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The Leading From the Inside Out Podcast
33 minutes | a year ago
Episode 5: Strengthening Your Leadership Development Program
Earlier this year, Rockwood partnered with the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to release Empower, Change, Transform, a free guide about building successful leadership development programs. So, for the fifth episode of the podcast, we thought we’d highlight the guide. Our panel of guests for this episode are all very familiar with leadership development programs: Abby Saloma, Director, Leadership and Talent for the Schusterman Foundation Sharon Price, Director of Strategic Initiatives here at Rockwood Neil Spears, Executive Director of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, and alum of both Rockwood’s Art of Leadership and the Schusterman Fellowship The guests discussed a wide range of topics, including the value of vulnerability in leadership development, the importance of building connection with cohorts, and how not to measure transformation. The panel also referenced a poem by Micky ScottBey Jones called “Invitation to Brave Space”. You can find that poem here. For more information on developing and strengthening leadership development programs, download the free guide: DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE Last but not least, this is our final episode of 2019…. but not our final episode of the podcast! Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.
30 minutes | 2 years ago
Episode 4: Edgar Villanueva
In this month’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast, Darlene talks philanthropy, decolonization, family, healing, and music with Edgar Villanueva, Vice President of Programs and Advocacy for the Schott Foundation and author of Decolonizing Wealth. The song in this episode is "Addis Ababa" by The Mini Vandals. Episode Transcript: Darlene: 00:06 Hello, I'm Darlene Nipper, CEO of Rockwood Leadership Institute, and your host for this episode of Leading from the Inside Out. My guest today is Edgar Villanueva, Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the author of Decolonizing Wealth, Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. Edgar, welcome to the podcast. Edgar: 00:31 Thank you. It's a pleasure to be on with you. Darlene: 00:33 Thank you for saying yes. We really appreciate it. I would actually offer you a second to just add anything by way of introduction of yourself that you think I should mention. Edgar: 00:43 Sure. Well, thanks again for having me on and hello to all of the Rockwood family and the friends of Rockwood, folks listening in. Of course I was so happy to do a conversation with you, Darlene. Because of our personal relationship and our professional relationship and all that Rockwood has meant to me. It really was a very pivotal moment in my life when I went through my experience with Rockwood and everything that I'm doing now kind of sprang from that week that I spent in California. So it all comes back full circle. So yeah, happy to be on here and to talk about the work that I've been doing over the past year with this book. And it's an exciting time to be indigenous, it's a exciting, terrifying time to be in this movement work. I think leadership is demanding all types of new things from us that we have to step into. So thanks for the work that you do and for having me. Darlene: 01:48 Absolutely. And I'm glad that you mentioned this moment. I want to, we'll come back to that, but I want to take you back maybe by way of your website where you mentioned your mother was the first philanthropist that you knew. And I would love for you to share a little bit just going back about more about your family and community and you talked about your indigenous identity, but go back a little bit and how that relates to philanthropy for you. Edgar: 02:27 Sure. You're asking me who's my people, right? Yeah. So I am from, originally from North Carolina, from the Lumbee tribe. We are a tribe that is in South East, North Carolina, a very rural, impoverished area. And my mom was a teen mother and at age five she scooped me up and we moved to the big city of Raleigh, North Carolina. That's about probably about an hour and a half West of our tribal community. And so I think when I say that my mom was the first philanthropist that I knew, a couple of reasons that I say that. One, for me and my background coming from poverty and a community that is very marginalized and does not have a lot of resources or power. I was not growing up rubbing elbows with the Rockefellers of the world, yet traditions of giving and reciprocity, philanthropy were all around me. Edgar: 03:30 And I began to learn to give back and what my role or responsibility was in terms of giving and taking care and being in community from my mom because although she was a single parent and worked two or three jobs at a time, there was always space in that schedule the work of ministry. And for my mom that was happening predominantly through the church that I grew up in. And I tell this story about my mom in the book where she started what was called a bus ministry. And it simply was going around and inviting the children of the neighborhood to this opportunity to jump on a bus on Sunday and come to Sunday school and be in a place where they will be loved on and taught. And my mom was just passionate about extending that opportunity out to kids. And at one point on a given Sunday, she was busing in over 300 children to this church. Darlene: 04:29 Wow. Edgar: 04:30 So I just grew up every Saturday we did outreach in the neighborhoods. We went out and visited the kids. I would dress up like a clown or whatever to entertain and be silly and just love up on the kids. So that was from as early as I can remember, we were a family that was just called to service. And although we were poor, in a sense I didn't quite know it or I had an awareness that there were folks who were even in worse conditions that I needed to help. So that's how I grew up being oriented to that. Edgar: 05:08 And I think that that type of culture that many of us come from, those traditions of giving and philanthropy are things that we need to reclaim and be very proud of and understand that the giving of our time and of our treasure and our talent very much makes us all philanthropists. You don't have to be a millionaire or a billionaire or have buildings named after you or whatnot, but we are often, many of us are folks who come from communities that have given us just a part of who we are. Darlene: 05:40 At first, I was going to ask you what do you mean by decolonizing wealth or philanthropy but maybe I would add to that. Are you saying by what you just described, that there is another definition for philanthropy that maybe ... It sounded like you said reclaim, so maybe that we've always known but have lost touch with or has fallen out of the mainstream around philanthropy over time. So how would you define this decolonizing and how does it relate to this reclaiming of the term that you're talking about here? Edgar: 06:24 Yeah, so philanthropy has become an institution and it's a relatively new formalized sector. Some foundations are about 100 old, but I would say it's really been in the last 70 years that we have this institutional form of philanthropy as a part of the nonprofit sector. And philanthropy as a word literally means love of people, love of mankind. And something that is a quite, I think it's actually a very beautiful word, but in many ways because of how institutional philanthropy have shown up in a way that we have institutionalized and made philanthropy this thing of a transaction. It's kind of tarnished the word and philanthropy is not a word that warms the heart of a lot of people and actually kind of gives a headache to some. My work around decolonizing wealth, to sort of simplify that, I mentioned I'm Native American, so I am a very unlikely person to find myself working in institutional philanthropy. It is a field that has a lot of work to do around diversity still. You see more and more people of color, but by far around 90% of foundation executives are white, 90% or higher. Edgar: 07:48 I think about 92% of board of directors for foundations are white. So it is a very, very white field and a lot of folks, you have to think about who has the money, who has the money to start a foundation, you're going to see that that tends to be a white folks who start foundations and then they hire within their trusted network of friends to run the foundations. And so for someone like me coming from quite the other end of the spectrum to find myself working in that space is sort of a phenomenon in a sense. And so as I came to philanthropy, I chose to take the job 15 years ago because I again felt called to service and called to ministry. I really resonated with the mission of the organization that I went to work for the Kate B Reynolds Charitable Trust in North Carolina. Edgar: 08:40 And like most people who choose these jobs, I thought, wow, I'm going to be a part of something big that's like giving back and moving resources into the community. But what I found is that the dynamics that exist in that space, because of the wealth and the extreme concentration of privilege, the dynamics of sort of the light white dominant culture of white supremacy of colonization are very, very pervasive. And they show up in all kinds of ways. And so what seems like the charitable sector on the surface, as this like really awesome thing that is a good thing. And yes, there's a lot of good work that happens. In many ways the philanthropic industry has evolved to mirror colonial structures and actually can reproduce hierarchy, ultimately doing more harm than good. Darlene: 09:35 What kind of challenges have people brought to you around your thinking about this? Given that mindset of money being the actual evil versus the way that we do things? Edgar: 09:47 It's interesting because regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, whether we're conservative or liberal, money is something that we all need and we all want, right? Money makes the world go round or that might be another song, I don't know. Darlene: 10:04 Yes. Edgar: 10:04 There's a lot of songs about money, right? And money is a topic for those who are people of faith. Kind of going back to my upbringing, money is the most talked about topic in the Bible. Money is a thing that we should not shine or shy away from. But yeah, absolutely. I understand why anyone would take issue with the idea of money, but it's not that money again in itself is a bad thing, it's how we use money. In that scripture that is misquoted, it actually says the love of money is a root of all evil, right? So not money, but it's the love of it. And if the love of money is higher than our love of people or more ... The love of money is a priority over the planet and each other and community then therein is the evil. So the reason that there are children in cages as we speak right now is because of money, right? And so it all comes back down to money. Edgar: 11:09 And so I think it's really important for those of us who are in movement work, those of us who are in social change leadership to understand how money and capital is flowing through the world and how it is being used in ways to oppress and dominate. Because in any campaign or any type of work we're doing to address those issues, we have got to dis
26 minutes | 2 years ago
Episode 3: Solomé Lemma
In this month’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast, CEO Darlene Nipper and Executive Director of Thousand Currents Solomé Lemma discuss transformational leadership, US perceptions of Ethiopia and the continent of Africa, the changing role of philanthropy, and much more. The song in this episode is "Los Angeles" by Quincas Moreira. Episode Transcript Darlene Nipper: Hello, I’m Darlene Nipper, CEO of Rockwood Leadership Institute and your host for today’s episode of the Leading From the Inside Out podcast. My guest today is Solome Lemma, Executive Director of Thousand Currents and of course a Rockwood alum. Solome, welcome. Solome Lemma: Thank you. It’s such an honor to be here. Thank you for having me. Darlene Nipper: So we’re going to get into more about your work in a minute, but tell me a little bit about your story, like how you got from where you started in life to where you are now. Solome Lemma: I was born in Ethiopia in East Africa and I lived there until I was about 11. Then I was in London. I came to the United States and we moved to Marietta, Georgia. And in Marietta, Georgia I encountered a community that was very different from what I grew up in. The kinds of questions that I faced from my peers shocked me because I didn’t expect it. Solome Lemma: And of course now that I know that was a shared experience by most African immigrants, right? But I didn’t know that as an 11 year old. So when kids say to me, “Oh, what did you eat?” Or, “Were you starving during that famine?” Or, “Where did you live? Did you have a home?” I didn’t understand because even though I don’t come from a family that was wealthy or even middle class, I came from a place that was abundant in love and I never felt like I lacked anything. Solome Lemma: So my sense of identity was not rooted in lack or deficit. It was actually rooted in pride and I actually thought I would come to America and tell people about how awesome Ethiopia is and how I can’t wait to go back. Solome Lemma: So the fact that I came to a place where in some ways my story was already told for me before I even had a chance to articulate it myself, helped inform my educational pursuits as well as my career proceeded around really focusing on shifting narratives about Africa in general, about social justice and about Africans and the agency and self determination of Africans. That became the driving force behind that pursuit. Which led me here. Darlene Nipper: Amazing. Amazing. Darlene Nipper: There’s so much in what you’re saying that I have to take my first detour of the interview now and just say, you know, this conversation and say, what would you say about the history of Ethiopia? Darlene Nipper: I know just a little bit. That actually might be useful for people to understand in terms of your knowledge and understanding about social justice and equity and colonization and those kinds of issues. What would be important for people to know? Solome Lemma: Right, right. That’s a great question. You know, it’s complicated. It’s a great question and a really complicated question and depending on what Ethiopian you have sitting in this chair, they would answer it different. And I think that’s the one thing people need to know. The story that people know about Africa in the States when I came, was that there was a big, about Ethiopia in particular, it was that there was a famine. And it’s this idea that we helped you. We saved you. Solome Lemma: We sang a song for you and raised a lot of money. Right? That’s the story people know. That you’re poor, you’re hungry, you’re despondent. That wasn’t my experience. There was certainly inequity in Ethiopia. There was certainly challenges there. Solome Lemma: There was a famine. And famine that was worsened by political choices and decisions. Not because we didn’t have the resources. But depending on where you lived, you experienced that differently. And I grew up in Addis Ababa. I was a kid, so I don’t even remember it. I didn’t even know there was a famine in the country. Right? Solome Lemma: Where it’s for Americans, Ethiopia was hungry as a whole. So that’s one part of it. The other side of Ethiopia that I think people know is, that it’s the only country that defeated and won against European colonization and imperialism, because Italy attempted to colonize Ethiopia. And there’s this idea that Ethiopians in the Battle of Adwa defeated Italy. And remained an uncolonized country. Solome Lemma: And to a large extent that is true. The current state formation of Ethiopia, was not colonized by Europeans or Italy in that way. But we have a complicated history in which, in terms of how the state of Ethiopia itself was formed, that Ethiopia, what we call present Ethiopia, is comprised of different ethnic groups. Solome Lemma: Some were switched, joined to the union or the state of Ethiopia by force. Then that consent. And that there are issues and tensions around that. Solome Lemma: There are political differences. So, when I came to America I realized the narrative of Ethiopia was either you are hungry or you’re the black star. Like you’re the nation, you’re Ethiopian. There’s a bit of truth in both, and there’s a huge middle, that’s actually really complicated. That there are some Ethiopians, many Ethiopians, that feel like they were colonized within the state of Ethiopia under Ethiopian leadership, including the ethnic group that I come from. Solome Lemma: So I think the one thing that I want people to know is that, to understand the history of a nation like Ethiopia, let alone a continent like Africa, which is often described as a country. It’s nuanced and complicated and you have to dig deeper than what the news media is feeding you. Darlene Nipper: Your story, it crosses continents, it crosses. It’s bulk spread, it’s Pan-Africanist and then beyond that it’s like, you came to the States, you just before we got on, you just said, you’re an East coast person in the United States. Who are your people? Solome Lemma: My people are everywhere. Everyone. Everywhere and everyone. I am an Oromon and African from Ethiopia, right? And those are my people. Oromo’s are my people. Africans are my people. Ethiopians are my people. Solome Lemma: But beyond that, my people are people that reject the status quo. People that really understand the importance and necessity of sovereignty and autonomy and self determination and people that work to preserve and protect that. And people that for whom, justice inequities are ways of life and not just ideas to be debated or floated around. Solome Lemma: So my people are people who are working not just to resist current systems of extraction and exploitation that you see in the world, but people that are giving us glimpses into the new futures that we want to run into with the creators, with the innovators, with the experimenters. Those are my people too. Solome Lemma: And to be honest, I often think about my people, where I come from and also for my people, what is home to me in that respect. And who is home. And my people and home to me are where my loved ones are. So in many ways, home to me right now is Atlanta, Georgia, because I still have family there. It’s Ethiopia of course, then Africa in general because I still have folks there. It’s California. It’s wherever I have loved ones. Darlene Nipper: Beautiful, beautiful. I know that you founded or co-founded Africans in the Diaspora. Tell us about that work and what was important to you and just whatever you want to talk about about that work and what it … Make sure you tell us what it is, so that folks can understand it. Solome Lemma: Absolutely. Africans in the Diaspora is an organization that I co-founded that works to harness and mobilize African diaspora philanthropy. To connect the resources, financial, intellectual of Africans in the diaspora, with the work of organizations in Africa that were working to build new and transformative futures across the continents. Solome Lemma: That’s what Africans in the Diaspora was. How I got to Africans in the Diaspora. If I can tell it kind of briefly is, the summer between my first year and second year of graduate school, I ended up going to Liberia in West Africa. And there I found myself entering a country that I had never been to, that was coming out of a long conflict, where refugees were being repatriated back to their homes. So returning home. And that’s who I was working with. And I saw how in many ways they had some really clear ideas and brilliant ideas about how they wanted to rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities once they returned. Solome Lemma: But then our organization’s budget were dictated by donors. So we couldn’t necessarily fund their ideas. So I left that a little bit disenchanted. But also with a clear awareness. If I was going to stay in this field of social justice, from an international perspective, I needed to tap into what I thought was a personal identity as a bridge. Solome Lemma: I ended up in philanthropy in that way. And after a year or two in philanthropy, then I saw another problem. When it comes to Africa, philanthropy still had a deterministic lens and view. We were still doing things for Africa. Our idea of where resources come from are the global North, are American. And then we send it to Africa. We don’t think of Africans having resources. Africans being solutions and agents of change. Solome Lemma: We see Africans as recipients and needs beneficiaries. Meanwhile Africans in the Diaspora were sending 40, 50 eventually $60 billion a year to our families in the form of remittances. Which is all bilateral and multilateral aid to Africa and larger than a foundation giving to Africa. Darlene Nipper: Wow. Solome Lemma: So I thought, well clearly there’s a gap. Because if we have Africans with resources here, what would it look like, to actually
25 minutes | 2 years ago
Episode 2: Lillian Rivera
In this episode, Lillian Rivera, Executive Director of Hetrick-Martin New Jersey, talks about what inspires her, what brings her joy, and her hopes for our collective future. The song in this episode is "Garden" by Spazz Cardigan. Episode Transcript joi foley: I'm joi foley, and I'm your host for this episode of Rockwood's Leading From The Inside Out podcast. joi foley: The guest for this episode is Lillian Rivera. Lillian is the executive director of the Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey. She's a writer, advocate, youth ally, and a Latino lesbian wife and mother to two girls. With over a decades worth of experience in youth development, she has facilitated workshops and trainings across the country on working with LGBTQ youth, and was nominated for the Presidential Advisory Council in HIV/AIDS. She's written articles on her work and her life as a Latino lesbian mom for Huffington Post and Feminist Wire. She's an alum of the 2015 Fellowship for Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in the HIV/AIDS Movement. Lily joined me via video chat, and I asked her 10 questions about her leadership. joi foley: Can you share more about the kind of work that Hetrick Martin does? Lillian Rivera: Absolutely. Hetrick Martin Institute, and specifically Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey, where I'm the ED, is nonprofit organization, and we serve LGBTQ youth. What we do is we have a unique model where we create the environment where LGBTQ youth are affirmed and nurtured in ways that they aren't in other spaces. So we have a youth development sort of do the same youth work that other adolescent providers do, just through the lens of LGBT affirmation. I like to go beyond inclusion. Right? I want to affirm and nurture our young people in order to have them internalize that they are whole, beautiful individuals that have a great life ahead of them, and their gender identity and sexual orientation and race and class, all of those things, are just facets of who they are and they're all beautiful and they all should be valued. And the rest of our work is really youth development work, giving young people the skills and the resources they need to thrive in their life. joi foley: Do you have any favorite moments or memories from your work there? Lillian Rivera: Yeah. We had the unique experience to be able to work with young people from the age of 13 to 21 in New York City. They worked with them until they're 24, so you see a huge progression in their growth. I think every time a young person reaches a milestone and they succeed around things that they thought they weren't going to succeed, it's a huge celebration. So they graduate high school, it's a great celebration, or they get their first job and they get their first paycheck. It's amazing. Or they get their name changed and they're affirmed in ways that they've never been affirmed, or for some kids is just us saying to them, Oh, you want a binder or you need a binder? Sure, let's go to the pantry and get it. Lillian Rivera: And that one small thing just let's them move in the world in ways that are transformative. For another person, they might miss that opportunity, but we get to see all of that beauty, in terms of their growth and their blossoming, because we are affirming things that other people will alienate them around. joi foley: Do you ever get inspired by the youth that you work with? Lillian Rivera: Yeah, I am inspired every day. A lot of the young people that we work with are battling extreme poverty. I see their hope and their inspiration and I see their possibilities and I see them having that thirst for life that I think for me, someone who's been doing social services for so long, I could not have sustained myself if I weren't working with young people. I had the experience of working with adults in the past who were HIV positive and were either homeless, had a history of homelessness. Lillian Rivera: They're usually battling mental illness, managing the addiction, and it just really crushed my soul because the world had been so unfair to them. The world had not put anything in place to address the issues that they were dealing with, and that's when I knew I had to work with young people. I had to work with young people, one, because they are not cynical or bitter, regardless of their life situations. They are a light to follow. I also find that I make the best decisions when I let young people lead. They're on top of things. They understand things in the world that my 47 year old mind doesn't understand anymore and they're a constant inspiration to keep going, to be able to give them platforms to lift them up, open doors for them, because their ability to innovate and think of ways that older folks don't is new and vibrant. Lillian Rivera: I think I've always relied on youth leadership, and the older I get, the more certain I am that I want young people making decisions. I want them not only making decisions about technology and the stuff that I don't understand, but I want them making decisions about the world in general. I want them to impact the environment, I want them to, because they're going to do things in innovative ways, like the glasses on my face. Right? My 10 year old picked out because I would've never picked these out. But she's just like, yes, do it, go for it. I think that's what I get from young people every day. When I understand their world challenges and I understand that they're struggling with this and they're struggling with that and they're going to bust out this dope ass ... Sorry, this dope poetry that speaks about the future, that speaks about possibility, that speaks about like the beautiful many identities that they, you know, thrive in. joi foley: Why were you born for this time? Lillian Rivera: I think I was born for this time because I need it to be born working class. I needed to be born Puerto Rican. I needed to be born in New Jersey and I needed to figure out that I was a lesbian. And I needed to figure out all of those identities in order to create visibility for folks who look or sound like me or who come from where I come from or all of those important things. And I think the class issues that are surfacing today because of our current environment deserve the critical analysis that someone from my background brings forward. Right? And I think even in the nonprofit sector, I think I need to be there to challenge how these issues play out, right? I will often find myself amongst other nonprofit leaders, the only check off whatever box you want. Lillian Rivera: Right? So the landscape is changing. I think our role in society is changing as nonprofits and if we don't figure out how to sort of dismantle systems of oppression within our own organizations to be possibilities of hope within society, then we're going to become obsolete. So I think my lived experiences from a kid whose dad was a farmer and then became a factory worker and whose mom also worked in factories. Understanding what the unions did for our society. I think I need to be here talking about that as white presenting or red Latina. I need to be working on anti-blackness in the Latino community, right? And being the person of color in spaces where on some level I need to be the one doing that talking, using my privilege to do that talking. And I think LGBTQ youth needed me. They needed me to to say, hey, you are worthy and you are valuable and you are beautiful and the world is better because of you and we need to hear your stories. Lillian Rivera: Everyone needs to hear your stories. And I needed to be that messenger for some kids, some really valuable kids. And there's still a whole bunch of them that hopefully I'll get to talk to you. joi foley: What's on your heart? Lillian Rivera: Yeah. I think on my heart, what's on my heart today is, or at this time, is staying hopeful, stay hopeful and centered and in the community. I'm lucky that I'm in Newark, New Jersey, now, or Candor, New Jersey because Newark is a small city with big, big heart and getting, you know, I think in big cities like New York, you can get lost and lose sort of the connection to community. And in Newark it's what I need to keep going. Like I need to be in community with folks. I need to know that these conditions within our country will be over. I want to stay hopeful for the work and for my family. Lillian Rivera: And you know, just stay focused that this'll end, this too shall pass and we will be stronger for it and our voices will be the loudest. joi foley: Who is leading today that you'd love to work with? Lillian Rivera: Well, you know, well anyone that I'd want to work with, I think I've got to the place where I'm feeling just a little insular and I feel that because I need to take care of my community, right? I'm feeling like I need to work with Latin x folks and I need to do that because the assault on us has been nonstop when Mexicans are called rapists. You're calling me one as well. You're calling my children one as well, calling all of my family one as well and I think I need to work with that community and I need to be there for our folks. Lillian Rivera: I think we don't have the national infrastructure to be able to say, hey, let's have this convening and do this as you know, as Latin X folks. But I think some of us are working to do that and to stay connected and to take care of ourselves. And you know, I love hearing about what other leaders are doing in the Latino, Latina, Latinx community. I love hearing what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is doing and because I think she gives me hope and possibility, because she's in there fighting our fight. So I'm working with Elicia who is another Rockwood fab person. So staying in community, building those networks, making sure that we're taking care of each other. And you know, we do a lot of healing. Justice is where I think our community is right now. Like I said before, these assaults are too great for us not to be impacted by them. Lilli
22 minutes | 2 years ago
Episode 1: Zahra Billoo
It’s finally here! The first episode of Rockwood’s new podcast, with alum and CAIR SF-BA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. Zahra dropped by our offices to talk about joy, family, privilege, music, practicing resilience, and much, much more. Subscribe to receive emails from Rockwood and never miss an episode: https://rockwoodleadership.org/subscribe ----more---- EPISODE TRANSCRIPT joi foley: Hi, and welcome to the very first episode of Rockwood’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast. My name is joi foley. I’m Rockwood’s senior marketing and communications manager. joi foley: Before we get to our interview with alum Zahra Billoo, we have just a few notes about the podcast. This is Rockwood’s first-ever podcast, and we are so excited to be sharing leadership with new audiences in this new medium but, as with anything new, we do have a bit of a learning curve. There are some technical issues, so we hope that you can be understanding and patient with us as we work through some of that. I’ll be your host for these first few episodes, and then the whole staff of Rockwood will be sharing hosting duties, including our CEO, Darlene Nipper. We will also be experimenting with different types of content alongside the alum interviews, so if there’s something you’d like Rockwood to cover in this podcast, just let us know. With that, here’s our show. joi foley: Our guest for today’s episode is alum Zahra Billoo. Zahra is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area office, the oldest and one of the largest CAIR chapter offices. Under Zahra’s leadership, CAIR-SFBA has filed lawsuits against the United States Department of Justice, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Southwest Airlines representing American Muslims facing discriminatory treatment. CAIR-SFBA has also significantly expanded its capabilities to provide know-your-rights sessions on a nearly weekly basis to mosques and community members in the San Francisco Bay Area while also providing direct legal representation to Bay Area residents facing numerous civil rights violations. joi foley: Zahra has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and even on Fox News. She was a speaker at the historic Women’s March in Washington, DC in January 2017. Zahra received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the Society of American Law Teachers and was featured in the January 2018 Chronicle of Philanthropy cover story on how millennials lead. Outside of her work with CAIR, Zahra bakes birthday cakes for foster children through Cake4Kids and is a coordinator for Project Feed, a monthly homeless feeding effort in downtown San Francisco. Zahra is currently in Rockwood’s Lead Now California Fellowship, but she’s been through a few fellowships and programs with us. When I spoke with Zahra in February at our office in Oakland, our conversation started there. joi foley: Okay, so the first question is you’ve been through two Rockwood Fellowships, but you’ve been total eight sessions, we counted, so why do you keep returning to Rockwood? Zahra Billoo: I was initially introduced to Rockwood by other leaders who said, “Look, we see the path that you’re going down, and we know that you’re going to need help to sustain yourself and the work that you’re doing in the long run. Why don’t you check out Rockwood?” That was my first introduction to The Art of Leadership. After that, I was invited to join a Fellowship, and what I appreciated about the opportunity to do a Fellowship was that it wasn’t just training. It was training plus community, and so the relationships, the friendships that I made in my participation during Fellowship for a New California are still people I rely on, I call, and that I’m excited to see when I’m at events and out doing this work. Zahra Billoo: Fast-forward several years, and we have the 2016 election. It’s not like civil rights and human rights weren’t already challenging before the 2016 election, but the problems became so much more exaggerated. So much of the deep-rooted racism and white supremacy in our country was unveiled, and the pace at which many of us that were already in the work had to change to was just unprecedented. When the opportunity to do another Fellowship and meet new people doing this work in this moment and relearn some of the Rockwood practices came about, I couldn’t say no. Just a couple of days ago when I was thinking through how to process a trigger, I was so grateful for all of the training that I’ve done with Rockwood now. joi foley: Do you have any favorite memories of any of your Rockwood experiences or moments that were really important to you? Zahra Billoo: I remember one of the nights of the Fellowship parties where there was a particular one in the second, in the Lead Now Fellowship, where everybody just let loose. Whether people were drinking or not, and I don’t drink, they were having a good time. They were talking. They were in community. It was interesting because I remember having a conversation with someone about life while dating as a single Muslim woman and also having a conversation with someone about gender pay equity and then breaking a sweat on the dance floor. That combination of experiences in one night, for me, was so much the epitome of the family that Rockwood helps cultivate where we can talk about work and life and have fun. joi foley: Why were you born for this time? Zahra Billoo: I sometimes contemplate why I was born with as much privilege as I was born with. I didn’t necessarily earn the rights that I have. They are a function of where I was born, who I was born to, and those circumstances. I’m a US citizen who speaks English fluently and has a passport so can’t be sent anywhere I don’t want to go. I’ve got a voice that sometimes won’t shut up and a roof over my head as well as incredibly supportive family. When I think of why I was born for this moment, for me, it’s about putting all of those privileges to work. I didn’t earn them, and so the best that I can do is ensure that I don’t act like they are mine exclusively but rather that they are tools and an opportunity for service, and now is when we need it. joi foley: What’s in your heart? Zahra Billoo: I think what my heart is trying to figure out is how does one find happiness, and peace, and contentment, and companionship in this moment where there’s literally a rapid-fire every day. Maybe they existed before, but it’s also the onslaught of social media and the 20-minute news cycle that has us going a mile a minute, and so what does our work look like? What do our lives look like in 2030 and in 2040 which, right now, feels frightening to even contemplate when many of us are dreading 2020? joi foley: Yeah. Who is leading today that you’d love to work with? Zahra Billoo: One of the blessings of the 2016 election, for me, has really been to develop new friendships in movement spaces and also to watch and support as leadership emerges in ways that we didn’t expect. If I were to think of individuals that I already know and love and want to deepen my work with, I think of so many of the women in movement spaces, Manar Waheed at ACLU, Linda Sarsour with Women’s March, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar in Congress, Marielena at NILC, and so many other bold, fierce women who I’m in awe of because they make leadership accessible, they connect work to efforts to empower community, and they don’t back down. joi foley: What message do you want to share with future generations? Zahra Billoo: I want people to understand that this is the work of lifetimes. Realistically, I’m not sure if we will free Palestine, or end poverty, or close the prison industrial complex in my lifetime. When I think of what I want future generations to understand is that they are not alone, they are not the first, and that we did the best that we could so that they would have it better. joi foley: Sometimes I think about, when I was younger, gay marriage seemed like it would never ever happen. Then, by the time it happened, I … it wasn’t like I wasn’t blasé about it, but I was like, “Oh, yeah, of course.” It was only a span of like 20 years or something that it- Zahra Billoo: But gay marriage isn’t just about legislation either, right? joi foley: Yeah. Zahra Billoo: It’s also about the shift in the narrative around people were being criminalized for who they love. Homes were being raided. Much of that continues, and so I don’t think of the fight for equality for any people as simply about legislation but rather like, hey, every step forward is progress. I mean I remember when Ellen came out on TV and when Will & Grace was still a little bit unusual, and now it’s like they’re doing new episodes of Will & Grace, all of a sudden, after a sort of a very long hiatus. We’re seeing small steps towards progress for Palestine, for people in prisons, but what’s hard is sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back, and that’s the most heartbreaking thing. Zahra Billoo: I think what I really struggle with is this thing that we’ve been saying since the election, which is that the system isn’t broken. Trump was not elected because the system was broken. Trump was elected because the system works exactly as it was supposed to, and so how do we, for the purposes of our lifetimes but also future generations, balance working within a system that we acknowledge to be corrupt and faulty while also attempting to build something new in parallel? joi foley: Yeah. What has changed or shaped your leadership? Zahra Billoo: Learning from my mistakes has always been an important way in which I acknowledge the opportunity to grow. It’s not easy to fall on your face and then have to pick right back up because it’s not like the work is done or have time to recover, but I try really hard to see challenges as opportunities for growth. Zahra Billoo: The other
1 minutes | 2 years ago
Introducing Rockwood's Leading From The Inside Out Podcast
Yes, you heard that right – Rockwood is launching a podcast! The Leading From The Inside Out podcast will combine classic Rockwood curriculum with alum interviews and tips for leading from a place of love, grace, and power. Stay tuned (and subscribe to our email list) for info on how to subscribe!
12 minutes | 4 years ago
How to Manage and Honor Anger [Audio + Infographic]
How do we lead when we’re angry? That was the question almost 70 Rockwood alums explored during this Community Call about managing and honoring anger, a topic that has gained interest with many social justice and nonprofit leaders in the months since the election. At the beginning of the call, Rockwood CEO Darlene Nipper read a piece from Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, and then shared a story about how suppressing anger after the election had physical ramifications for her body. SAYING “HELLO” TO ANGER As both the piece by Thich Nhat Hanh and Darlene’s story illustrate, we can either mistreat anger, or honor it for the messages it is bringing us in the moment. Although we might fear or condemn anger, anger itself is not the issue. Anger is neither intrinsically good nor bad in and of itself. It is a natural emotion that expresses itself in very complex ways. TENDING TO ANGER WITH MINDFULNESS Regularly practicing mindfulness can improve our ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings when triggered, and allow us the space to be reflective instead of reactive. When triggered, immediately stop and notice your anger, try to understand the source, and allow yourself time to really feel and experience the anger before releasing it. Blocking the anger often turns into repression and stress which, as demonstrated in the model above, can lead to physical pain and long-term effects within the body. By creating a mindfulness practice for releasing and channeling your anger, you can bring reflection, insight, passion, and creativity to your life.
50 minutes | 4 years ago
Staying Connected: 3 Highlights From The Rockwood Community Call
After the 2016 Presidential Election, Rockwood hosted a conference call for alums and community members to make space for connection and reflection, and to thank our network for its commitment to creating a more just and sustainable world. There were a lot of wonderful things said and shared, so we encourage you to listen to the full call, but here are three threads we saw throughout: Staying connected to Purpose. Purpose is like fuel. It’s the inspiration for why we do what we do, and also what keeps us moving forward. It’s a key element for joyous and effective leadership, which is why it’s usually where Rockwood trainings start. During the community call, participants took some time to reflect on their purpose, and then shared those reflections. For some, moments like the one we’re in, caused their purpose to be more present than ever before. For others, it created new questions about what is truly meaningful to them right now. What was clear, however, was how important it is to reconnect with purpose on a regular basis, refueling to sustain ourselves through the work. If you’d like to get reconnected with your purpose, check out the resources available here. Staying connected to our bodies. During her talk, Darlene shared a profound experience she had after receiving some bodywork, a reminder that sometimes, physical pain can be the manifestation of emotional pain. It may feel like now’s not the time to slow down, but being in touch with our bodies can actually provide us with a lot of strength and resilience. The simplest way to stay connected to our bodies? Mindful breathing. Taking just 5 minutes during the day to focus on our breath can have a profound effect on our physical and emotional well-being. Staying connected to each other. Towards the end of the call, people shared their reflections, and what’s come up for them since the election. A recurring theme was staying connected to other leaders, across movements, geographies, and more, with many people expressing interest in connecting through Rockwood’s network. Darlene also shared a story of seeing a member of her LIO cohort in Oakland the day after the election, and how important it was for the two of them to be able to be their vulnerable, authentic selves together in that moment. Connecting with others can have a lot of benefits at the best of times, but it can be especially useful for decreasing depression and anxiety. The best part is, it can take many forms: circles, gatherings, phone calls, social media, or even doing something distracting with others, like going to the movies. If you’d like to connect with other Rockwood alums, we encourage you to reach out on Twitter, in our alum-only LinkedIn group, and through any cohort listservs you may be a part of.
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