Behind the Movement Newsletter, bringing you a s
In the Pursuit of Justice” by Dayanara Marte Jan 26th, 2012
Bronx Playwright Creates to Engage Her Community
By Dayanara Marte Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Posted on Women E News
(NEW YORK)--"For those of us who pick up the call, we need to take care of ourselves" says playwright 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, 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 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 believed she couldn't do anything about it.
Internally, Mercer struggled with her code of ethics as she watched the drug culture of the 90s 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. One day she changed 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 D.C. 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 led grassroots organizations, Ocean Ana Rising has struggled with getting big grants, a trend that leads 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 disease called Sarciod affecting people of color but has not been sufficiently researched.
"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."
Behind the Movement...Featuring Wanda Salaman
Mothers on the Move Signals Solidarity in South Bronx
By Dayanara Marte
Global Connect! Blogger
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
|Wanda Salaman, Executive Director of Mothers on the Move!|
READ THE FULL STORY/Updated on Women E NEWS Global Connect Gender Justice Project
"I was 100 pound lighter before I became an executive director," shares Wanda 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 also 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 issues 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 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 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 Activists 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 labor practices adopted by our organizations and work spaces."
They put this manual together because they believed 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.
|Valery Jean, Executive Director of FUREE!|
"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 Jean,. As executive director during this hard time 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 Jean works up to 70 hours a week and sometimes around the clock to provide economic sustainability and healthcare for her staff. However, this year FUREE has lost half its budget but doing about 75 percent of the same work, while funders continue to have three 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; 65 percent. of executives reported significant levels of recession-related anxiety.
However, despite the exhaustion in her voice, Jean 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 Jean. "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 organizations led by people of color led. 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, Jean has an important message for you, BREATHE!
"I know self-care seems like a long path but it only takes five 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."