Leadership Development: #ChangeFromWithin

Over the last several weeks we’ve been posting a series of blogs from our current Greenlining Fellows, exploring their own personal transformation and #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

I applied to be a Greenlining Policy Fellow because I wanted to work on economic policy research and advocacy. I had imagined my year at Greenlining would look like busy days spent reading and writing reports, like I’d seen at the think tanks and government offices I’d interned in. Imagine my anxiety as an introvert when I learned that one of the main pillars of advocacy on the Economic Equity team involves meeting with the top banks in California to discuss and demand access to credit, financial services, and investments for communities of color. The idea of standing up in a room full of bankers, calling out their poor lending to minorities, and asking them what they were going to do about it terrified me.

Fast forward to mid-October: I was sitting in a workshop with my Fellows cohort and the very first question asked was: “How comfortable are you asking for what you need?”

My internal dialogue felt conflicted:

“How does this relate to policy? … just go with it, be a good participant and answer the question.”

I answered:

“I’m not really used to asking for things.  I try to take care of things myself.  Asking isn’t usually an option.”

The rest of the Fellows gave similar answers.

Patrick, the Academy director, asked:

“What’s underneath this sentiment, what makes us uncomfortable with asking for things?”

This question was particularly difficult because it prompted us to discuss our personal experiences of either coming from immigrant families or being immigrants ourselves, where asking can often be perceived by others as incompetence.

I discovered that most of my discomfort in asking for help stems from my identity as the oldest daughter of immigrant parents. Throughout most of my life asking for help was simply not an option. I had to figure out most things on my own and repeatedly had to learn to navigate systems unfamiliar to my family, such as applying to college.

I hadn’t realized how my disdain for asking for help was rooted in the systems that disadvantaged my family and my communities. I thought I was being independent, but not asking for help meant I was missing out on opportunities to stand up for myself.

Are you next? Applications now open for our Leadership Academy’s 2018 Fellowship and Summer Associate programs.

Asking for help produced the same feelings of anxiety and dread that also came at the thought of attending bank meetings. How could I truly stand up for communities of color if I couldn’t fully stand up for myself?  By the end of the workshop, I wondered how often people of color internalized their oppression, in the same way that I had internalized asking for help as a sign of weakness.

When I came to Greenlining, I had a clear sense of what brought me to the work: my experiences as a Muslim woman of color and daughter of immigrants, and my drive to pursue equal opportunity for disadvantaged communities like my own. Through my time at Greenlining I’ve realized knowing this is not enough. Unpacking my discomfort in asking for what I need helped me understand how systemic oppression affects me personally.

My experience in the Fellowship marked the first time I’ve seen personal development treated as a part of professional development. Greenlining recognizes the importance of dismantling systems, beginning with systems that have invaded our personal lives.

Hibba Meraay

Now, I see the value in my own voice. I understand that I don’t need to know everything to be a great advocate, introvert or not. Asking questions is a tool for advocacy, whether that’s self advocacy or advocacy for communities of color in bank meetings.

I am learning to ask for what I need, and that is my change from within.

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