I’m not sure why, but I resisted writing this blog. It may be because I don’t consider myself a “blogger,” or because I’m not convinced I have anything substantive to put in writing. (It feels way too permanent to me.) Or, perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of my resistance to the “worship of the written word” and my desire for “perfection” – both of which are aspects of how white supremacy shows up in our/my work on a daily basis.
At the same time, if I’m encouraging the leaders I work with to take the leap, I realize I should do the same. Now more than ever, it feels important to welcome and elevate a multiplicity of voices. Over the last several years, both in this country and close to home, have been filled with moments of fear and hate. And in a rapidly changing education ecosystem, where it seems a scarcity of resources exists, we are primed to fight for philanthropy, facilities, students, and recognition, while believing our mission is the one which will tip the scales toward transformation.
Let’s be honest, many of us believe the organization that we’ve created or are a part of (myself included) might, just might, be the silver bullet that changes the game. Why wouldn’t we fight for what we think will narrow the ever-growing achievement gap between our white students and students of color? But if I honestly look at what I think will change the game, it’s love. Yep, it’s squishy and hard to measure. But think about the deep love you express to your best friend, or partner, or child/niece/nephew, and/or parent. That kind of love. These days, I’m convinced if we deeply love each other (and ourselves), we can work collectively toward the outcomes that will lead to true transformation in our communities.
I feel fortunate for the many people who show me love; and, as a woman of color, I am grateful for all the ways in which women of color, in particular, have shown me what fierce love is. What does it look like? Let me count the ways…
1. Show up for each other, personally and professionally. If there is something I’ve learned in the last four years, it’s that the chances of bearing a child becomes exponentially more difficult — and more expensive — with every year I put against this startup. Starting this venture at 34, and now looking at my options at 37, it seems every day matters. Even every hour, I make the choice between supporting a Fellow, raising another dollar for Moonshot, or making a connection that supports Fellows’ access to resources. And every single one of these days, I worry about the dwindling possibility of having a child — something that I always knew I wanted, but never thought that time would pass by so quickly, and that the urgency of “the work” would take over, to the point that I now question whether or not having a child could even be a possibility.
While I wish the magical work/life balance actually existed for all women, as a woman of color working to empower other educators of color, the urgency and the time required takes not only a “time toll” but an emotional toll as well. That said, love is in the 7:00am phone call with Carmita Semaan who will talk me through staffing decisions and growing a startup organization. Love is felt when Sharhonda Bossier and Layla Avila garner the resources to create spaces for female entrepreneurs of color to wrestle with the balance of professional and personal. It’s in these spaces where we can talk about the real choices we face as women fighting for others, while giving ourselves a fighting chance to raise a family. No easy answers here – just a community who shows love by allowing me to show up as a professional and also a woman who aspires to be a partner, mother, and friend.
2. Nurture each other by holding high expectations. One of the very beautiful things I see about the women of color in my life are their abilities to nurture people and communities – I see it in the leadership of YAASPA, RISE Colorado, EduLeaders of Color RI, Surge Institute, Basta, BE NOLA, Education Leaders of Color, (insert endless list here). These organizations create communities for people of color to show up as their authentic selves and push them to reach their full potential. However, these spaces are not only spaces of empowerment but spaces for trusted, critical feedback. I’ve heard from both educators of color and their supervisors that it can feel difficult to give a person of color feedback – that “we don’t want them to feel hurt or misconstrue our feedback to be connected to their race.”
Here’s the thing: we deserve feedback. Real, honest feedback that’s going to help us get better. Sometimes it is really hard for me to deliver critical feedback to a Moonshot Fellow after I’ve, in the same breath, encouraged them to pursue their dreams. But I do it, because feedback and support are not mutually exclusive–feedback is support. Feedback is love.
3. See each other for our strengths. Yes, there is always something we can do better. But sometimes, we’re so focused on our deficits, particularly those connected to the dominant culture, that we lose sight of our strengths. Self-doubt creeps in and self-love begins to dwindle. I once had someone tell me that I ran poor programming and people didn’t like me. Enter self-doubt. At nearly the same time, I remember a poolside circle of affirmation from First Family, a leadership cohort of underrepresented leaders, who believed in me. That love and affirmation gave me the courage to create Moonshot edVentures, which has become a space of affirmation for others. Since then, Alesha Arscott, both a Fellow and now founder of Unleashed, has been instrumental in reminding me of my own gifts, and has done the same for our Fellows. This awareness of strengths allows Moonshot Fellows to not only love themselves but to love the people around them. Now, when Moonshot Fellows find themselves in a place of uncertainty, I hear them name each others’ strengths — they cheer when others get nervous, express admiration for someone’s “futuristic” perspective, applaud someone who embraces being a “learner.” The constant reminders of our strengths is love. I hope we don’t miss it.
4. Pepper each other with reminders to take care of oneself. “Drink water. Exercise. Breathe. Come to spin class. Drop work and drink a beer.” Janet Lopez continues to send me invitations to join Class Pass. (And though I have yet to take her up on Class Pass, I do join her for a beer…) Regardless, I find the best reminders of self-care in the words of my colleagues and friends peppered throughout the day that remind me that this work is a marathon, not a sprint. These reminders are little moments of love. Last fall, one Moonshot Fellow, Auset Ali, gave me a Five-Minute journal. While I don’t always ascribe to filling in the blank, I am reminded of what five minutes can do when we ask ourselves what we’re grateful for, what will make today great, and one affirmation we give ourselves. We have to love ourselves and pepper each other with love to power through the marathon.
5. Share. (It’s not a zero-sum game.) As someone who has spent time in the entrepreneurship space, I’ve witnessed many entrepreneurs hold tightly to their ideas for fear someone they share the idea with will take it and make it their own. What they don’t realize is that, 9 times out of 10, the sharing of that idea will make it even better. The women in my life share. They share the credit when something gets done. If they’ve experienced something amazing, they want to ensure others share in the same experience. They share their connections.
If I’ve learned anything from the women of color in my life, it’s that when we want and support others to win, we win, too.
I have a coach, Masharika Maddison, ED of Lightwell Coaching, that reminds me constantly that winning is not a zero sum game. Here’s a real example: Some of our most values-aligned Fellows have been connected to RISE Colorado, co-founded by Veronica Palmer. These Fellows in turn aspire to create new high school and early childhood programs in Aurora that deeply engage with families and students. My hope is that many of the families activated in co-creating these learning environments in turn become even greater advocates for the voice and agenda of parents in the community. It’s a beautiful cycle of lifting each other up, rather than tearing each other down.
I assume, and hope, that we all have some version of a community who shows us fierce love. And if we don’t, or others don’t, we should ask ourselves what it would take to build this kind of community for one another. Love, I believe, is what changes the game. And, if we love ourselves and each other a little more, I believe we’ll share a little more, lift each other up a little more, and be a community that empowers our students and families to enact the kind of transformation they imagine for their futures.
By Guest Blogger: Christine DeLeon. Christine is the CEO and Founder of Moonshot edVentures, an organization that surfaces and supports underrepresented leaders to design and launch the new learning environments of tomorrow. She’s passionate about cultivating an education ecosystem focused not only on love, but also on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as entrepreneurship.