Author Archives for Mistinguette Smith

May 5, 2015

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

We’ve heard this call and response chant echo down boulevards from St Louis to Baltimore as the #BlackLivesMatter movement takes to the streets. This is what democracy looks like, when the people most affected by a situation organize for change. They call out to us from the streets to remind us that democracy is not about the mechanics for voting for representation.

We don’t all have to march in the streets to use our power and privilege to push for a more just society. I received a copy of a wonderful letter last night. A friend who lives in Baltimore was deeply disturbed by a video that appears to show a Baltimore city police officer violently assaulting a man from behind, even though his hands are raised in surrender. Read More

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February 19, 2015

Lessons From Snow

I live in New England, where everything is under a thick blanket of snow, and the temperatures are in the single digits. Many forms of transportation have come to a full halt. And I still needed to get to New York to lead a Facilitative Leadership training! My train was very late, and I realized, I could fume and panic, but that isn’t likely to change the situation.  (Tried that. Didn’t work.) Since leadership often means noticing and naming what is really happening right now, I decided to take a few moments to notice what this weather can teach me about leadership.

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November 25, 2014

#Results Matter

I struggle to find my place in this year of insurrection against the state sanctioned murders of young black men. My knees are too old to run from riot police, my lungs too scarred to survive teargas. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a 50-year-old black American woman who has inherited the benefits of civil rights advancement, and upon whose shoulders the next generations should safely and securely stand. And I am struggling with what it means to have failed.

I have failed to properly name the extrajudicial killings of Sean Bell in 2006 and Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Jonathan Ferrell in 2013 and Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown and Darrien Hunt in 2014, and I have failed to stop their deaths. I wasn’t there bravely sewing letters on a banner to be dropped in protest that stitched past and present together: “a man was lynched today.” I have failed the memory of 41 bullets striking the body of Amadou Diallo in 1999; failed the decapitated body of James Byrd, dragged to death behind a truck, in 1989. Most of all, I have failed to be watchful and articulate after the revenge killing of Michael Donald in 1981, that moment which destroyed the private club of the Ku Klux Klan and left its role to be taken up by the state.

I want to believe that I stand in solidarity with young activists in Ferguson, but their very existence indicts me.

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March 18, 2014

Engaging Hearts and Heads

I’ve spent the last two days with twenty-three people who do the concrete, sometimes humble work of convening meetings, directing resources and evaluating programs.  They came from far flung places, from Ohio and Illinois to Hawai’i, to explore how the tools of Facilitative Leadership can remake our work so that it awakens and nourishes our communities’ deepest desires.  Working with them was like a peek into the future of what leadership can be.

There are lots of workshops that help leaders to learn about decision making; there are few that require a decision-making process to be informed by our hearts as well as our minds. This group seized the opportunity to engage both their hearts and heads to wrestle with tough practical questions: How can you do brainstorming that includes people who value reflection and introspection more than quickly generated speech?

They made space to speak tender truths that usually cannot be said out loud: How can we help our communities hold each other more accountable for achieving results without damaging the richness of our relationships, or abandoning our traditional cultural processes?

And they practiced creating the conditions for the people they serve–the people they supervise, their clients, their coalition members–to take responsibility for learning and working through these questions together.

It was an honor to witness how they showed up for each other in the workshop, as well as what they did and what they learned. Twenty-three new and seasoned facilitative leaders reminded me that the purpose of leadership is to show up as an agent of dignity and hope.

If another world truly is possible, I think I spent the last two days with the leaders who will guide us there.

Please register today for the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change  workshop Mistinguette Smith will co-facilitate April 22-23 in New York City.

October 4, 2013

Hospitality as Facilitation

The origins of hospitality as a sacred and esteemed practice are rooted in providing shelter and safety to the stranger.  It is the ancient art and practice of offering your very best to another, with no expectation of reward. Whether you learned this practice in your grandmother’s parlor or at an Art of Hosting workshop, you know that hospitality is the essence of facilitative leadership.

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July 22, 2013


A world that loves, honors and respects young black men must first SEE them.  This seeing is a political act.

I am consciously seeing black men more clearly since my friend Victor Lewis hashtagged the Charles Ramsey story #WhatBlackMenDo.  Ramsey, who acknowledges that he battered his former partner, stepped up without hesitation to rescue the women held prisoner for a decade in a basement in Cleveland, OH. He assumed that he was witnessing a domestic violence situation and intervened because this is #WhatBlackMenDo.

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