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