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Centering Women of Color Leaders

July 12, 2016

By: Kristelyn Berry, Senior Safety Net Coordinator, National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)

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“If we want equity, we need diversity” –Marley Dias

Let’s face the facts. In the domestic and sexual violence movement, women of color are being pushed out or not considered for leadership and management positions in both local, state, and national organizations. There is an invisible ceiling that exists where middle and upper management is not a reality for many women of color. In order to combat the very real perils that women of color face in these organizations, the Women of Color Network, Inc. (WOCN) and the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) created the Leadership Education and Advancement of Professionals (LEAP) Fellowship Program. In March, I had the honor and the opportunity of being selected to be a part of this groundbreaking project.

This comprehensive project exists to enhance the skills of women of color and create a community of leaders working in both the domestic and sexual violence fields. The LEAP Fellows achieve this in a number of ways. For example, LEAP Fellows are asked to “pay it forward” by providing two in-person trainings, online trainings, or podcasts for at least 10 women of color participants. These trainings will be based on what we have learned over the course of the year. LEAP Fellows are also expected to write blogs over the course of the program that will be published widely. These tasks will help us utilize the information that we have learned and allow us to expand our networks.

The LEAP Fellowship is important because there are few spaces that exist where women of color (or women, period) can come together to talk about their current roles in their organizations, their struggles and triumphs, and have in-depth, comprehensive trainings on skills like budget and finance management, mastering public speaking, or board development. These trainings usually exist separately and are usually not in the context of learning all of these much-needed skills at once. It is equally important to build a community where women of color are supported by one another and are able to share their feelings with other women who understand their unique plight.

To be clear, this group is not all gloom and doom. We are already a successful group of emerging leaders in our organizations that will change the paradigm of women of color in the movement. We will strive to seek equity in our organizations by holding ourselves and our organizations to high standards. We understand what lies ahead of us and we will rise to meet those challenges. I look forward to working with this dynamic group of women and to sharing my experiences along the way.

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