothing not even the past! 

  • In  Bold Rebirth believes that  words  speak louder than actions.  Healing is happening when you can be your word,  when you understand your word is your weapon, they serve as your internal system of accountability and another way that your community can hold you accountable. In case you didn't know your word is all you have...check in right now, are your actions  speaking louder than your words, are you are living the contradiction, are you pretending, do you have integrity with your word?

  • At In Bold Rebirth, we return to powerless moments and reclaim our power. ‎5 years ago I gave the power of summer to someone else, with that I gave them my power, my light, my creativity, my love and my courage. They could turn me on and off at will, no one can ever know what to do with so much power and control over another so they destroy you.. While we cannot recreate traumas such as child sexual abuse , rape, assault, domestic violence, and war it is imperative that we  go back spiritually and reclaim our power! 

  • In Bold Rebirth believes that trauma can be healed through the connection to our spirit, our wise women, our ancestors. There is a huge difference between spirituality as a way of being and health, wellness and self care! In bold rebirth taps into the spirit of women, the goddess that lives within to support transformation. And transformation only happens when we evolve not revolve. Ask your self to you want to be evolutionary or just revolutionary?. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dayanara Marte | World Pulse

Dayanara Marte | World Pulse

2010 Voices of Our Future Correspondent

Read my articles and learn more about web 2.0 women citizen journalism and empowerment training!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Global Press Institute Assignment!

At Global Press Institute and Women E News learning how to use social media to be a journalist for the people! Amazing! 

“ I wanted to make my father proud” said Vinicius Fortuna as he tells me  about his passion working in the computer science field.  Originally form Brazil, Fortuna wears a black t-shirt with the word google written on it  proudly representing his current job as Senior Soft Engineer for the company google. “ I use to dream about going to work for one of those big companies” he says as he plays with the cup in his hands remembering how hard it was to leave his friends and families.  He smiles from ear to ear as he remembers the story of waking up at 5:30 in the morning to go to the lab on his campus to join computer programming contest that would last for hours.  It started with his dad putting him in many challenging classes like sports and soccer, that he relaized that he felt good and accomplished after winning. Fortuna now lives in Roosevelt Island where he created an application to track his bus route to work. His hair swings back and fourth representing the swagger that he has as he proudly takes out his phone to show me the application he has created. At 30 years old, Fortuna has won both international and world champions and has traveled to Canada, China, and Californaia doing what he loves the most challenging himself and making his father proud!