Women of Color Leadership Circle: Reflections and Relaunch

Sharing our learnings from the Anna Faith Jones & Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle, as we welcome applications for a second cohort

August 25, 2021

By Talissa Lahaliyed, Programs Associate at the Boston Foundation and Natanja Craig Oquendo, Executive Director of the Boston’s Women’s Fund

“We are all in the process of becoming.”
Audre Lorde

We are excited to announce we are recruiting for the 2022 cohort for the Anna Faith Jones & Frieda Garcia Women of Color Leadership Circle. As we relaunch the program we would like to share our reflections and learnings from the pilot year, and purposefully bringing in the voices of our sister leaders who were part of the first cohort.

When looking at traditional forms of professional development, we noticed that they are often rooted in individualism. They provide skills for an individual to operate within a system of white supremacy culture. When we envisioned the Women of Color Leadership Circle, we sought not just to reject individualism, but to dismantle it within ourselves and our communities.

The Women of Color Leadership Circle is a community of practice, a space where people can work together to achieve a collective vision. It is an innately indigenous approach for sharing knowledge and experience. We envision the Women of Color Leadership Circle as a safe space for belonging, fellowship, learning, unlearning, self-care, and restoration. It is a space where participants can share their challenges and frustrations and learn and grow with and from each other.

A racially diverse group of women on a Zoom screen, each with their own box. They're all smiling.
Women of Color Leadership Circle Cohort 1 Sisters

Here is what we have learned from our own experiences as women of color designing this program and what we heard from the women who were part of the initial cohort:

  • We are not a monolith; a one size fits all model does not work. Acknowledging our multiple and shifting identities gives us the opportunity to bring our full selves; we made sure to incorporate this from the application process to the final session.
  • Not only were women of color leaders recruited in the cohort, but there was intentionality in that every coach, facilitator and program designer was a woman of color. This created a space that was different, representative and culturally appropriate, allowing for authenticity.
  • There was a vibe about the space that was the total opposite from our day-to-day work. There was a clear sense of importance, but not of urgency. It reminded us that we are worth more than what we produce.
  • We often look for guest speakers, those in positions of power, and our political leaders to guide us. We found that the leadership we are seeking was represented in our very own circle. Peer to peer. Sister to Sister. It wasn’t outside of us. It was right there inside of us all. We had more than facilitators, we had each other.Women of color often carry the weight of not only their careers, but of their families and communities. The circle provided the time and space to be vulnerable, self-reflective, to process trauma, and to set boundaries.

We know that women of color continue to need safe spaces to be vulnerable, share challenges and learn from each other. Spaces that not only recognize but praise our diversity and intersections and that allow us to bring our authentic selves, unapologetically. It is important for us to see ourselves in other women of color leaders and be inspired by those who came before us.

The Women of Color Leadership Circle is not just a program. It is a movement of women of color coming together to think about how we show up for each other and build our communities.

We want to thank the women of color leaders who have made this program possible: Andrea Madu who beautifully led and launched the first ever cohort, and Kelly Bates, Aba Taylor, Fernanda Oliveira Costa, Evelyn Barahona, Trina Jackson, Suzanne Lee, Sheena Collier, Renata Teodoro and Karla Nicholson who designed this program. We are grateful for the allyship and support of Orlando Watkins and Jennifer Aronson, Vice President and Associate Vice President for Programs at the Boston Foundation, and Angel Daniels, Executive Director at the Angel Foundation, our funding partner for this program. But most of all we want to thank the countless women of color whose stories, trials and triumphs came before us and paved the way--Anna Faith Jones, Frieda Garcia, and Ranae Gray to name a few.

Sisters, we hope you will join the Boston Foundation and the Boston Women’s Fund on this journey. The WOCLC is facilitated by Aba Taylor and Kelly Bates from Interaction Institute for Social Change and include both individual and teamwork, peer knowledge sharing, skills-building, and opportunities for joy and self-care. For more information on the program and on how to apply please go to tbf.org/woclc. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 24th at 11 pm EST. If you have any questions, please reach out to Talissa at talissa.lahaliyed@tbf.org.

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community."
Janet Mock, Redefining Realness