5 Things I Learned in My First Year of Work
Reflections on a Year at Living Cities
1. The mark of a great leader is to amplify the leader in everyone.
I have been surrounded by leaders from the moment I joined Living Cities who have pushed me to believe in the inherent value in what I bring to the table, and to couple my curiosity with a self-assured faith in my ability to offer unique insights to our work.
From Tynesia Boyea scolding me for sitting mute on a conference call and not introducing myself as an intern (“people need to meet all of the wonderful people we have working at Living Cities!”) to JaNay Queen challenging me to speak out in TII meetings (“don’t think of yourself as young, because you don’t show up as young or inexperienced in a room”) to Jeff Raderstrong empowering me as a young staff member (“don’t ask me if you can go to the event — tell me you are going to the event!”) to Brittany DeBarros reminding me again and again that there is power in my voice (“I have watched you transform an entire room with your questions”), I have been surrounded by colleagues and leaders who have empowered me to make my voice heard, and to believe in the value of my opinion.
As a young woman of color entering the full-time workforce from a competitive college setting, I honestly have battled some pretty serious internalized inferiority and self-doubt this year. But the constant nudging from strong leaders around me has reminded me how small and simple it may seem, but how powerful it is to amplify rather than dampen the voices of staff of every rank, gender, race, and so on.
2. The world is hungry for real-time learning.
In conversations about the work that Living Cities does with other organizations in the field, the piece that often stands out as most innovative and unique is our commitment to learning in public and producing knowledge in real time. There is so much momentum to do good in this country, and cities are eager to learn about promising practices from one another. Living Cities has built an incredible platform to empower staff to share timely insights around both the successes and failures of our work to uplift low-income people in U.S. cities. This ability to accelerate learning through our evidence-building process will continue to be of crucial importance to our ability to effect results.
3. There is more than one way to talk about race.
When I entered the organization, I was nervous about being educated and equipped enough to say the “right” things when we talked about race. I believe this racial anxiety — whether it stems from pain for people of color, or often from guilt for non-POCs — is what hinders us from co-creating solutions and moving forward to action. How to convey oppression and trauma to people who have no firsthand experience with either remains a deep and pressing question in my mind, but what I am learning, through the training and conferences I have been fortunate enough to attend this year (and under the patient mentorship of Hafizah Omar and Nadia Owusu), is that there is more than one way to discuss the issue in a way that is authentic to you and your experience with race and racism. It’s just crucial that you have a genuine desire to embrace the mindset of a humble student and commit yourself to the process.
4. Genuinely engaging community is crucial.
Whatever community looks like — whether it be residents of the cities you work in or the staff of your organization — engaging the community you serve, who is impacted by your decisions, at every stage of your work and with fidelity is the only way to determine that the work you do accomplishes not just what you believe is best for people, but what is actually most powerful for transforming the lives of people on the ground. This is particularly important from our balcony-view perspective in the philanthropic field.
5. Changing hearts and minds takes time.
I have faith in the collective impact approach because it just makes sense that large-scale change cannot be achieved by one sector alone, and that we need data to track the outcomes we care about. And I am also learning that shifting entire sectors and systems takes time, patience, and dedicated leaders who are constantly driving the work forward.
With these insights and the countless others I have gained this year, I hope to be one of those leaders.