Leadership GOO Reflection
Working Definition of Leadership
Leadership has always been very service oriented for me. Growing up in my family, that is how I saw it lived out and how I was expected to as well. For me, there is no higher calling, nothing more precious than to serve and bring pride to my family and community. I have attempted to do this through my arts leadership, centering the voices of Black people, specifically queer Black people and traditional African American music, be it through performance or research. While I don’t think that cornerstone of my leadership practice will change, this course has caused me to reevaluate and assess the ways in which I serve community. Coming into the class I viewed leadership as service for and to community and now I am working towards practicing leadership as service in and with community. This change in practice is critical to the work I want to do because it invites others into the work with me. The former held service as something only I can give and as something I only knew the correct, most effective way to engage in. The latter, working definition, holds me accountable to my community. It asks me to be with them on our journey to liberation, rather than to send them a postcard once I arrive and map of how to get there. We must get there together.
During much of my work in the arts, I felt like I have been on a journey to get a spot at the table and a spot for everyone else too. I used to say that “the table is big enough for everyone”, and now I view that as naïve. The problem isn’t who is represented at the table now. It’s not even about when we get to the table, who is there first or who gets there last. The problem is the table itself. To be frank, I did not have a firm understanding of colonization prior to this class and now I see it everywhere. I see that ways in which I have been affected by it and the ways in which I have subscribed to it. This has been illuminated for me by Tuhiwai-Smith (2012) who says, “By ‘naming the world’ people name their realities” (p. 159). Colonialism has given the west the power to name and claim places and peoples who have already been named and claimed. As someone who has been named by white men, particularly white men in red trucks, I have experienced the silencing, erasing effects of that naming. Today, I don’t seek to understand who is not at the table, instead I question why it is a table and who decided that it had to be one. I am exploring in my current arts leadership practice, if I am serving the table, already sitting at the table, or trying to set the table on fire.
Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples(2nd ed.). Zed Books.
Neither my Blackness, nor my queerness will seek to be right, they will not seek validation. Not in art. Not in leadership. They will only seek to exist in time and space as an offering, an insight to how I have observed myself in relation to and with others. As I have only had this one body, I can only speak from its mouth. I can only type from its hands. I can only create from its heart.
There are many bodies like mine but the one I currently possess exists in its own unique singularity. It is not my intent to speak for other bodies but instead to offer how this one body speaks for itself, how this body has been designed to occupy the space around it.
In this one body, I will recognize that there are many, a congregation of other bodies that stretch back to the beginning of time. In knowing this truth, it is not my goal to speak for them but with them, for the breath that gives this body life is a result of their living. Their pain, their joy, their sorrows, their dreams live in tandem with my own; creating harmony, dissonance, and even silence.
I will use my mouth to speak power to my testimony. I will use it to destroy all systems which carry the goal to smother it and the testimonies of others who have been made to experience living as in similar ways as I do.
As I climb, I shall not climb alone. As I lift, I shall not lift alone. As I struggle, I must be bold enough, not to struggle alone.
Arts Leadership Operating System
This year, more than usual, I have felt like my professional, academic, and personal lives have started to goo together, and not entirely in bad ways. This is in part because I am living, learning, and working in the same room and have been for several months. When I enter a work meeting, I cannot escape the textbooks on my desk. Similarly, when I enter class, I am coming off a day spent working as a leader in the arts sector during a global pandemic. Both experiences are also shaded and influenced by my being a queer Black man living in a world that has now been invited into my bedroom. While not bad goo, it is definitely sticky.
In my professional life as the Education Programs Manager at the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, I want to challenge the structures of my organization that are steeped in colonialism and “status quo”. This has already started in my push to pay all of our interns, especially because we have the budget and means to do so. While prompting my Executive Director about this, she said something to the effect of “everyone else does it”. Although I have not had a leadership position in the organization for a long time, I am using what influence and agency I do have to urge the white leadership at my organization to adopt anti-racist policies and practices. As the only Black, queer, and male identifying staff member, I want to be more comfortable exploring what leadership style works for me, not what works to please those in power.
Academically, for this coming year I want to get out of my own way. I want to take more risk with the work that I do by asking better questions and not being afraid of not finding the answers. It has taken me a while to feel that I am doing school “right”, but now I am pushing myself to let that go. It does not serve me to be right. I often find myself struggling to put into words exactly what it is that I want to say in academia because I am trying to find the correct way to say it rather than expressing how I feel it.
I've found that I struggle to tell people what my hobbies are. Because my entire life has revolved around the arts and education, what I study, what I do has become who I am. What used to be hobbies when I was 10 are now my career. I want to explore what excites me outside of the arts and outside of social justice. What are the things I like to do just for fun? If I find what those things are, and maybe even start doing them, it is my hope that I will begin to experience more balance in my life.
In the next two years I would like to:
Implement anti-racist community engagement practices in non-profit arts organizations.
Articulate the need for a racial equity lens in arts programming and policy with local government.
Start the process for creating a community arts center in Baltimore
Have a research paper published in an academic journal
Finish my first draft the play I started two years ago called “The Other Kind”
Find more ways to experience and share the music that I love with others
I will enhance and engage m leadership as a practice of intersectional and decolonial justice within the arts by:
Continuing to read and learn about colonization and the ways in which it influences work within the arts sector
Expanding my network of arts leaders and collaborators to include others who are impacted my multiple systems of power and oppression which are different from my own.
Amplifying the testimonies of others who are oppressed through the arts
Releasing the “names” I have given others and their environment, and instead allowing them to name the world and how they experience it for themselves
Self-Evaluation of Learning
At the beginning of this quarter, I was deep in the goo. Coming off the heels of protesting for weeks, experiencing the 1st and 2nd waves of COVID, and racial turmoil within my organization, I was entering into class with a lot on my mind and heart. I am ending the quarter still in goo, deeply, but for different reasons. Starting this program was scary. Not only because I had significant imposter syndrome, but for a while it felt like the arts sector was doomed. Almost all of my friends lost their jobs; many of my mentors and teachers did as well. In DC, regional theaters, museums, and even the Smithsonian had shut down with no plans of reopening. I feared that I was entering into a dying industry. Today, I am less in the goo of fear and more in the goo of ideas and of creation.
Over the course of this quarter, I have intentionally worked harder at fully listening to others. Whether it was during a class discussion, providing or receiving peer feedback, or working on the creative group project, I wanted to become more aware of how much virtual “space” I took up. I know that I have large personality and that I can be influential in group settings. I wanted to see what it would be like to allow others to fill more room than I did. I did not accomplish this perfectly, but I did engage in this work diligently and more than I have in the past. I need to listen more. What could it mean to let go of an idea that I think is good and perfect and instead allow someone else’s idea to flourish and take flight? This is something I will be working on constantly.
By engaging in the testimonies of others in the class, I was not only able to get to know everyone better, and in a deeper more meaningful way, but I was invited to see how my cohort had arrived to where they are now in their own leadership practice. I found myself, thinking back the testimonies of others as I worked with them because it informed how they showed up in the space. In my work at the DC Collaborative, I have begun sharing parts of my own testimony with the staff and leadership and have asked for theirs as well. Although I am not sure if full authentic leadership truly exist, I do believe I can strive to be more authentic and more present with my histories while engaging in leadership. I can also invite others to do the same.
While I will take away learning from the readings and class discussions, I found our guest speakers inspirational and profound. I appreciated what they were all from diverse backgrounds and social identities. From each of them, in one way or another, it was made clear that where I am and with what I have is enough to lead in the arts. As Gen-Zer and emerging arts leader, at time I feel that I am still “waiting my turn” in the arts sector. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that there is no time to wait. The world needs me now. It needs my ideas, it needs my heart, and it needs my story.
The final line of the podcast is a question; “what of my future self is in me right now?” I may not have the answer to that question at the moment, but I am not afraid to keep searching for it. My future will always be informed by my past, by the legacies and histories within me. I don’t intend to let those parts of me go. I want to learn more of how to use that past as a tool for inclusive and intersectional leadership in the arts sector. My purpose for being in this program is not just to receive three fancy letters behind my name. I am tired of the arts being too white, too straight, and too male dominated and I want to be a part of the work to end that. I have the feeling and the passion to create the change I want to see, but I am still gathering the tools to do the work. As you put it in your lecture, I cannot use blunt tools for progressive causes. Throughout this course I have been trying to use more tools, newer and better ones. That work doesn’t stop now; I am just getting my toolkit started.