Rockwood Leadership Blog | Leading from the Inside Out
The Rockwood Leadership Institute was founded in 2000 to provide individuals, organizations and networks in the social benefit sector with powerful and effective training in leadership and collaboration.
We are in the beautiful depths of spring here in the Bay Area. Rockwood is leaning into the season with lots of growth, change, and rejuvenation. We welcomed a new staff member and two new trainers, the program schedule for May and June is packed with 11(!) trainings, and Nonprofit Quarterly profiled the inaugural cohort of the Resource Leaders fellowship. It’s been a very fruitful time.
We’ve also been doing a lot of reading, feeding our hearts and minds. Here are a few articles that nourished us this month:
“To my fellow white people already ‘woke’ or aware of racial injustice, here is what I’ve learned: To move from statements of solidarity into the beloved community, the most important question is not, ‘What can I do?’ (Though please keep asking yourself this question). The most important question is, ‘Who am I in relationship with?'”
“2018 was rough, btw. I was so frustrated with myself for ‘not having it together’ (did I mention my work is all about embracing our humanness and not having it together?). It wasn’t until I actually started listening to my own advice that I was able to heal myself so I could show up as the healer I want to be. I learned having energy and knowing how to sustain that energy are two different things.”
Alum organizations All* Above All, Way To Win, The Women’s March, Ultraviolet, ROC Action, Move On, SEIU Texas, AFL-CIO Texas, National Domestic Workers Alliance, WDN Action, Texas Organizing Project, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, New Virginia Majority, New Florida Majority, Indivisible, Emerge America, and She The People joined together for She The People’s Presidential Candidate Forum in Houston, TX
This fellowship brings together 12 leaders working at the intersection of storytelling, film, and social change to learn powerful skills that will shift their capacity for leadership and collaboration. This cohort represents a wide range of established leaders in the film and digital storytelling sectors including: organizational leaders, media impact producers, filmmakers, thought leaders, curators, archivists, and critics. Through two residential retreats, peer coaching sessions, and additional leadership support, they will develop stronger working partnerships with each other, and with leaders of other social movements.
Assia is an Algerian-American filmmaker and journalist. She has reported for PRI, BBC, AlJazeera, VICE, and CNN, among others. Her debut short film about hijabi hair salons for HBO Documentary Films premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Her award-winning directorial debut The Feeling Of being Watched, a documentary investigating a decade of FBI surveillance in Assia’s Muslim-American community, had its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Assia was named one of Filmmaker Magazine‘s 2018 “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” and is currently a New America National Fellow and a fellow with the Co-Creation Studio at the MIT Open Documentary Lab, where she is iterating the machine-learning fueled sequel to her film The Inverse Surveillance Project. She has an MA in journalism from New York University and is an Algiers-born, Arabic-speaking, Chicago-native, currently based in southern California.
Bhawin is an educator and filmmaker born in Dares Salaam, Tanzania and now based in Albany, NY. In 2008, he co-founded Youth FX, a media arts organization focused on empowering young people of color in the city of Albany and around the world by teaching them creative and technical skills in film and digital media while supporting communities of young artists. Bhawin is the co-founder and co-director of NeXt Doc, a year-round fellowship program that exists to amplify the voices of documentary filmmakers of color between the ages of 20-24 years old. Bhawin is currently in production on Outta The Muck, a feature-length documentary supported by Sundance Institute, ITVS, and Southern Documentary Fund. He previously directed the award-winning documentary, The Throwaways (2014).
Carrie is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist. She is currently director of the International Documentary Association’s Enterprise Documentary and Pare Lorentz funds. In addition, she is a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she teaches in its acclaimed documentary film program. Previously, she led the Bay Area Video Coalition’s National MediaMaker Fellowship; was the senior producer of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning series Fault Lines; and was executive producer of Al Jazeera America’s documentary strand. Among other work, she produced the Academy Award nominee The Weather Underground, the live cinema piece Utopia In Four Movements and produced, directed and edited the Teddy Award nominee Reporter Zero. She is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Her recent film, The Ballad of Fred Hersch is in its third year of screenings and will broadcast in Europe in 2019.
Edwin is a Bronx-born filmmaker whose work explores the intersection between people and macro social structures. His work has screened theatrically and on major television, news and streaming outlets. Edwin’s award-winning first feature documentary To Be Heard was named a New York Times critics pick and “one of the best documentaries of the year.” His most recent film, IFP Lab supported, Personal Statement, premiered as the opening night film of 2018 AFI Docs and broadcast on America ReFramed. He has also worked as a producer, editor or cinematographer on many feature documentaries including El Efecto Clemente (ESPN), Las Marthas (PBS), Rachel Is (PBS), City of Trees (PBS), and Webby award-winning mini-series The Messy Truth. Edwin is a Concordia Studio Artist in Residence and Firelight Media Lab Fellow. He earned a master’s degree in education policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a Gates Millennium Scholar. He is an assistant professor of film in the SUNY Purchase Film Conservatory and making a film set in post-hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.
Gina is a programmer, arts administrator, and producer. As the associate vice President of film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), she is responsible for providing strategic and artistic direction for BAM’s legendary film program. Gina also serves as the film lab curator for SPACE on Ryder Farm, a working organic farm that offers self-determined residencies to artists and activists. Prior to joining BAM, Gina programmed film series and special events for the Jacob Burns Film Center. As a producer, Gina’s credits include Titus Kaphar’s short film, “The Jerome Project” (2017) and Ja’tovia Gary’s The Evidence of Things Not Seen (in production).
Grace won a Peabody Award for American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs about the legendary civil rights activist/philosopher and writer which The Hollywood Reporter called ”an entertainingly revealing portrait of the power of a single individual to enact change.” The film won multiple festival audience awards before its broadcast on the PBS documentary series POV. Other directing credits include the Emmy-nominated MAKERS: Women in Politics for PBS; the interactive online documentary K-Town ‘92 about the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, Off the Menu: Asian America (PBS). She is currently in post-production on And She Could be Next, about women of color transforming U.S. politics by running for office in 2018. She is also the co-founder of the Asian American Documentary Network, a filmmaker-led collective which uplifts and supports Asian Americans in the non-fiction field.
Iyabo founded Brown Girls Doc Mafia in 2016 – an initiative advocating for nearly 2,500 women and non-binary people of color in the documentary industry around the world. From 2015 to 2017, Iyabo founded and ran Feedback Loop, a documentary film consulting company. She’s also held positions at industry institutions First Look Media, Kickstarter, Good Pitch, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Tribeca Film Institute, and IFP. As a filmmaker, Iyabo was a Sundance Creative Producers Fellow in 2016 with feature documentary For Ahkeem, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. She will premiere her second short fiction film, a feminist sex comedy called Me Time in April. She’s also a Sundance Screenwriting and Talent Forum Fellow for her first feature screenplay, Kayla & Eddie En Français, about an estranged black father and daughter reconnecting in Paris. Originally from Denver, Iyabo graduated from NYU’s Tisch Film School, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Jason is a Miami-based writer and filmmaker from Barbados whose work focuses on giving voice to the often-marginalized stories of the tropics. A former journalist, he has written for The Miami Herald and American Way. As a filmmaker, he wrote and produced the award-winning short film Papa Machete, which explores the esoteric martial art of Haitian machete fencing. The film world premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and had its U.S. premiere at the 2015 Sundance FilmFestival. Jason is also co-executive director of the Caribbean filmmaking and arts collective Third Horizon. Its annual Third Horizon Film Festival celebrates and empowers the new creatives emerging from the region. He is also cinematic arts manager of Oolite Arts, one of Miami’s largest support organizations for visual artists.
Katina Parker | Catalyst/ Waymaker
Katina is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer living in North Carolina, who creates films for Samsung, NBC Digital, and Al Jazeera. Katina is a 2016–17 recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship and an instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Katina is also a Rockwood JustFilms fellow and Black Public Media 360º Incubator Fellow. Katina is directing/producing/filming: A Love Supreme: Black, Queer, and Christian in The South; and Abolish ICE, documenting Southern Asian-American pushback against the targeted deportation of Black and Brown immigrants. Katina co-produced and filmed Ferguson: A Report From Occupied Territory (Fusion-ABC/Disney) and contributed to Whose Streets?, documenting Ferguson activists during the year after Mike Brown Jr. was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Katina received her MFA in film production from the University of Southern California and her MA in speech communications from Wake Forest University.
Kelly Anderson | Professor and Chair, Dept. of Film and Media Studies, Hunter College
Kelly is a documentary filmmaker whose work has been used widely in organizing and education. Her most recent films are UNSTUCK: An OCD Kids Movie and My Brooklyn. My Brooklyn, about the hidden forces driving gentrification, won an Audience Award at the Brooklyn Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’ America ReFramed. Kelly also made Every Mother’s Son (with Tami Gold), about mothers whose children were killed by police officers and who became advocates for police reform, which won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, aired on POV, and was nominated for a national Emmy. Kelly’s other documentaries include Out At Work (with Tami Gold), which screened at Sundance, was on HBO and won the GLAAD Best Documentary Award. From 2015-17 she was the Co-Chair of the film distribution cooperative New Day Films. She currently chairs the Department of Film and Media Studies at Hunter College (CUNY).
Leslie is an artist, producer, and arts administrator who advocates for authentic representations of people of color. Leslie began as an actor seeking roles where Black women were portrayed as complex human beings. Not finding much work, she started directing plays and musicals at City Lights Youth Theater. She commissioned 2 new works written for and performed by diverse youth. A fondness for film led her to NYU where she earned an MA in film studies. It was there Leslie discovered her desire to help filmmakers of color bring their stories to light. After 3 years of programming workshops and panels at AIVF, and learning the ropes of grantmaking at Creative Capital, Leslie has spent the last 17 years at BPM overseeing the dissemination of $8M+ for project production, producer development, and content distribution. Leslie lives in New York with her husband and three daughters.
Lucila is program director at Chicken & Egg Pictures where she oversees the development and implementation of the organization’s programs in support of women nonfiction filmmakers. Previously she was executive producing director at UnionDocs, Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn; manager of the Production Assistance Program at Women Make Movies; director of the Media Arts Fellowships for The Rockefeller Foundation; and founder and coordinator of the TFI Latin America Fund. Lucila is in the documentary selection committee of the Morelia International Film Festival, and sits on the executive board of Cine Qua Non Lab, in Mexico. She was vice-president of the Board of Trustees of The Flaherty. Her work as an associate producer has included the documentary series The New Americans for Kartemquin Films, and Shocking and Awful for Deep Dish TV, which was part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Lucila is originally from Mexico City.
It’s finally here! The first episode of Rockwood’s new podcast, with alum and CAIR SF-BA Executive Director Zahra Billoo. Zahra dropped by our offices to talk about joy, family, privilege, music, practicing resilience, and much, much more.
joi foley: Hi, and welcome to the very first episode of Rockwood’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast. My name is joi foley. I’m Rockwood’s senior marketing and communications manager.
joi foley: Before we get to our interview with alum Zahra Billoo, we have just a few notes about the podcast. This is Rockwood’s first-ever podcast, and we are so excited to be sharing leadership with new audiences in this new medium but, as with anything new, we do have a bit of a learning curve. There are some technical issues, so we hope that you can be understanding and patient with us as we work through some of that. I’ll be your host for these first few episodes, and then the whole staff of Rockwood will be sharing hosting duties, including our CEO, Darlene Nipper. We will also be experimenting with different types of content alongside the alum interviews, so if there’s something you’d like Rockwood to cover in this podcast, just let us know. With that, here’s our show.
joi foley: Our guest for today’s episode is alum Zahra Billoo. Zahra is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area office, the oldest and one of the largest CAIR chapter offices. Under Zahra’s leadership, CAIR-SFBA has filed lawsuits against the United States Department of Justice, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Southwest Airlines representing American Muslims facing discriminatory treatment. CAIR-SFBA has also significantly expanded its capabilities to provide know-your-rights sessions on a nearly weekly basis to mosques and community members in the San Francisco Bay Area while also providing direct legal representation to Bay Area residents facing numerous civil rights violations.
joi foley: Zahra has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and even on Fox News. She was a speaker at the historic Women’s March in Washington, DC in January 2017. Zahra received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the Society of American Law Teachers and was featured in the January 2018 Chronicle of Philanthropy cover story on how millennials lead. Outside of her work with CAIR, Zahra bakes birthday cakes for foster children through Cake4Kids and is a coordinator for Project Feed, a monthly homeless feeding effort in downtown San Francisco. Zahra is currently in Rockwood’s Lead Now California Fellowship, but she’s been through a few fellowships and programs with us. When I spoke with Zahra in February at our office in Oakland, our conversation started there.
joi foley: Okay, so the first question is you’ve been through two Rockwood Fellowships, but you’ve been total eight sessions, we counted, so why do you keep returning to Rockwood?
Zahra Billoo: I was initially introduced to Rockwood by other leaders who said, “Look, we see the path that you’re going down, and we know that you’re going to need help to sustain yourself and the work that you’re doing in the long run. Why don’t you check out Rockwood?” That was my first introduction to The Art of Leadership. After that, I was invited to join a Fellowship, and what I appreciated about the opportunity to do a Fellowship was that it wasn’t just training. It was training plus community, and so the relationships, the friendships that I made in my participation during Fellowship for a New California are still people I rely on, I call, and that I’m excited to see when I’m at events and out doing this work.
Zahra Billoo: Fast-forward several years, and we have the 2016 election. It’s not like civil rights and human rights weren’t already challenging before the 2016 election, but the problems became so much more exaggerated. So much of the deep-rooted racism and white supremacy in our country was unveiled, and the pace at which many of us that were already in the work had to change to was just unprecedented. When the opportunity to do another Fellowship and meet new people doing this work in this moment and relearn some of the Rockwood practices came about, I couldn’t say no. Just a couple of days ago when I was thinking through how to process a trigger, I was so grateful for all of the training that I’ve done with Rockwood now.
joi foley: Do you have any favorite memories of any of your Rockwood experiences or moments that were really important to you?
Zahra Billoo: I remember one of the nights of the Fellowship parties where there was a particular one in the second, in the Lead Now Fellowship, where everybody just let loose. Whether people were drinking or not, and I don’t drink, they were having a good time. They were talking. They were in community. It was interesting because I remember having a conversation with someone about life while dating as a single Muslim woman and also having a conversation with someone about gender pay equity and then breaking a sweat on the dance floor. That combination of experiences in one night, for me, was so much the epitome of the family that Rockwood helps cultivate where we can talk about work and life and have fun.
joi foley: Why were you born for this time?
Zahra Billoo: I sometimes contemplate why I was born with as much privilege as I was born with. I didn’t necessarily earn the rights that I have. They are a function of where I was born, who I was born to, and those circumstances. I’m a US citizen who speaks English fluently and has a passport so can’t be sent anywhere I don’t want to go. I’ve got a voice that sometimes won’t shut up and a roof over my head as well as incredibly supportive family. When I think of why I was born for this moment, for me, it’s about putting all of those privileges to work. I didn’t earn them, and so the best that I can do is ensure that I don’t act like they are mine exclusively but rather that they are tools and an opportunity for service, and now is when we need it.
joi foley: What’s in your heart?
Zahra Billoo: I think what my heart is trying to figure out is how does one find happiness, and peace, and contentment, and companionship in this moment where there’s literally a rapid-fire every day. Maybe they existed before, but it’s also the onslaught of social media and the 20-minute news cycle that has us going a mile a minute, and so what does our work look like? What do our lives look like in 2030 and in 2040 which, right now, feels frightening to even contemplate when many of us are dreading 2020?
joi foley: Yeah. Who is leading today that you’d love to work with?
Zahra Billoo: One of the blessings of the 2016 election, for me, has really been to develop new friendships in movement spaces and also to watch and support as leadership emerges in ways that we didn’t expect. If I were to think of individuals that I already know and love and want to deepen my work with, I think of so many of the women in movement spaces, Manar Waheed at ACLU, Linda Sarsour with Women’s March, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar in Congress, Marielena at NILC, and so many other bold, fierce women who I’m in awe of because they make leadership accessible, they connect work to efforts to empower community, and they don’t back down.
joi foley: What message do you want to share with future generations?
Zahra Billoo: I want people to understand that this is the work of lifetimes. Realistically, I’m not sure if we will free Palestine, or end poverty, or close the prison industrial complex in my lifetime. When I think of what I want future generations to understand is that they are not alone, they are not the first, and that we did the best that we could so that they would have it better.
joi foley: Sometimes I think about, when I was younger, gay marriage seemed like it would never ever happen. Then, by the time it happened, I … it wasn’t like I wasn’t blasé about it, but I was like, “Oh, yeah, of course.” It was only a span of like 20 years or something that it-
Zahra Billoo: But gay marriage isn’t just about legislation either, right?
joi foley: Yeah.
Zahra Billoo: It’s also about the shift in the narrative around people were being criminalized for who they love. Homes were being raided. Much of that continues, and so I don’t think of the fight for equality for any people as simply about legislation but rather like, hey, every step forward is progress. I mean I remember when Ellen came out on TV and when Will & Grace was still a little bit unusual, and now it’s like they’re doing new episodes of Will & Grace, all of a sudden, after a sort of a very long hiatus. We’re seeing small steps towards progress for Palestine, for people in prisons, but what’s hard is sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back, and that’s the most heartbreaking thing.
Zahra Billoo: I think what I really struggle with is this thing that we’ve been saying since the election, which is that the system isn’t broken. Trump was not elected because the system was broken. Trump was elected because the system works exactly as it was supposed to, and so how do we, for the purposes of our lifetimes but also future generations, balance working within a system that we acknowledge to be corrupt and faulty while also attempting to build something new in parallel?
joi foley: Yeah. What has changed or shaped your leadership?
Zahra Billoo: Learning from my mistakes has always been an important way in which I acknowledge the opportunity to grow. It’s not easy to fall on your face and then have to pick right back up because it’s not like the work is done or have time to recover, but I try really hard to see challenges as opportunities for growth.
Zahra Billoo: The other thing that I would say that’s been really important is to have people who I trust that I can call for advice. That’s been, at times, board members, at times peers, people I’ve met through Rockwood, and friends in the work where I’ll call and say, “Hey, can you help me get my head on straight? This is how I’m feeling about XYZ. Is this right?” It’s not always easy to be told that you’re wrong, but to have people who can do that gently and compassionately and also confidentially is so critical because sometimes it’s also … As much as I want to embrace errors as opportunities for growth, which I believe they are, we don’t have, always, the flexibility to fail in movement spaces or in nonprofit spaces where mistakes can cost grant money or relationships or impact someone’s life individually.
joi foley: Yeah. What brings you joy?
Zahra Billoo: My nieces. I have two nieces who are three and a half and one and a half. They smile, and babble, and laugh, and make faces all while having no idea that the world is on fire outside their house. I think about doing this work for them so that they, like me, who were born as Muslim women, as girls of color in the United States with at least the comfort of US citizenship can do more and accomplish more than I could. It’s also simply the case that a child’s laughter, particularly when you don’t have to ever clean up their diapers, is so incredible. My brother calls every once in a while when the kids are being rowdy and they’ll … they know that I’m on the other side of the phone. I will drop everything to take that call. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing because they remind me that I’m doing this work for them but also that joy is possible.
joi foley: Yeah. I think that just the phrasing of joy is possible is … it’s like it’s both present and future, and you can work towards it.
Zahra Billoo: Yes, yes.
joi foley: That’s what came up for me when you said that. Other than joy, or maybe it is joy, but what’s needed now?
Zahra Billoo: I would say that what is needed now, well, there’s a long list of things, but what comes to mind for me is sustenance. A lot of people, including a lot of Rockwood alums, are operating at a pace that they haven’t before. It’s go, go, go. I lose track of how many 12-hour days I have, and that is not sustainable in the long run. What sustainability might require is more funding, more people finding careers in the movement, more people thinking about how to make this work lifestyle work, so even if you’re not in the movement, are you donating regularly? Are you going to the efforts regularly? Are you bringing joy to the lives of people who are in the movement full time to help them sustain?
Zahra Billoo: I’d say that another thing that comes to mind for me around what’s needed is high-quality work, is that there isn’t room. There should be room. I know Rockwood teaches us that there should be room for F-ups, but some F-ups are just too consequential. Some resources are too limited, and so I wonder how we train people to do high-quality, high-quantity work and reward them for that.
Zahra Billoo: The additional thing that comes to mind, for me, around what’s needed is unity. Many people in a movement will say unity is not uniformity. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we have to agree on basic human rights and civil rights for all people, and if we can’t, then get out of the way of the work. I want to see our movements be really strong. For example, it’s been really disheartening to see some of the attacks on the Women’s March, but then it’s been really powerful to see people step up and say, “Hey, we’re in this together, right? So get with it or get out of the way, and we’re going to continue to do that work.” There’s lots and lots of examples of this every day, but to ensure that we don’t play into the hands of white supremacists, or war mongers, or misogynists, or anyone else trying to break up our movements by allowing ourselves to be divided.
joi foley: Yeah. I find that a lot of my work now, my personal work, is helping my friends realize the stories that are kind of swimming around them. They can dig down to what’s true.
Zahra Billoo: That’s so true. I think about that with so many with … any time I carry a privilege and I’m hearing a conversation among my circles about a group that doesn’t have that same privilege, right? What’s one that comes up for me sometimes is I am a cisgendered heterosexual woman, and conversations about gay marriage, gay rights, trans rights, public restroom safety, any of those things, to stop those conversations sometimes and say, “Hey, let’s make sure that we’re operating from a place of empathy. Let’s make sure that we understand our privilege in this moment, and then let’s see what the most impacted people are saying,” has sometimes been the work of allyship that I can do. Similarly, people ask me sometimes, “Well, what do I say to my racist grandma?” I’m like, “Keep having conversations with her because I’m not invited to her house.”
joi foley: Yeah, and I think this ties into what we’re talking about: How do you practice resilience online and off?
Zahra Billoo: The first hate piece about me was when I was in law school, and it was because Daniel Pipes, so decades-long notorious anti-Muslim activist, had been protested at a location 400 miles away from where I was, and all I had done was send out an email encouraging people to join a protest that someone else was organizing. All of a sudden, I got credit for organizing the whole protest, and they went through my blog, and they went through my Facebook, and they went through the meeting minutes for student government meetings I had been in to put together these dossiers about me, and I didn’t even know that Twitter was around yet.
Zahra Billoo: What I learned, at that time, was a few things. One was limit what you read for your self-care, right? Look, haters going to hate. How much of that do I need to read? How much of that do I need to consume? I need to be aware, just as I am with in-person interactions and who triggers me, what the cost of these things is. Sometimes, being unaware is better than being drained. I think of people that trigger me and the resolutions I’ve made to just be like, “Your email always is harassing and bullying, and I’m just not reading it anymore because you don’t get to do that to me.” I think of that.
Zahra Billoo: Other parts that I learned around that were that it was so important that I developed my own content, that if someone wanted to know who Zahra Billoo was that the first find that they would have was not a hate monger’s website about me. That’s easier said than done with all of the SEO things that I don’t even understand.
Zahra Billoo: The last thing was that … This is going to sound a little bit ridiculous maybe. I don’t know. There is something to be said about how effective you are when the haters come for you, right? I don’t want to trivialize how terrifying it can be because it can be, right? I live in a secure apartment complex, and no one has my address, right? I have friends who have had to hire security and put up cameras, but there’s still something telling about, look, if Fox News is praising you, then you’re probably doing it all wrong. Challenging the status quo, the powers that be, and people who perpetuate oppression, for me, is not just about resilience. It’s prophetic. It’s what the leaders that I look up to did and paid a price for, but I recognize that I stand on their shoulders.
Zahra Billoo: You know, I also make regular time to hang out with friends. I eat ice cream nearly daily when I’m not dieting. If I’m dieting, I’m eating fruit-on-the-bottom Greek yogurt, but there’s still sugar because that has an impact. I go to the gym because that does things for my adrenaline. I vacation regularly. These nieces are a place that I visit, that I see, that I call, and so it’s also just important that people figure out what brings them joy and what that looks like and then prioritize that.
Zahra Billoo: I know one of the hardest things, for me, about going on vacation, for example, is how do I turn of my brain and stop checking my emails? Usually, it’s like midway through vacation by the time I have accomplished that, and then it’s over, which motivates me to plan my next one. It’s not easy to come under attack as many people are more frequently these days but, in some ways, it’s almost the cost of doing this work.
joi foley: That’s all for this episode of Rockwood’s Leading From The Inside Out podcast. Before you go, if you’re an alum of Rockwood’s programs and would like to be on this podcast, let us know. Reach out to us at rockwoodleadership.org/podcast or send me an email at J-O-I@rockwoodleadership.org. The music in this episode is by Broke for Free, available from the Free Music Archive and brokeforfree.com. From all of us here at Rockwood, thank you for joining us, and we wish you joyful leadership.
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Lillian Rivera was named by former NFL player Wade Davis as a role model who changed his life
Pramila Jayapal gave an emotional speech about her nonbinary child as part of an Equality Act hearing, and was the subject of an article highlighting her role as a mentor to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib
With the support and partnership of the California Endowment, the Weingart Foundation, and the Angell Foundation, Lead Now: California was created in response to the urgent political moment facing our nation that is calling forth a new era of leadership, activism, and alignment among progressive leaders.
Lead Now: California brings together 25 leaders from across California representing issue areas of immigrant rights, Muslim rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, agriculture, economic justice, arts & culture, health, and education. It is a bold, intersectional initiative to dramatically shift the sustainability, effectiveness, and connection of communities across the state.
Hussam has been the executive director of the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California (CAIR-CA), since 1998. CAIR is a leading American Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Hussam is passionate about human rights, civil rights, and democracy. He frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs pertaining to American Muslims. He has consistently appeared in local, national and international media advocating and articulating the mainstream Muslim position on various issues. A proud moment of his is when he sued President Trump for his Muslim Ban. He is married, has 5 children, and recently became a grandpa.
Julia is program director of the California Health in All Policies Task Force, which is a collaborative project between the California Strategic Growth Council, the Public Health Institute (PHI), and the California Department of Public Health. In this capacity, Julia facilitates a multi-agency process that brings together over twenty state agencies, departments, and offices to build collaborative partnerships to incorporate health, equity, and environmental sustainability considerations into decision-making and government operations across policy areas as diverse as transportation, land use, education, agriculture, and social services. Most recently, Julia and her team expanded their work to provide capacity building and institutional planning support to state government agencies specifically to address institutional and structural racism. Julia holds masters’ degrees in public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley, and lives in Oakland with her wife and teenage daughter.
Sarah leads a multicultural advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health of communities of color in California. Sarah has over a decade of experience advocating for access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health care, advancing women’s reproductive justice, and promoting immigrants’ rights. Since 2018, Sarah has served as an advisory board member of the California Health Interview Survey and the Department of Health Care Services’ Stakeholder Committee. Previously, Sarah worked with Latino Issues Forum and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Sarah earned her Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley in ethnic studies and public policy.
Jesse (Tohono O’odham/Chicano) was born in Los Angeles and raised in East Oakland. He became the statewide census coordinator with the California Native Vote Project in 2018. He enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and serving Native/Indigenous communities.
Andrea is an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, and she identifies as Mexican American. She is trained in general and preventive medicine, and recently completed a fellowship in research and policy. She has the privilege of focusing exclusively on the health and wellbeing of the Native American community through clinical work, through larger community initiatives, and through research. Andrea serves as a Mayoral Appointee for the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, and sits on the Board for the United American Indian Involvement. She is also honored to serve on the national boards of We Are Healers and Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians, which focus on building the workforce of Native American and other diverse health professionals. She earned her MD from UCSF, and MS from UC Berkeley. She is a proud wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and nina!
Ashlee George | Associate Director of Restorative Justice Project, Impact Justice
Ashlee leads the implementation of pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs across the nation. She is a thought leader in restorative justice pedagogy and practices and lent her expertise to pilot one of the first school-based restorative justice programs in Oakland, CA, as well as one of the first survivor-oriented restorative justice diversion programs outside of California. As an Oakland native, her hometown’s culture and legacy of social justice instilled in Ashlee a deep commitment to justice with an emphasis on healing. Before joining Impact Justice, she spent 13 years facilitating restorative justice dialogues between youth who caused harm and the people impacted to create spaces of transformation and healing through accountability.
Shanthi is an elected school board director and a freelance leadership coach. She is currently co-leading the Progressive Education Leaders Network, a new initiative to train and support newly-elected School Board members in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. This Spring, she will join the League of Conservation Voters as their candidate recruitment and training manager.
Maricela’s resume includes over 20 years of experience in non-profit management and grassroots community organizing, working primarily with low income and immigrant communities. She previously worked as a department director of a Federally Qualified Community Health Center in the East Bay, advocating for accessible healthcare and resources for low-income children and families. Maricela has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley, is a Shannon Leadership Program Fellow and Blue Shield Foundation Clinic Leadership Executive Management graduate. She has extensive training in grassroots organizing and racial equity strategies for engaging disenfranchised communities. She is a founding member of an Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth and Families Collaborative and the Soñadores Invencibles Program that work to develop safety net systems for children and families seeking asylum. She has served as the Chair of the statewide Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project and is the founder of an intergenerational traditional Aztec Dance Program, Grupo Cemanahuac.
Javier is an immigrant and queer leader fighting for immigrant rights in the Inland Empire. Javier believes that justice for immigrant communities includes addressing all the intersections that are crucial to the undocumented identity such as health, poverty, criminalization, and other disparities that keep the undocumented marginalized. He has advocated and taken direct action against anti-immigrant policies and deportations throughout the country and has co-founded several grassroots groups. Since 2015, Javier has been the Director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ), a coalition of over 40 organizations, unions, legal service providers, congregations, etc. that convene to collectively advocate for immigrant justice in the Inland Empire. Javier believes that through collective organizing and community power, the IE will be a region where justice abounds and the contributions of immigrants are acknowledged and respected.
Suguey is the granddaughter of Mexican indigenous farmers and daughter of California migrant farm workers. She joined Power California with nearly a decade of civic engagement and labor organizing experience. As the chief political strategist she leads Power California’s field strategy and civic engagement campaigns to mobilize young voters of color. In 2018, during the historic midterm election, Power California and partners reached nearly 175,000 voters of color under her leadership. On her free time, she practices radical self-love by engaging in dance and pole. “I find my freedom in an embodied praxis of self-love through dance. Pole gives me the pleasure and possibility to just BE in a society hellbent on hating me for being brown, femme/female, Mexican and queer.” Suguey holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She is an active practitioner of Indigenous spirituality.
Alan is a refugee Jew from the former Soviet Union, and a long-time outreach and communications specialist, with a focus on building coalitions and developing effective voter and public engagement programs. He is the Director of Engage San Diego, a collaborative network of social-justice focused, non-profit groups working to increase civic and voter engagement in historically and systemically excluded communities of San Diego County. Alan comes to San Diego after 15 years helping to create voter outreach and communications programs for groups working on social justice issues in New York City, Colorado, and nationwide. Most recently he was the Media Director for @NoBanJFK. Before that, he was the Director of Political Engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, leading voter engagement, special projects, and NYC advocacy for the largest immigrant advocacy coalition in the US. He also served as the first Director Communications for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Ben is a native of San Francisco and a longtime activist for peace and justice in the Bay Area. During this tenure, he served as executive director of a large non-profit providing rescue, recovery, medical, financial and educational opportunities to hurting and homeless people in Oakland for 7 years. In 2012, Ben was an instrumental component of relaunching Oakland’s first successful iteration of Operation Ceasefire. This strategy has contributed heavily to a near 40% reduction in homicides over the last five years. Ben founded Empower Initiative in 2014 to provide technical assistance around transforming public safety through bridge-building. Over the last 3 years, he trained over 100 departments and law enforcement executives, while in partnership with California’s Department of Justice. He joined PICO California in 2015, the state’s largest community organizing network. Ben is deeply committed to widening the circle of human concern leading to a more vibrant, inclusive society. He & his wife Gynelle have been married for 19 years and have 3 daughters.
Tamara is a seasoned strategist committed to equity and better education, health and economic opportunity for communities of color. As principal of The WIT Group, a social change firm, she is a field builder who lends her expertise to grantmakers, non-profit organizations and public systems to strengthen capacities for meaningful partnerships, asset-based, high-leverage strategies and equitable resources for the good of our communities. Outside of work, Tamara enjoys traveling with her friends and honoring her new role as the proud auntie of Ryder Janae, the brightest light in the universe and future leader of the free world.
At the beginning of every Rockwood Leadership Institute program, each participant is given a simple task: stand in front of the group, speak for two minutes and, at the end, calmly and confidently accept the resulting applause without looking away, squirming or deflecting with humor.
The participants soon find out that this “vision stand” exercise isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Years of observation and evaluation have shown us that the vulnerability revealed in this activity is an important step in participants’ personal and professional development.
Leadership development programs have long played a critical role in preparing emerging leaders to drive much-needed change in their fields. At Rockwood Leadership Institute, we provide social change leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors with training in leadership and collaboration. Through the Schusterman Fellowship, we provide professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish community with training and tools to enhance their skills and tackle complex challenges.
With so much at stake, maximizing the effectiveness of leadership programs is paramount. Yet, despite the quantity and caliber of many leadership initiatives, we have found that surprisingly little evaluation data has been shared regarding the strategies, curricula and points of emphasis that define successful programs.
We decided to collaborate to help fill this knowledge gap. We each worked with the evaluation firm Learning for Action to assess our respective program evaluations and identify common themes for what is working and what is not. Then, we distilled our learnings into a new resource filled with recommendations and practical advice for planning and executing effective leadership and talent programs: The Leadership Development Guide.
Our evaluations pointed toward many positive outcomes: 94 percent of Schusterman Fellows said they were awarded more professional responsibilities after completing the program, while 42 percent reported receiving promotions. Schusterman Fellows also noted positive shifts in many aspects of their leadership because of the Fellowship, including increased confidence, greater self-awareness and a renewed passion and purpose for their work in the Jewish sector.
Rockwood evaluations showed that 98 percent of Rockwood Fellows said they now deal more effectively with leadership challenges, while 90 percent reported that the program had a transformative impact on their lives.
We found that these five common elements of our programs strongly contributed to these positive outcomes:
Set the stage for vulnerability. Just like our “vision stand” exercise at Rockwood demonstrates, laying the groundwork for participants to forge strong bonds requires them to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This means devoting time right off the bat to creating an environment where people feel safe to share ideas and admit weaknesses. Our research found that encouraging vulnerability was an effective starting point: 94 percent of Rockwood alum said that they were more willing to have a “courageous conversation” because of the program, and as one Schusterman Fellow put it: “I feel like I can be vulnerable and that vulnerability feels like a source of strength.”
Focus on emotional intelligence. It may come as a surprise that, when asked about the ideal qualities of good leaders, most people cite “soft skills” connected to emotional and spiritual aspects of leadership before “hard skills” like being tech-savvy or a good public speaker. Our evaluations suggested that participants benefited from developing these “soft skills.” Schusterman Fellows noted positive shifts in many aspects of their leadership, including their confidence and their ability to understand their weaknesses, while one Rockwood alum said the Rockwood program “helped me understand what I internally bring to the fight.”
Be intentional about relationship-building. Participants are often each other’s greatest assets as they work to maximize their leadership potential. Programs should be intentional about sowing the seeds of a lasting participant network by providing consistent opportunities for peer-to-peer engagement, both in-person and using digital communication tools. Upping the frequency of this engagement paid off: 84 percent of Rockwood respondents reported that they built and maintained stronger interdependent relationships as a result of participation in Rockwood programs. Meanwhile, nearly three in four Senior Fellows (Schusterman Fellowship alumni) said they connected with other Fellows for peer coaching, content area expertise, opportunities to collaborate or job inquiries.
Design the right coaching experience. Coaches are often the bread and butter of leadership development programs, able to enhance an individual’s unique strengths and address weaknesses. Both Rockwood initiatives and the Schusterman Fellowship include robust coaching elements, providing participants access to the guidance and encouragement they need to ensure long-term impact. Our findings indicated that this individualized approach was successful: 91 percent of Senior Schusterman Fellows reported that the Fellowship’s coaching component contributed to their growth as leaders.
Encourage sector and cross-sector collaboration. To address sector-wide challenges, leadership development programs need to show participants the value of working together. Demonstrating the benefits of both sector and cross-sector collaboration paid dividends: 75 percent of Schusterman Fellows indicated that the Fellowship contributed to some form of collaboration with another Fellow’s organization, and 86 percent of Rockwood participants felt better equipped to sustain their energy over a lifetime of service with the help of new allies.
We feel it is important to note that the Leadership Development Guide is not necessarily a reflection of everything we have gotten right, but rather the most essential elements of what makes our programs effective. In fact, both of our teams are using insights from our evaluations to make improvements.
At Schusterman, we are learning from Rockwood’s deep experience in grounding its program in diversity, equity and inclusion. We are also developing ways to help Fellows bring their learnings to the workplace and follow through on their real-world plans to bring change to their sectors and communities.
At Rockwood, we are investing in alum engagement by hosting local gatherings and increasing our presence at conferences and events. We are also exploring new locations and models for our programs to help more people and organizations take advantage of our curriculum.
While we certainly do not have everything figured out, we sincerely hope that others can glean helpful insights from our experiences to bolster their work and empower more leaders to tackle the complex challenges facing our communities and our world.
Download the full guide for in-depth recommendations:
Alum Luis Ramirez filmed this awesome video at the recent Art of Leadership for Philanthropic Leaders last month. The video gives an inside look at a Rockwood training, with interviews from participants and trainers, a tour of one of our training sites, and insights on joyous and effective leadership.
Want to get in on the transformative fun? Check out the full 2019 training schedule and apply today.
Take a breath. Let go of whatever you’re holding on to. Give yourself a moment to slow down and explore joyous, effective, transformative leadership with Rockwood’s new Leadimg From The Inside Out podcast. Bringing together the wisdom, inspiration, and practices of our over-7,000 alums and our 19 years providing leadership development in the social change world, Leading From The Inside Out podcast will shed light on the unspoken realities of creating a more just and equitable world. We’ll combine classic Rockwood practices and exercises with interviews and conversations with people all over the world working towards our collective liberation. So if you’re interested in fortifying your leadership, finding joy in your work, and connecting more deeply with your community, visit rockwoodleadership.org/podcast to learn more.
Yes, you heard that right – Rockwood is launching a podcast! The Leading From The Inside Out podcast will combine classic Rockwood curriculum with alum interviews and tips for leading from a place of love, grace, and power. Stay tuned (and subscribe to our email list) for info on how to subscribe!
The podcast is just the cherry on top of a great start to 2019. Virada Chatikul and Lucia Castañeda Kimble, two long-time staff members, were both named Associate Director of Programs. They’ll jointly oversee our awesome and hardworking Programs team, with Virada focusing on public programs like Art of Leadership while Lucia focuses on Rockwood’s many fellowships.
If 2017 was the year we were all called to leadership, 2018 was the year that called us to dream big. While we faced much of the same darkness we’ve been facing for years now, we also saw shining moments when vision became reality.
Here at Rockwood, one of our visions became a reality when we launched Couch Conversations, a monthly webinar series featuring alums from different sectors and movements discussing resilience and leadership.
Couch Conversations was a complete experiment. When we began planning it, we weren’t sure if people would be interested, but from the first conversation with Rebecca Cokley to the last one with Karen Narasaki, a lot of people tuned in – 373 people to be exact!
So what’s coming in 2019? We’re launching a podcast (want to be interviewed? send us a note!), and we’re looking at expanding our programs and curriculum in new and exciting ways that will help leaders like you change the world. Stay updated on everything new at Rockwood by subscribing to our email list.
But before we move forward, here’s a look back at Rockwood’s work in 2018:
Rockwood Leadership Institute, in partnership with the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, announced today the launch of Resource Leaders, a new fellowship that will offer in-depth leadership development for senior fundraising professionals.
“Raising resources is central to an organization’s mission, whether it be strengthening communities or advancing social change. But few development directors have an opportunity to focus on their leadership development. Imagine the extraordinary impact that would be possible if development directors received the support they need to resource movements for equity and justice for our communities,” said Darlene Nipper, CEO of Rockwood Leadership Institute. “We are hopeful to see what these strong, focused leaders from powerful social change organizations will accomplish during their time as fellows in Resource Leaders and beyond.”
From a competitive pool of applicants, Rockwood selected 24 fellows who play core roles in raising resources for a range of social change organizations from across the country:
Raising resources for social change is essential to movement building, but because fundraising often is regarded as a support function, development staff rarely get the opportunity to focus on their leadership development. Development staff also often work in isolation, shouldering the responsibility for fundraising alone. Resource Leaders will provide participating development professionals with the space to think deeply about how their organizations can break out of chronic fundraising challenges, develop innovative ideas and fresh approaches to resourcing social change, and position themselves as strategic influencers and leaders within organizations and movements.
Participating fellows will get the tools and support they need to see themselves as changemakers in their own right, equipped to mobilize the people and resources that organizations need to transform communities for the better. Over the course of the year, including two, week-long residential retreats, the fellowship is designed to:
Position development directors as senior organizational leaders, change agents, and strategists;
Cultivate individual leadership skills, including articulating vision, authentic communication, influencing others, identifying personal leadership strengths and challenges, and building the capacity to thrive and sustain oneself in the work;
Provide new tools and approaches to embedding fundraising and resource generation into their organizations;
Create a trust-based learning community of leaders to strategize about effective revenue generation tactics in the context of movements and a sense of abundance.
“Raising funds for social change is an essential part of social change work itself, not a sidebar,” said Rachel Baker, Director of Field Building at the Haas Leadership Initiatives. “We are honored to join forces with Rockwood to lift up this extraordinary cohort of development leaders and to support them in leading change within their organizations and beyond to resource social change.”
This is the final President’s letter I will write to you. I’d like to begin with gratitude. In 2004, I came to Rockwood to be a trainer, and in the ensuing years, have worn a number of hats. Leadership can often appear as if there is only a single person charting the way, but that is never the case. I am deeply grateful for all who have made my journey at Rockwood possible: trainers, staff, board, funder partners, and you — Rockwood’s alums. I could not have done this work without any of you. My time here has been deeply satisfying, and I thank you.
We’ve come a long way since our founding in 2000 by Andre Carothers and Robert Gass. Rockwood started at a kitchen table, and now our alums have seats at tables all over the world. To date, 6,894 leaders have participated in our programs and span the myriad of sectors dedicated to creating safe, just, and welcoming organizations and communities. As I close my days at Rockwood, I leave with a full and tender heart; I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to lead this astonishing organization. I have changed and grown through hearing stories of the risks and leaps you’ve taken, the successes you’ve achieved, and the impacts you have had on the world.
My deepest wish is that Rockwood continues to thrive in its remarkable and transformative work supporting leaders committed to a sustained and equitable world. May the dreams of our ancestors continue to support our journeys, and may the hopes of our descendants continue to guide our collective steps.