Author Archive

Aug/15/14//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country.

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. When a split second decision by one person results in multiple wounds or death for a young man or young woman. Because he didn’t get off the sidewalk quickly enough? Because his music was too loud? Because she knocked on your door? No, these are not the reasons. All of these young people happen to be black. This is not a coincidence.

mylifematters

Image credit: Dignidad Rebelde

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. When we white people cannot connect the dots and see these incidents as patterns rather than isolated events. When we think that a black president means that racism is past tense and this is an equal opportunity nation. When police officers respond to a community’s upset at the death of a young man who did nothing wrong in riot gear. Read the rest of this entry »


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Jul/09/14//Jen Willsea//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership, Featured, Testimonials

Living Cities Takes Facilitative Leadership to Heart

shiftsinhistory

Two recent graduates of a Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop Mistinguette Smith and I led in New York, Alison Gold and Juan Sebastian Arias from Living Cities, recently wrote to us about a creative way they are bringing the frameworks and tools they learned back to their organization. So many of you ask us for advice about how to apply this stuff that we thought you’d want to know about it too! Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/27/14//Jen Willsea//LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Laverne and CeCe Shed Light on Liberation

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Transgender women of color are finally making a (positive) splash in the mainstream media. Janet Mock, a writer, has been getting accolades for her new memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much MoreLaverne Cox, an actress in Orange is the New Black, was recently on the cover of Time magazine; and CeCe McDonald is increasingly being recognized as a trans activist leader.

On June 5, 2011 in Minneapolis, CeCe McDonald and her friends were passing a bar on the way to a grocery store when they were accosted with homophobic, transphobic, and racist slurs. CeCe defended herself with a pair of fabric scissors in her bag. She was accused of murder even though she acted in self-defense, jailed for defending herself against bigotry and violence that transgender people often face. The judge rejected considerations of how gender, sexual orientation, race, and class played into the situation; statistics that trans people are more at risk for hate violence; the swastika tattoo on the attacker’s chest and his three previous convictions for assault; as well as the meth, cocaine, and alcohol present in the attacker’s system.

In this Democracy Now! clip from February 19, 2014, CeCe (after her release from prison) and Laverne talk about why black trans bodies matter. It is a must watch for anyone who cares about human beings and wants to better understand what is at stake in the movement for trans liberation. As a cisgender (in other words, non-trans) queer white woman, I am inspired and humbled by these two fierce trans women’s words.

“I know what is like to always have this guard up because you don’t know when somebody will literally try to kill you for just being who you want to be…. I’ve yet to hear of a trans woman who has just lived her life happily….” CeCe McDonald

Why do we insist that there are ok expressions and not ok expressions of masculinity and femininity?

When will we stop policing people’s gender expressions?

When will we start allowing ourselves to see people who challenge mainstream notions of gender not as freaks who are offensive or dangerous, but as beautiful people with unique gender wisdom?

Many trans people are warriors on the front lines, fighting for liberation from restrictive and false gender norms. When will we wake up and see that this fight is one that all of us, people of all gender identities, will benefit from?

Laverne calls us to the future we can all be a part of creating if we choose to:

“How do we create spaces in our culture where we don’t stigmatize trans identity, where we create spaces of gender self-determination? It is so often acceptable to make fun of trans people, to ridicule trans people. When we look at the epidemic of violence against trans people so many people think that our identities are inherently deceptive, inherently suspect, and that we should be criminalized because of that. In Arizona they were trying to criminalize going to the bathroom last year. How do we begin to create spaces where we accept trans people on trans people’s own terms and let trans people lead the discussions of who we are and what the discussion about what our lives should be?” Laverne Cox

Keep an eye out for the release of the documentary, FREE CeCe, to learn more about CeCe’s story and the culture of violence experienced by trans women of color.

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Jun/03/14//Jen Willsea//Love, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Teeth: A Social Justice Issue

What is the number one reason for school absences in low income communities in the U.S.? It’s dental-related illness. I was blown away when I learned this. It was not what those of us working on the Boston Promise Initiative, a holistic approach to children’s academic success age 0-24 in the Dudley neighborhood, would have guessed. How can we expect children to learn if they are in pain? Why should any children suffer from an entirely preventable disease?

Dental Care

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Apr/01/14//Jen Willsea//Cities, Power, Equity, Inclusion, Sustainability, What We Are Reading

Re-Imagining Cities

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At IISC we often talk about three hugely important pieces of context for social change work these days:

  1. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift, from the Industrial Age into an age that doesn’t have a name yet
  2. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas
  3. In 2042 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation

In this context, as a nation and a globe we are choosing to face or ignore urgent questions about climate change, racism, wealth distribution, violence (the types we condone, penalize, and ignore), and the quality of life that we are willing or unwilling to insist upon for every human being on this planet. It’s quite overwhelming…

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Jan/17/14//Jen Willsea//Featured, Structural Transformation

Lessons in Emergent Alignment

Lessons in Alignment“We have to rid ourselves of the notion that innovation relies on the genius of an individual. We produce and innovate together only in networks.”

- Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire

 This is our second post about the Social Justice Funders Network. Read the previous post here

  • How might women of color working in philanthropy support each other in nurturing our radical selves?
  • How might funders advance racial justice and racial equity conversations in our philanthropic institutions in order to inform our practice?
  • What is the appropriate role for foundations in support of movements and movement building?
  • How might we be stronger allies to and supporters of youth organizing?

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Jan/03/14//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

All-In-Nation: Vision for 2050

Sometime around 2040 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation, according to census projections. Already the majority of our children under the age of one are of color. These demographic shifts are underway and yet racial disparities persist in areas including educational achievement, health, and financial wealth. PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress have teamed up on a project called All-In Nation: An America that Works for All, to make the case that “strong communities of color are critical to America’s economic future.”

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Jun/07/13//Jen Willsea//Featured, Networks

Social Justice Funders Network

Andrea Nagel and I have been facilitating retreats for the Social Justice Funders Network (SJFN) of Massachusetts for the last year and a half or so. What an honor! Network members include individuals who work at foundations both small and large across the state and who have intentionally created a space for learning and relationship-building across roles, institutions, and issues. Read the rest of this entry »

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May/24/13//Jen Willsea//Featured, Learning Edge

Finding Focus and Minimizing Distraction

How often do you hear people saying they wish they were better at multitasking? And what percentage of the people surrounding you on the subway or on the sidewalk or waiting in line for something are peering into their smartphones? Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/07/12//Jen Willsea//Featured, Love

Searching for Decolonial Love

What is decolonial love, why must we cultivate it, and how can we practice it? These are a few of the questions that have been turning over and over in my mind since I heard Junot Díaz speak so brilliantly at ARC’s Facing Race conference in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago – decolonial love is a term I had not heard before Díaz used it and now I will surely be bringing it up a lot. Building on Cynthia Silva Parker’s previous post about the conference, I want to share a bit of what Díaz had to say and ask YOU, what would look like if we really really good at practicing decolonial love? I think the implications are profound and exciting!

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Nov/30/12//Jen Willsea//Structural Transformation

Collective Impact Starting with One

I often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of change that’s needed and how far we have to go to realize the just society we’re working towards. It can feel daunting and on a bad day, nearly impossible.

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Nov/16/12//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Cracking the Codes of Racial Inequity

I recently got to attend two events with racial equity educator and filmmaker, Shakti Butler, in Boston. Her new film, Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, is full of stories that help to paint the picture of how race and racism operate in the U.S. – at the internal, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels. Drawing on the work of john powell and others, Shakti emphasizes that racial inequities are constantly shapeshifting, that racism is a dynamic system with multiple layers functioning simultaneously, and that we are all wounded as a result.

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Jan/20/10//Jen Willsea//IISC:Inside

Do You Have a Vision?

It’s the beginning of a new year, and all the treadmills are occupied at the gym. It’s hard to find any space in the locker room because so many people are set on establishing a new healthy routine for 2010. I’m not a new year’s resolution person, but I am thinking about fresh starts, renewed commitments to be good to myself, and shifts in the projects I’m going to put my energy towards. At IISC, we’ve committed to a new strategic direction for the next three years. Perhaps you’ve been mapping out your personal workplan for 2010 or doing some beginning of the year reflection with your peers, about how you want to work together this year to achieve progress on whatever social justice project you’re working on.

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Dec/18/09//Jen Willsea//Your Experiences

Lessons from a Facilitation Evangelist

I attended a powerful, short workshop led by Adrienne Maree Brown (abbreviated from longer trainings she offers) and Invincible on how to facilitate high tension and/or high conflict conversations at the Making Money Make Change conference. Weeks later, ideas and exercises from that workshop are still sticking with me.

Adrienne calls herself a “facilitation evangelist,” because she believes that the world would be transformed if we all practiced facilitation intentionally and were prepared with the tools to do so. I agree with her. And this reminded me of something so basic – facilitation isn’t just for meetings! I hadn’t thought about practicing facilitation in tense conversations with family members, for example, but Adrienne pointed out that facilitation in these and other everyday situations, whether the role is explicit or practiced silently within oneself, can have a profound impact on peoples’ experiences – turning what could be explosive into something more productive.

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Nov/13/09//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Let’s Talk About Class

One of the most intense and unique pieces of the Making Money Make Change (MMMC) conference, is the Money Stories session. Picture a room with 70 young people with wealth (accumulated, inherited, or earned) and/or owning class privilege sitting in a large circle. Each person gets 60 seconds to “tell their money story.” Questions that guide this storytelling include:

  • Where did the money that you and/or your family come from?
  • How is your or your family’s wealth connected to histories of racism and capitalism?
  • What have you done to move some or all of that money to social justice movements?

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Oct/29/09//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Moving from Paralysis to Action

I’ve been reading Diana Block’s memoir, Arming the Spirit, and am grateful for the chance to dig into another story of someone whose work for social justice came before me and contributed to where we’re at now. Diana went underground for thirteen years in the 1980s and 90s as part of a collective doing solidarity work with the Puerto Rican independence and Black liberation movements. Diana’s journey represents one group’s choice about how to be effective as white folks challenging racist systems of oppression.

“Our political history was rooted in our commitment as white people to solidarity with Third World struggles around the world and inside this country. That commitment will take different forms today but I think solidarity is still critical for white people who want to make social change. Also, for people who live in America, we definitely need to situate our work in relationship to the efforts of people around the globe who are fighting imperialism or we cannot expect to achieve very much.”*

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