Launched in 2018, Power 50 was named to honor Community Change’s 50th anniversary of building grassroots power in low-income communities and communities of color. Power 50 takes inspiration from Acorn, the community founded by Lauren Oya Olamina, the Black woman leader in Octavia Butler’s science fiction novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. Acorn arose out of a belief system called Earthseed (see verse in sidebar), formed to provide protection and learn adaptive skills, especially for people of color and mixed race people, in a future where society has collapsed due to climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed. In Power 50 we imagined a space invested in women of color as the engineers and stewards of the progressive movement; a space where WoC leaders can safely, bravely acquire practices and knowledge necessary for our complex time of change. As these are uncommon skills in our society, there is also the need for women of color leaders to pass on their knowledge and skills.
Power 50 is a 9-month, cohort based program for WoC already steeped in basic leadership that provides organizing and management skill development with deep grounding, tools, practices, and inter-relational and political analysis to stay the course of their convictions. Power 50 members are staff at current Community Change/Action partner organizations and:
Are “mid-trajectory” in their movement lifespan having demonstrated past leadership and impact in their organizations and the field and are poised to make a significant future impact in these spaces
Have a base that they are accountable to and are positioned to build other leadersWork in organizations that see the value of investing in leadership development and demonstrate clear commitment to making time and space for the Power 50 member to fully participate
Power 50 gathers at retreats and mini-intensives four times a year for relationship building, workshops, site visits and other teaching/learning experiences. Between these gatherings the women met virtually for coaching, accountability and to stay connected, and this was enhanced by digital communication through WhatsApp.
Launched in 2018, the name honors the legacy of the Women’s Gathering and all women of color who have given their love for the movement. The women’s fellowship was motivated by the appalling realities of United States’ carceral state and immigration policies.
The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and worldwide women living in the U.S. represent 4% of the female population, but comprise over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women. Women are being criminalized for their responses to gender-based abuse, discrimination and domestic abuse and for engaging in sex work. Once in prison they are likely to face severe disciplinary action, reducing any time off earned on their sentences for good behavior or for parole, and deal with the dehumanizing nature of incarceration that impacts their mental, physical and emotional wellness. Concurently there is increased detention and deportation of immigrants in the US and the accompanying fear of people who are undocumented simply for wanting to provide for their families. Mothers, daughters and sisters whose families include both US citizens and those who are undocumented carry a particular burden as essential workers in and outside of their homes, and like their formerly incarcerated comrades, are susceptible to mental, physical and emotional distress.
And yet, formerly incarcerated and immigrant WoC have stepped up as leaders to expose the fraud and force used to criminalize WoC and poor people and to organize at the risk of being deported. The women’s fellowship was created to support the self-initiative of these women in a model of development that not only recognizes their experiences with trauma, but uses it as an asset for prison reform and abolition.
The women’s fellowship is a 10-month cohort based program that builds the leadership of WoC who are directly impacted by the criminal injustice and immigration system. We equip WoC leaders with the tools they need to engage in strategic discussions and partnerships that shape policy decisions and establish how power is attained and wielded at home, work and their communities. Through training and political education sessions, the program aims to support justice-involved women so they can envision themselves out of their current realities and craft an agenda that is for and by them. Women in this program:
Have personally experienced incarceration or detention or that of a close loved/convicted of a felony and/or are immigrants
Staff members or leaders of current Community Change/Action partners
Lead local campaigns and/or organizing on social justice issues (e.g., They have demonstrated leadership and impact in their organizations and the field and are poised to make a significant future impact.).
Have a base that they are accountable to and are positioned to build other leaders.
Come from organizations who see the value of investing in leadership development and demonstrate a clear commitment to making time and space for staff to fully participate in this program.
The women’s fellowship gathers three times over the course of the program for concentrated blocks of time that include workshops, relationship-building, and guest speakers. In-person retreats are supported by monthly virtual circles that through peer coaching create opportunities for the women to share knowledge, provide mutual accountability, and build interdependence that breaks traditional notions of who can offer “expert” counsel.
Women of Color Gathering Space
Launched in 2020 and anchored by our Cross Movement Convening, the WoC Gathering Space is a mutually held space (Community Change staff and partners) meant to reground, to reinspire, and to direct the eyes of WoC on the horizon. We use storytelling, discussion, culture, and tool sharing to build shared analysis, build relationships, and share tools that ground us in our authentic selves and that are helpful in creating the conditions we need to thrive in the movement (e.g., the six D’s tools, strategic imagination during a pandemic and widespread protests).
The women have the option to engage in an annual retreat that happens ahead of CC’s Cross-Movement (CMC) Convening, and which is intended to provide an opportunity for WoC to connect with, learn from, and accompany each other throughout the CMC (and beyond). Virtual gatherings take place every month to connect the joys and struggles of the WoC, reconnect them to our vision and purpose, and to exchange great practices and tools. The calls are organized and led by CC staff and partners. Ongoing communication is additionally supported by a WhatsApp Group and email listserve to help maintain ongoing emotional support and connection as well as a place to share or request resources.