Entering a co-directorship reflections

February 15, 2022In Co-LeadershipBy

Hi. Nikki Dinh here, writing my first Leadership Learning Community blog as the new Co-Executive Director. This network represents some familiar faces as well as new ones. I’m eager to (re)connect with many of you in the upcoming months.

Last month, Ericka shared a few early learnings in the process of bringing me on board. I want to share a few reflections of my own about entering a co-directorship and what some of the early secret sauce has been.

When I joined the team, I thought I would be spending time striking a balance between Ericka’s and my work. As fate would have it, however, I started in early January 2022, and that month demanded grace. Gabrielle Union defines it as “that combination of love and mercy that we all have to give and yet are trained to think we don’t deserve.” Like many of you, my January was filled with sick family and colleagues, exposure notices from my children’s schools, violence in my community, and a constant case of navigating the new circumstances we were in. Onboarding was not linear, to say the least, but we gave each other grace, and with it came ease and enjoyment in the process.

Our co-directorship has also been about power. The other day, a white, middle-aged neighbor knocked on my family’s door and asked us to sign a racist petition. When we initially declined, he pressed on by saying, “You know we fought for your freedom, right?” I’m a Vietnamese-American nonprofit worker who thinks a lot about power. After all, many believe that my family was saved by America, and I experience this charity by continuously being asked to prove my worthiness of belonging here. I assure you that charity is not empowerment or mutual in any way, and it is certainly not free to the recipient. The cost is our power and agency. As nonprofit leaders, we have a ripe opportunity to shift from a charity mindset to sharing, ceding, and building power. I view this co-directorship as a conscious move away from the engrained systems of hierarchy that start with a supremacy lens and end with charity. This co-directorship between two womxn of color who grew up in working-class families is a practice of sharing, ceding, and creating power together.

“All freedom is relative – you know too well – and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the case widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening. Because sometimes not seeing the bars is enough.” – Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

So, where are we headed? Ericka guided LLC towards liberatory leadership work, and this is the main reason why I joined the team. The concept was familiar to me from the moment I heard about it. If you come from communities that have been oppressed or know what it feels like to not benefit from mainstream systems, you probably have an advanced degree in dreaming about liberation like us. If you’ve been on this journey long enough, you may also be able to distinguish between being in a nature reserve and actually being in open plains. I hope we help each other along and start removing the barriers and acting on opportunities to free ourselves when we see them.

Lastly, I’ll share that for this co-directorship, it has been crucial that Ericka is a secure leader, a great communicator, and a solutions-oriented manager. Even though she has been the head of LLC for several years and the sole ED last year, when I moved in, I felt like there was space for me. It also helps that LLC’s broader network of folx like you enrich and carve new pathways for our nonprofit sector with your wisdom, intersectional identities, and lived experiences. I believe there are plenty of opportunities ahead to lead our sector together. So let’s do it with grace, ease, and joy, in power and liberation, because we don’t have time or peace to waste. Let’s share space with each other on this journey.

If this resonates, I hope you’ll reach out to tell us about your ruminations, and I hope you’ll follow along as we share the next Chapter in LLC’s story in our coming blog entries. Onward!