by Myani Guetta-Gilbert and Diana Paredes
The outcomes of the recent presidential elections were deeply devastating and many in our communities are still reeling from its shock. Nevertheless, the collective anger we have felt has in one way or another mobilized us – some of us have taken to the streets, and others have set their gaze on city government. At Puget Sound Sage, we believe that the path forward is transformative change at the local level that must be led by people of color. With this vision in mind, we are eager to announce the launch of our 2017 Community Leadership Institute, and we are currently looking for the next round of community leaders to apply (application can be found here).
For over ten years now, Puget Sound Sage has been working to create an environment of shared prosperity in the Puget Sound region. Our work combines research, innovative public policy and organizing to ensure all people have an affordable place to live, a good job, a clean and healthy environment and access to public transportation. Our mission is guided by values that place race and social equity at the core of the policy solutions we strive for.
Sage’s work is driven by long-term partnerships with organizations that represent various communities of color and labor organizations. Thanks to our key partners of South Communities Organizing for Racial/Regional Equity (South CORE), a multi-racial coalition of community and member-based organizations, we have been successful in achieving policy changes that address the intersectional disparities that affect communities of color and low -income communities throughout the Puget Sound Region.
South CORE, along with many grassroots groups and leaders in the movement are too frequently asked to sit at different tables, often not knowing which will actually offer space with real decision making power. Leaders of our movement are spread so thin, that it becomes critical to grow and build up the capacity of local leadership if we are going to truly make an impact at the systems level. The critical role that South CORE leaders have played in advancing a racial equity agenda has alerted us to the need for increased efforts to harness leadership in low-income and communities of color. For this reason, we decided to launch the Community Leadership Institute (CLI).
Although the benefits of inclusive representation are widely acknowledged, barriers to entry into decision-making positions continue to hinder people of color’s ability to influence long-term planning and policy in our region. In particular, people of color are under-represented on the boards, commissions and advisory bodies that influence major policy decisions at the local and regional level. Sage’s Community Leadership Institute helps emerging leaders of color overcome these barriers by serving as a leadership pipeline that resources, educates and places emerging leaders of color on municipal boards and commissions.
Once placed on a board or commission, CLI graduates lead with a racial equity agenda. Deep transformation at the local and regional policy level requires a dual approach. The daily work at these decision-making tables means applying a transformative, racial justice framework to any plan or policy that is being considered. But we’re also working to reduce barriers to entry, to create an environment for even more people of color to be at the decision-making table.
Sage’s Community Leadership Institute helps emerging leaders of color overcome these barriers by serving as a leadership pipeline that resources, educates and places emerging leaders of color on municipal boards and commissions. Once placed on a board or commission, CLI graduates lead with a racial equity agenda. Deep transformation at the local and regional policy level requires a dual approach. The daily work at these decision-making tables means applying a transformative, racial justice framework to any plan or policy that is being considered. But we’re also working to reduce barriers to entry, to create an environment for even more people of color to be at the decision-making table.
Last year, our Community Leadership Institute graduated twenty emerging leaders representing various communities, including the East African, Filipinx, African American, Latinx, immigrant/refugee, and LGBTQ communities, among others. Out of these twenty graduates, eleven have already been placed in municipal boards and commissions in Seattle and King County. Over the course of six months, fellows learned about equitable development, land use and planning, transit justice, climate justice, economic development and the history of policies that have shaped inequitable distribution of resources across these sectors.
Additionally, CLI participants gained technical knowledge of government processes, such as municipal budgeting, parliamentary procedures, the art of politics and lawmaking as well as advocacy, storytelling and communication skills.
Through the CLI, participants like Laurie Rocello Torres, a self-identified “queer Filipina community organizer” attained a seat at the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee (a committee that monitors city transportation funding). As a commissioner, Laurie advocates for planning that is accountable to the needs of the community she comes from.
Looking back at her experience in last year’s CLI Laurie states, “I was part of a brilliant cohort of thoughtful, compassionate, and motivated change makers. I cannot recommend this Leadership Institute highly enough.” Like Laurie, other graduates also testified to the transformative effect of being part of a collective learning experience that centered people of color at the core of policy change.
In addition to the curriculum, an essential component of the CLI program is the fierce leaders who teach the material. CLI presenters include Ubax Gardheere, former Program Director (who lead last year’s CLI) at Puget Sound Sage and current Equity Strategies Manager in Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development.
Ubax, a self-identified “Somali/Muslim American ‘Bureactivist’ rooted in transformative practice” is committed to justice, and for her that meant bringing underrepresented communities into true advocacy and civic engagement.
Thanks to the dedication of exemplary leaders like Ubax, the CLI also serves as a medium where emerging leaders of color can build long-lasting, meaningful connections with established leaders in whom they see themselves reflected. Through our change-making curriculum and meaningful connections, the CLI taps into the power of local leaders and catalyzes innovative vision for change.
The attacks against communities of color and low-income communities three months into the new federal administration have made it clearer than ever that achieving a vision for shared prosperity will require the participation of each and every one of us. Changing oppressive systems must begin by changing the people who sustain them. The CLI is an opportunity to be part of that change!
This year’s Community Leadership Institute will launch in October 2017, and end in April, 2018 and will be open to all ages 18 and older. CLI workshops will take place every first Saturday of the month from 9:30-5:30pm, and every third Wednesday from 5:30-7:30pm. While the Saturday workshops are just for CLI fellows, the Wednesday workshops are open to the public. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to further your leadership skills and become an agent of change! For application instructions and further details on the CLI, please click here.
Myani Guetta-Gilbert is the Coalition Organizer at Puget Sound Sage. She leads Sage’s SouthCORE coalition and Community Leadership Institute. Myani also organizes for climate justice, partnering with Got Green to lead coalition work with local partners.
Diana Paredes is the Equitable Development & Climate Justice Fellow at Puget Sound Sage. Her work involves supporting the SouthCORE Coalition with community organizing and leadership development for Sage’s Community Leadership Institute
Featured image courtesy of Puget Sound Sage