Supporting Resilient Leaders Across A Fractured Country

By Caitlin Breedlove and Lisa Anderson

The urgency of the times demands a bold new vision, not only of how to make change for today, but about how to equip individuals and communities with the resources they need to engage in social transformation over the long haul…resilience offered in a new register, a new key that has the capacity to invite, inspire and build a deep sense of the preciousness of long dishonored bodies, minds and spirits into the fabric of our movement building; and thereby to inspire a more grounded, shared and sustainable plan of action.”  –Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle

It is not new news to many of us that we are living in a time of great spiritual and political difficulty. For some communities, living under constant attack is all too familiar. For others, a newer reality. Systems of oppression deeply hurt our spirits, bodies and political will.

In the face of adversity, many marginalized communities are using tools of resilience and transformation to build their networks and the broader movement. Resiliency grows from the work of liberation, and spiritual liberation is the taproot of social movements. It is present at the inception of movements: when we dream of better lives for our people. It is present in our motion: as we carry those dreams forward into action.

None of us can completely define spiritual resiliency or its core practices, and yet we know that without it most leaders fail over time, separate themselves from collective work, and become misaligned with their highest purpose and deepest wisdoms. When leaders fail, their organizations fall apart. When organizations become weak, campaigns and alliances wither. To break this pattern, we must support leaders who can activate and sustain a more resilient way of building movements for change. Collective and individual transformation go together, and when we model the shared practices of transformation, they become contagious.

Many leaders who have been working effectively in red states have key insights into resilient practices of social justice work, as well as how to sustain justice work under state governments hostile to their organizing. Our country faces sobering political divides, a reality progressive leaders must reckon with to undo the wedges we experience on race, age, geography, class, sexuality, and much more. For progressives, the current administration represents a federal equivalent of what those of us in red states have experienced on state and local levels: a president who is uninterested in our perspectives on issues we hold most dear–racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice, among others.

How, then, do we develop leadership and build movements in the current landscape? One answer is by engaging and supporting leaders who have been working under similar statewide climates for some time. We need to invest more deeply in faith-rooted leaders in the Southwest, Midwest, and the South. We need the culture and tone of these investments to be rooted in support for Black and Brown communities as direct targets of hate in our current political climate.

Strong collectively oriented leadership is a key component of building movements for liberation. Thus, it is a substantial problem that catalytic leaders in these regions (who are embedded in collective local and state efforts) are mostly under-resourced, invisible, isolated from other leaders, and often unable to offer their best contributions to making the ‘impossible possible’. Geographic inequality in funding patterns means that many of these leaders are currently unknown, and their wisdom is not represented in our ‘knowledge bank’ as a constellation of national grassroots organizers.

Specific methodologies around campaign strategies, spiritual resilience, organizational cohesion, long-term coalition building, rapid response, and more, go unseen by those who most need these lessons: other organizers and faith-rooted leaders in red states. We also need to support and learn from these leaders in order to disrupt and innovate nationally in how we understand what leadership is, how it functions, looks, and sustains itself. For example, we desperately need to know more about how to develop the spiritual muscle to organize across rural and urban divides, race, age, and political loyalties.

Not only do we need bold new ideas, but we also need to surface the stories and practices of leaders doing this work. To address these needs, Auburn is partnering with the Nathan Cummings Foundation to support a set of 7 fellows who represent resilient leadership in these regions. To learn more about these fabulous leaders and their work click here

Caitlin Breedlove is Vice President for Movement Leadership at Auburn and Lisa Anderson is Vice President for Embodied Justice Leadership at Auburn. 

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