Building a Network to Support Women of Color Leaders

The Anna Faith Jones and Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle provides powerful support at a time when it is sorely needed.

June 30, 2020

By Andrea Madu, Senior Associate for Nonprofit Effectiveness

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Women of Color Leadership Circle banner
When the Boston Foundation launched the Women of Color Leadership Circle in February, no one could have imagined that we would be living in the world we are living in today. 

These last few months, and especially these last few weeks, have been some of the hardest of my life. As a young black woman, it has been harrowing to see images of black men and women, many of whom remind me of people in my own life, losing their lives in such brutal and senseless ways. Just within the last three weeks, two black trans women, Dominique Fells and Riah Milton, were murdered. The men who shot and killed Breonna Taylor have still not been arrested to this day, despite an ongoing public outcry. None of this is new. But the ubiquity of black death on social media, in daily conversations, and on the news, while representing a shift in the general awareness around these injustices, has been traumatizing and emotionally draining in a way it has never been for me before.
While we envisioned the Women of Color Leadership Circle as a safe space for belonging, self-care, learning, unlearning, and restoration, I am often guilty of not extending that same care to myself and not taking the time to check-in with my mind and body. I scheduled almost 17 hours of interviews in a single marathon week to select the cohort in the midst of George Floyd's brutal murder and the resultant global protests. I did not know how I was going to get through the week when I could feel my body and soul breaking.
But something amazing happened during these interviews. My conversations with these incredible women provided a safe space for them and for myself. Being able to connect, laugh, cry, and just breathe with these women felt like healing and restoration. Taking that time to just listen and share space with other women of color leaders helped me to deal with and process what was happening around me.
The interviews and applications have reaffirmed to me that spaces like this are needed now more than ever. As I spoke to these women, their insights further highlighted the importance of this work in this moment.
Many women reported being the sole or primary caretakers of their households, and are feeling overwhelmed and overcapacity. Even as more women continue to enter and advance in the workforce, the role of caretaker is still highly gendered, with women often taking up that role. Whether it is taking care of sick parents, teaching their children, or running the household, these women are doing it all and then some during this global crisis, and it is taking a toll on their wellbeing.
It is lonely at the top. Many interviewees in Executive Director or C-suite positions reported feeling isolated in their roles. Many reported being the only person of color, woman, or woman of color on their leadership team. They expressed a strong need to connect with other women of color peers with whom they could brainstorm, commiserate, and reflect. Many of these women have also been called upon to lead racial equity or DEI initiatives in their organizations, which adds another layer of exhaustion and can often exacerbate the racial and gender dynamics on their teams.
There is a need for brave and safe spaces. Several of these women feel they have to "hold it together" or "be strong for everyone" and do not have a space where they can be vulnerable, lean on others, and be their full, authentic selves. Many women also expressed the need for spaces for celebration and joy, given how heavy, emotional, and overwhelming this year has been.
There is a strong desire for intersectional leadership and collaborations across identities. While women of color leaders may share many experiences, they are not a monolith and often represent distinct racial, cultural, and gender identities. However, several women discussed a need for intersectional leadership and a desire to build coalitions across race and gender to fight against racial injustice, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination within Greater Boston.
And still they rise. Several of these women have applied for or are planning to apply for CEO or Executive Director positions within their organizations over the next year. In many cases, these women are applying for roles previously occupied by a longstanding white male colleague or founder of the organization. They expressed a need for coaching and guidance from their peers and facilitators as they take this next step in their careers.
I am honored and excited to announce the 15 women who have been selected to participate in the first cohort of the Anna Faith Jones and Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle. In the first year of the program, a pool of 150 strong and talented women applied to be a part of the Circle. These women are phenomenal. Each demonstrates a commitment to serve and center underresourced populations. All of them are strong collaborators, with a deep understanding of intersectionality, and are leaders and trailblazers in their life and work. I hope this space will be for them what launching and running this program has been for me - a source of joy, fulfillment and connection. I am excited for this cohort and for the journey they are about to embark on together.
Andrea Madu, Senior Program Associate for Nonprofit Effectiveness, led the design and selection process for the first-ever Anna Faith Jones and Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle. She is leaving the Foundation to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.