1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I wish I had known that it was me, in my whole human self, that was what every organization needed from me. It was and is me that organizations are asking for. When I was starting out professionally, I was ready with my resume and eager to please. I worked hard to do more of what I believed senior leaders wanted me to do, and I kept parts of who I am to myself. Showing up wholly—head, heart, and hands—is what social change leadership requires. Today my being and doing are one and the same.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
My current greatest professional challenge is making time and space for radical imagination. What would an inclusive, just, and multiracial democracy look and feel like? How can we get there? The fierce urgency of now requires dreaming beyond our present reality, and imagination for what could be that is yet unseen. Hope is a powerful anchor for those of us in the social sector.
Meanwhile professional norms can keep our hands and minds quite busy. Unlearning is required to make visible our workplace habits and norms and then to make a different choice. Racialized capitalism limits our understanding of productivity. I am actively challenging my learned behavior around productivity so that I can make space for both dreaming and doing.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
I am inspired by the many people who are opting in to do hard things. I am privileged to partner with philanthropic practitioners who are asking who their organizations were designed to serve and who they were designed to protect. I see people making the choice to show up as servant leaders because they believe that our democracy can be more inclusive, more just, and more equitable. Philanthropy has long been considered charitable, and much of the sector is evolving to be and do what is just.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
At the 2017 Othering and Belonging Conference, playwright Tarrell Alvin McCraney said: “You meet me at my intersection.” His words have stayed with me. My gender identity is bound with my lived experience as a Black person from the American South who is the great granddaughter of sharecroppers.
My social identities are a source of strength because I know on whose shoulders I stand. My family has a strong oral tradition, and I grew up with my maternal grandmother telling the story of how she left her job as a domestic worker in rural North Carolina and moved on her own to Virginia. Her migration required great courage and an ability to dream about what her life could be. My grandmother laid the foundation for me to be able to dream far beyond my present reality. I bring imagination and curiosity to my work.
5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?
Since I was in my early 20s, people who identify as men have been remarking that they find me intimidating. My presence in historically white and traditionally elite spaces has at times been met with questions, at first blush, about which schools and colleges I attended. For two decades in work, largely cisgender white men have sought to place me because in their experience, I do not fit within unspoken assumptions they are making. The remarks and questions are in part about my gender identity. Their questions have impressed upon me that I am to be fully who I am.
On the other hand, my identities have in part created wonderful opportunities for me to mentor and advise a generation of Black and Brown people who see me and seek me out. People see themselves in me, including my gender and racial identities. Playing a small role as they build their professional lives is one of my great joys.
6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?
Philanthropy can consider gender equality, and I would add gender equity and justice, across all of its grantmaking, impact investing, and operations.
For example, we can look at the 95% of foundation financial assets (endowments) and inquire about who manages U.S. based investments. A number of foundations are doing this now, and this work can be expanded as we evolve industry standards. Research into who manages philanthropy’s financial assets is about inclusion and equity. In grantmaking, foundations can direct new or increase support to intersectional gender justice collaboratives such as the Black Trans Fund, Third Wave Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color. Foundation staff also can continue their learning and consciousness-raising at the intersection of gender, racial, and economic justice.
7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
When we center Black trans people, we can make great progress toward collective liberation. We can listen for the universal needs and desires that people are seeking—things like safety, secure and affordable housing, good jobs, access to health care, quality education for their children.
In the next ten years, I hope that we’ll meet these universal needs as a society. Then we will be able to step into a more just future that remains to be written.
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