SJ : What does leadership mean to you? What do empowerment mean to you?
TR: Leadership embodies the courage to own – and share – a vision! It’s more than being able to plan or being disciplined, though they are certainly helpful attributes when it comes to execution. A leader is someone who “sees” things as they can be, as opposed to only seeing how things are. A real leader doesn’t just see the next logical step; s/he sees the quantum leap that will be a game changer! And in seeing that possibility, a leader is willing to put in the work to give that possibility shape and form. A leader also has the gift of getting other people excited about that possibility, wanting that possibility for themselves, too, and willing to put in their share of the work to make it a reality. Black women have traditionally taken on a de facto leadership role in our communities and in our homes. We’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder beside our men and picked up the slack when they couldn’t be there. Sometimes our leadership qualities are recognized and respected, at other times they’re either ignored or viewed with suspicion. As the roles of women in general – and black women in particular – continue to evolve, it’s important that women of African descent understand the power in their own leadership tradition, as well as how to best apply that power today to improve our lives, our communities and society as a whole.
Empowerment to me means facilitating people in re-discovering their own potential. Most of us have ingested negative or limiting messages about who we are and what we can do. Sometimes those messages are personal ones from family members or teachers or the people we otherwise associate with. Sometimes we’re flooded with more general messages, for example from the media. Those diverse messages often have nothing at all to do with our innate abilities and talents or the dreams we are capable of having for ourselves. Especially as black women we are subjected to a myriad of conflicting messages about who we are, what we stand for and what we are capable of achieving in life. It seems everyone has been telling their version of our story, but no one is listening to what we have to say! Unfortunately, too, instead of telling our own story, we waste time recanting someone else’s story about us. That why I believe it’s time we raise our voices and reclaim the narrative! In order to heal ourselves – both collectively and individually – we need to support one another as we brush aside the veil of those limiting messages and re-discover the stories that witness to our inner strength, eclectic beauty and collective power.
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