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Miriam Persley's blog

Exploring Non-Traditional Leadership with Jah'Shams Abdul-Mu'min

This Creating Space XII will focus around non-traditional leadership. Some of you have already started asking: what does that even mean? Personally, I assumed it was the antithesis of “traditional leader”, but what that actually means or more accurately, what that role looks like on a daily basis was still unclear to me.

 

Our CSXII partner, Lisa Leverette from Community Connections in Detroit, immediately invited Jah’Shams Abdul-Mu'min into this conversation. Jah’Shams brings years of experience in the leadership development field researching non-traditional leadership. Although he is based in South Central Los Angeles and works at the Los Angeles Trade Tech Community College, he has traveled the world researching cultures and their leadership models. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk more with Jah’Shams about his findings and to be able to share these with you. His answers to our burning questions are below.

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The Victims of Systemic Oppression

As a nation, we’ve witnessed major trauma throughout history. It should not be surprising that years of systemic oppression have not yet disappeared, after all, many see these aggressions daily. But nothing, nothing, could have prepared any of us for the horrifying news of the June 17th shooting in Charleston.  

 

Our hearts and thoughts are with the families of the victims of the Charleston massacre. We know that restorative healing is greatly needed in South Carolina and throughout the nation as we all witness the unfolding of events and that nothing could ever bring those nine souls back. This is a grisly reminder of how much work we in the social sector and the leadership development field still have to tackle; we have not yet worked ourselves out of a job.

 

We remember the victims of this racist act of terrorism; Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr., and Reverend Sharonda Singleton.
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Neighborhood Watch: Neighbors Fearing Neighbors, The Effects of Fear And Gentrification

This morning as I was driving to work, listening to National Public Radio’s Forum, I was struck by the divisiveness that emerged while talking about gentrification and San Francisco Supervisors’ vote on a housing moratorium. The podcast is available on their website, but the conversation reminded me of a similar conversation my neighborhood had around the same topic.

The discussion in my street began because my neighborhood in Oakland is seeing the secondary effects of waves of new residents coming into the neighborhood. These new residents, typically after looking for housing in San Francisco where the prices are insurmountable, are flocking to Oakland to remain close to “The City.” Long-time Oakland residents have been feeling the pressure of this housing demand through increases in rent, housing prices, and for some residents of color, clear racial microaggressions (for other examples see here).

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Demystifying LLC’s Webinar Series

 

The last two months have been a great time for LLC’s Webinar Series all due to having wonderful volunteers from our community who have stepped up and shared their knowledge with all of us. To keep this momentum going, we have been lining up more webinars in the coming weeks, more info on these soon. We have been reflecting on how we can demystify and decentralize the process so more webinars can continue to happen.


Ideally, we like to partner with individuals, organizations, movements, networks, partnerships, etc. that conceive, conduct, and evaluate leadership. To us, leadership is a process of collaboration and we uphold models that create social change through their work. Many programs do not realize that they have much to contribute to the field.

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Walking The Talk

As Americans continue to explore racial disparities, we are seeing an increase of conversations. This month alone, coffee-giant Starbucks wanted to jump into the conversation. Although the execution failed for many reasons (haphazard decision without enough preparation, failure to fund a strong execution, did not plan for their customers’ time constraints, and more[1])  the conversations continue every day.

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Continuing To Commit To Racial Equity

 

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As many of you are aware, in the recent months a growing movement is changing perspectives in many communities. People have taken to the streets, conversations have started not only in the privacy of homes but also through social media about how #BlackLivesMatter. LLC has engaged many of you through our own articles and we are continuing to work with the Racial Equity Leadership Network here in Oakland to dive deeper into these important conversations on how we can all contribute to tearing down and healing from the systems of racism we are all a part of.

 

Towards my own growth in that work, I am always looking for tools and opportunities to reflect. I was therefore open to read about the work of UC Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies in their most recent publication; “Insurgency: The Black Matter(s) Issue.” This issue is a collaborate composition of 20+ writers submitting their personal stories and perspectives to attempt to encapsulate the complexity that is the Black experience in the United States. In the opening statement “About This Issue,” the department recognized that this publication is highly academic and analytical, and yet it portrays so many perspectives and stories from voices not typically heard in the mass media.

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What The Loss of Michael Brown Means to The Leadership Development Field


Once again, the US finds itself facing a tragedy that is a result of the systemic racism and the implicit bias of those in power. In fact, the names of the victims of racial profiling have piled up so many of them happening after the death of Trayvon Martin. The recurring dehumanization of brown bodies has haunted Americans since before slavery and has devolved and been injected into all aspects of society. And as the divide widens among different groups, there is no doubt that in this moment courageous, collective leadership is needed most.
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How To Avoid Alienating People Through Your Work

This weekend, my husband and I stopped by a well-known grocery store in what is becoming our gentrified neighborhood in Oakland. From the moment we stepped foot through the door, an armed security guard followed us throughout the store and remained within ten feet of us, his arm resting on his gun the entire time. When for a moment I stepped away to grab another item on our list, he followed me and radioed for backup. Although my husband and I remained calm, avoided any sudden movements, and pretended ignore him, I felt angry to be treated so aggressively in what was an unmistakable case of racial profiling. When we left, although angry, I also felt relieved to know that we were able to walk away unharmed in what could have easily escalated into a worse situation had this guard decided to go on a power trip. In the leadership development field not many organizations run stores where there may be armed security guards entrusted with “protecting” their investments, but rather most run programs and interact with their “investments;” developing people and communities; in a much different way. However, this experience made me question the blind spots where programs may inadvertently create traumatic experiences for others.


Most commonly, alienation occurs through language. The use of highly technical jargon or cliquish terms do not welcome multiple experiences. To make programs more inclusive analyze the language used in applications, eligibility requirements, and curriculum. The language used can have many definitions and as a result many unintended impacts. Making materials clear and digestible for multiple audiences is key to keep expanding the positive reach of your engagement. Take the time to create clear definitions as an organization and make these easily accessible all of which will help all of participants understand your intent and may even guide your purpose.

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Making Time For Reflection: Lessons From History

Leaders strive to have a clear vision and purpose in their work. Without it, they risk being distracted, inefficient, and/or ineffective. To build this framework, they need to constantly act intentionally and evaluate themselves, their organizations, community, networks, and movements with this lens. Intentionality means being purposeful and deliberate in action. It is a great metric in the work and yet it can be very hard to make those intentional decisions when the results can be greatly unknown and the work vast.

 

Recently, I have been really reflecting on the journey towards marriage equality and the intentional and unintentional actions embedded in this long-fought journey. Not out of the blue either, since it’s LGTBQ Pride Month and the media has been promoting some of this history. Recently, PBS’ Independent Lens showcased the documentary “We Were Here,” which tells the story of gay San Franciscans in the 80’s at a time when AIDS was spreading unknowingly throughout the community and the response that many groups had to it and how they were able to fight for their survival against prejudice and social disdain. This, juxtaposed with another Independent Lens documentary, “The New Black,” intersected a different view. “The New Black” follows the fight of the black gay and lesbian community as they fought for equal marriage rights in Maryland in 2012 and how the community’s roots in Christianity as well as racial prejudice intersected around this issue.
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Personal Ecology: A Reflection on Community

Here at LLC, we have had a very active last few months; all of our work culminating in our national meeting, Creating Space XI. Since our last Creating Space in Baltimore, I participated in one of Rockwood Leadership Institute’s programs. We spent a generous amount of time learning Personal Ecology, which is the art of maintaining balance, pacing, and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime of activism. Personal ecology is crucial to leadership development because without people doing the work on the ground, the field cannot sustain this work over time and we will not be able to see the results we want. We cannot have programs that are more inclusive, networked, or collective if we cannot sustain ourselves and our partners in this work.
 

Last year, for Creating Space X, we traveled to Baltimore. Although the meeting was a success and I had a lot of  fun interacting with our community, I must admit that I completely failed at maintaining balance.  The meeting momentum, the change in time zone, the 12-hour flight, plus all the unpacking and repacking, the three-days of waking up at 3am Pacific and going to bed late into the night, compiled by the running around, and a red-eye flight back home; all of that caught up to me the second I arrived home and my body finally gave into the exhaustion in the form of shingles. Yes, I came down with a case of shingles! Even the doctors were surprised that at my age I could get this, but it was a reminder, once again, that I do have physical limits. We all do, and when we are in complete imbalance we all have ways of knowing it; for some our bodies may give out,  for others they may lose the joy they find in their work, or some sacrifice everything outside of their work and lose the space and people that rejuvenate them.

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