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A Space of Our Own: Reclaiming Personal & Community Power

February 13, 2019

One of our CCL alums, Ashleigh Eubanks, reflects back on their time with the CCL Apprenticeship Program.

When I think back to my time as an Apprentice in the Center for Community Leadership (CCL) program 5 years ago, the first image that comes to mind is of a group of about 10 of us huddled together on the carpeted floor in the ANHD office. With shoes off and hearts open, we shared the latest challenges in our organizing work and lives. Our CCL sessions served not only as a space to learn valuable skills to support us in building power in our communities, but also as an opportunity for us to problem solve and share strategies with the support of our peers and mentors Angelica and Ericka.

As Apprentices, we were tasked with what felt like the impossible - to inspire and lead change in our communities. It wasn’t that we didn’t believe change was possible, we entered into our Apprenticeship bright eyed, hopeful, and ready to do the work. However, the hours were long, well beyond a full-time job. The expectations were high as many of us were there to develop, sustain, and win campaigns all within a ten-month period. The pay of course was low, and while poverty wasn’t new for many of us, the work was important and we were moving from a place of love for our people and we wanted and needed that to be sustainable.

When it came to our cohort, we were a charming and eclectic bunch of queer, trans, young, femme, gender non-conforming, black and brown rabble rousers. For us that also meant that we were the misfits even within our communities. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves and each other, “What if people don’t listen to us?” “What power do we have to influence?” “How do we challenge these systems and ideologies that are all around us?” So, while we were doing the work of reclaiming power with our tenant associations, youth groups, parents and others, we were also reclaiming our personal power.

One of the biggest challenges for me while I was in the Apprenticeship was wanting the work that I was doing to be deeper, louder, direct, honest, and risky. However, I along with many of my comrades found ourselves faced with the limits of doing community organizing work under non-profits. Many non-profits and NGOs run liberal and reformist programs under the guise of radical language. That was a sobering reality that we had to accept and learn how to navigate. For me, I began to make a distinction between my “life work” and “paid work”. My life work, I came to understand as “passion work” that is often unpaid, more radical, and more impactful. I found my own political home and committed myself to showing up to meetings and mobilizations led by my comrades. My “paid work” I came to understand as what paid the bills, and while I intended for it to also be social change work that is also meaningful, I didn’t let it define me or limit my contributions to the movement. No matter what I was getting paid to do, I was and am committed to justice.

If I had to share the top 4 lessons that continue to inform how I move through the world post CCL, they would be:

1. Whenever there is information or opportunities made available to you, share it. I have this one friend who half jokes that I am always trying to organize him. When we make plans to hang out I am known for inviting him to some other political or social event. I realized that this says something about my values. We have to lift up our people always! After I went through CCL, I told my friends and organizations that I thought would benefit from it and they ended up joining too! When job opportunities or leadership opportunities open up, I share with friends and offer recommendations and praise. If a door opens for me, I try to always remind myself to bring someone with me as I walk through it.

2. Build a practice of giving and receiving feedback. This is how we remain accountable to ourselves, each other, and our mission. Many of the issues we were confronted with as Apprentices could have been more easily solved if there were more opportunities for giving and receiving feedback. Our culture is obsessed with perfectionism so most of us fear being wrong and messing up, especially people with power and status. There is a need for feedback to be shared in non-hierarchical ways. I noticed how often Executive Directors, CEOs, and other executive staff were resistant to or dismissive of feedback from others. When there is space for compassionate and constructive feedback communication is better, problems are solved more quickly, and there is shared respect amongst co-workers and comrades. This is something I learned during my time with CCL.

3. No struggle is a new struggle; we should not work in isolation. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was cis-hetero-white supremacist patriarchy. So that means people have been engaged in resistance for as long as these oppressive systems have existed and it is crucial to learn from the people who came before us and the people that are alongside us now. I loved connecting with elders when I was working with community gardeners. In CCL, we broke down those walls that often keep our movement work in silos. Some of us organized with youth, others parents, others tenant associations. We all had so much to learn and something to share. I also can’t tell you how vital it is to have a friend who knows housing laws in New York City. We all benefited from that.

4. Self-care and community care is essential. Our movement spaces are inflicted by this disease known as martyrdom. We believe that no one will do it if we don’t and that there is not enough time to rest, to reflect, to take care of ourselves. When I was in CCL, I appreciated how much we talked about self-care. We even created wellness plans together and had accountability partners. This work is lifetimes long and we owe it to ourselves and our communities to take care of ourselves.

I will forever cherish the gift that was CCL. I realize how fortunate I was to have access to a space like that to learn, grow, challenge, and be challenged. To be surrounded by people who believe in justice and to actually have the time every week to figure out how we would achieve it was a true blessing. As an alum, I want to continue to come back to give and receive and participate in this collective process of building the power we need to truly liberate us all.

 

 

Interested in Reclaiming Community & Personal Power Yourself?

Applications for the next CCL cohort (September 2019 – June 2020) are now available, through Tuesday, April 16th!

  • Click here to access the Apprentice application
  • Click here to access the Apprentice Host Site application
  • Click here to access the Organizing Academy Introductory Course Application
  • Click here to access the Organizing Academy Advanced Course Application

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