1: The Root

reparations [re-pə-ˈrā-shəns]
n. a repairing or keeping in repair
v. the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury

Remember to imagine and craft the worlds you cannot live without,
just as you dismantle the worlds you cannot live within.

Ruha Benjamin

We are the descendants of our teachers, generations of Women of Color and People of Color whose writing honors our lives, our hopes for our communities, and all the culturally-rooted ways that we show leadership. Some of their names are known to many —Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Ocatavia Butler, adrienne marie brown, Paulo Freire, Grace Lee Boggs, the Combahee River Collective, Johnnie Tillmon. Some of them live closer to our hearts — our abuelas working in the spirit realm and women who joined us at critical moments to shift our consciousness and shape our thinking.

We are from all the places where we circled up to step back: a dim Harlem apartment, Haley Farm in Tennessee, Viveka Chen’s fruit and flower-filled backyard in San Francisco, a community center in Tucson, AZ, the balcony of Trish Tchume’s old apartment in Takoma Park, the sand dunes in Death Valley, countless airport and Amtrak terminals, river walks in Colorado, and the vestibules of old Black churches in the South.

We bring with us our questions, our curiosities, our superpowers, our multiple ways of knowing, and humor to spread joy. In our big red suitcase, we carry charms that make whatever space we are in feel like ours—lavender to bring peace, palo santo for the spirit, homemade shea butter to keep us soft yet protected, and Aida’s abuela’s handkerchiefs to wipe off the bullshit.

We hear sometimes soft, sometimes bold voices singing along to Spotify playlists of Ana Tijoux, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Bomba Estereo, and Beyonce as women move into the circle. We hear sighing and snapping and yes-girl-yessing affirmations once in the circle, gentle weeping followed by deep belly laughs.

We know we are the ones who will build a world worthy of our nieces—a world in which they are free.

We are the holders and facilitators of sacred Women of Color spaces, she/her/they/them/us.

Creating an “I am” poem: This activity creatively brings the women and facilitators into community. Because the poems bring out unobservable characteristics, they reveal aspects of each person’s unique story without focusing on economic, educational or professional status.

Why We Call Women of Color In & Up

Oppression and inequity are sustained and advanced through the control of systems (economic, educational, judicial, etc.) and ideas. The powerful—those in charge, those with authority and money—have always used their ideological power to shape thought and define what is normal, valuable, right, and wrong. And within a social order that is firmly rooted in the practices of nationalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, it follows that the knowledge and leadership of the people who society considers marginal will be suppressed. Even organizations and individuals with the best intentions can and do replicate these patterns. Practicing equity starts when the ideas and strategies of marginalized people are elevated.
Zuri Tau

For years, we (Trish and Aida) identified with a very particular kind of leadership development. We were taught and ascribed to a model that put us in the business of identifying anyone from grassroots member leaders to emerging nonprofit professionals and imbuing them with a set of skills and experiences that would move them up a predetermined “leadership ladder.” The goal of this model was ascension, ideally for traditionally marginalized individuals. By the time both of us arrived at our positions with the Center for Community Change in 2016 and 2017, we were carrying many questions and concerns about the value of this model to the communities we cared about based on our experiences with leaders and as leaders ourselves. Where exactly was this ladder leading us and our people? We were clear enough to know that if the answer wasn’t liberation, then there was no real point.

We were fortunate enough during this period of questioning to have our analysis sharpened by other women who had been sitting with similar questions—Dr. Charlene Sinclair, Zuri Tau, Nijmie Dzurinko, Tufara Mohammed, and Margaret Post. Together we held what we called a “second space” to begin to consider what it might look like to cultivate leaders who built community power through self-, organizational-, and community-wide transformation rather than by amassing it individually and ascending to positions where it could be wielded. We wondered and experimented together about what a training space might look like that had these goals in mind. How would the curriculum and the pedagogy be different than what we had experienced and taught in the past? How would we create an environment brave and grounding enough to spark radical imagination and for folks to proceed from a deep sense of purpose? Who and what would have to be present? What assumptions might we have to let go of and unlearn?

This guide is an offering of some of the lessons learned from our journey into and through these questions.

A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.

Cherokee proverb

We worked to make sure that despite what they were presented with, they would be able to provide the sort of leadership the progressive movement needs right now to achieve its lofty goals of building an America where everyone can thrive.

Trish Adobea Tchume,

Power 50 Evaluation Support, a report prepared by Social Insights, July 2019

Picking Up the Mantle

Fifty years ago, some of the founders of Black Feminist ideology—the Combahee River Collective—were in the process of articulating how to dismantle injustice. Their words resound today as a reminder of how far we need to go and the path we must take to get there:

We might use our position at the bottom, however, to make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

We are bearing witness to the reality we see legislatively, electorally and situationally, that time and again when Black women set the agenda for transformative solutions to structural racism, we all do better. We also bear witness to the current, enthusiastic rhetoric around “trusting” WoC when the one thing our movements and organizations have consistently failed to do is demonstrably embrace their leadership.

We call in and lift up WoC, holding space for them to cultivate their leadership within a community that activates love as a tool for getting free and repairing harm.

Accompanying Journaling Prompts & Coloring Pages:

Journaling Prompt: Create your own I Am poem.

Coloring Page: Kuba (Bushoong subgroup) mask personifies Woot, the mythical ancestor of the Kuba people of Central Congo, and embodies royal power and prestige.

Journaling Prompt: Why is it important to you to support and cultivate the leadership of Women of Color?

Continue onto 2: Our Core Pedagogy