Generating ideas, connections, and action

Organizing, Openness and Community-Oriented Solutions with Ericka Stallings

By:  Marrion Johnson, LLC Communications Consultant


We decided to launch a search for a co-executive director of Leadership Learning Community for a few reasons. For one, as an advocate of thinking beyond the narrow limitations of hierarchical leadership models, we wanted to practice what we were preaching and invest in the possibilities of shared leadership, which decreases burnout and brings more voices to decision-making tables. Secondly, and equally important, we really wanted to center equity in leadership work and make space for leadership of color to thrive in an atmosphere that, quite frankly, is overwhelmingly white. So, when we met Ericka Stallings, an engaging, curious and experienced organizer from Queens, New York, we instantly knew that she might be the perfect person to help propel LLC into the future.


Some of you may be familiar with Ericka who shared a blog post and led a workshop of ours last summer entitled “6 Lessons forCultivating Leadership of Color in the Community Organizing Movement,” which Ericka says was an accumulation of knowledge gained from years of doing social justice work as an “organizer of organizers.” As LLC’s communications consultant, I spoke with Ericka about her experiences, inspirations and perspectives on leadership. Dig into our conversation below and join us in welcoming Ericka to the team!


I spoke to Ericka for the first time on a phone call in late January and was intrigued by how naturally our conversation went. Of course I expected her to be qualified and eager to enter the next phase of her career, but I soon became enamored by her effervescent spirit and cheerful nature. On our call, I learned quite a bit about Ericka, which is that she has a very unique and relatable story.


Ericka came to organizing by chance, hoping to become involved in “change-making work” after college, but didn’t really know what that meant. It wasn’t until Ericka began working with the New York Immigration Coalition, which advocates for the rights of immigrants across New York state, did her path in advocacy crystalize. “That’s when I got to explore thinking about issues from the root causes and also directly engage people who are dealing with the issues. Through that process I was able to learn about the different ways groups and institutions organize. Each group had a different community, issue and model. I got to see the different ways that things turned out.”


Being a part of New York Immigration Coalition provided Ericka with a perspective about organizing that she realized other people weren’t privy to. She talks about how critical engaging with people on a person-to-person basis is in order to build movements and take action. Still, to those outside of the organizing world, there is a lack of appreciation for the on-the-ground work. “Everywhere in the advocacy field where I’ve worked, our people said they need support for organizing. So that’s how the program I wrote about in that blog came to be. In direct response for groups who came to us saying ‘we’re trying to recruit and retain directly impacted organizers.’ We saw that people know how to organize. There isn’t a lack of talent, but there maybe a lack of systems and structures that are being utilized.”


Conversations like these led to the creation of an apprenticeship program at the Center for Neighborhood Leadership, Ericka’s most recent organization, and a proactive guide that directly challenges the assumption that communities of color, poor, immigrant and other marginalized communities need external actors to organize them. Read more on that tool here.


Knowing that Ericka had a deep appreciation for community-oriented solutions was only one of the many draws that made her the ideal team member for LLC. She also has cultivated a relationship with the organization over the past year, exemplifying the power of the network leadership model. Deborah Meehan, current LLC ED, and Ericka connected around community leadership, and a rousing game of Taboo, at the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation retreat for current grantees. Ericka notes that the relationship she cultivated with Deborah was a key motivator in encouraging her to consider the role. “I think if I had not met Deborah, and seen the kind spirit that she had and the way she embodied the values of the organization, I might not have applied.”


It’s clear that Ericka is a values-driven kind of person, and what’s most striking about her many ways of thinking is how naturally in line they are with ours at LLC. For example, her relationship with “leadership” itself has evolved into a place that challenges the traditional model and is inclusive of the various ways that people show up in the world. “I’m not necessarily the loudest person. It kinda relates to my understanding of leadership. Through helping others I have discovered my own model in leadership. You can take up space in a way that makes up more space. That’s a different model. It’s the kind of leadership that resonates and makes sense to me.”


We ended our conversation with Ericka reflecting on some of the biggest lessons she’s learned in her career,  which revolve around openness and curiosity. “Being open and being curious are lessons that I take with me. Having worked in so many different organizations over the course of my career, I’ve learned from all the people I worked with. I feel like I’m a sponge absorbing lessons from all of those really smart and helpful people I’ve worked with. In that way being open has served me well over the years.”


What a powerful perspective to live by, and we can’t wait to see where this curiosity leads Ericka in this next chapter.