When Survivors Lead: A Global Conversation...

Posted November 11, 2017 from United States
When survivors lead: A global conversation.

I became an Executive Director in 2004 with just the experience of running programs and shadowing my supervisor. Being the Executive Director put me on the frontline of not just leading an entire organization, but having my own personal story of violence be at the forefront of my leadership as well. This required me to go through my healing's best and worst parts in front of my staff, my co-workers, and the community I worked for and with.

I had no idea when I took on leadershipthat my healing journey was going to be very important. I would soon learn that leading is not just about what you are doing, but also who you are being, what you are thinking about yourself, and what you think you deserve.

I found that the more I supervised staff and supported them in their healing my own story ofbeing adopted, going through child sexual abuse and domestic violence, or anything else I’d experienced early on in my life had anything to do with how I was leading and being a leader. It wasn't that I was oppressive or violent. It was something much more dangerous than that.

Despite the fact that my community saw me as a powerful organizer and healer, somewhere inside of me I’d internalized that no one loved me. I believed that every time someone left the organization they were in fact leaving me. I believed that every time something went wrong or a participant didn't return, it was my fault, and that when we didn't get that grant, the loss was well deserved because nothing I did was good enough anyway.

I didn't know that in order to fight for justice out in the world I would first need to find justice for the violence I had experienced in my own life.I didn't realize that as an Executive Director, I also needed safe spaces and healing spaces. I needed sisterhood and community, spirituality and faith, politics and feminism. I had to forgive myself and others.

I’m aware now more than ever that when we co-exist in work places and homes and communities with people who have the same story of trauma and violence, the impactis far greater than anystory of trauma and violence we come to the work with already.

As I worked with more and more women I became more and more convinced that the trauma of violence isat the center of how we show up in leadership.Yet, it is difficult to get women on the front linesto disclose their stories and break the silence. We are trained that we must have boundaries and hold our personal lives confidential.In movements and communities we are afraid to share our stories because the community is too small and people will gossip. Most of the violence that occurs in social change is swept under the rug for fear of breaking confidentiality, or having no systems in place to hold accountability.

So what happens when we work in organizations that perpetuate the same ills we’re trying to dismantle? Where are the safe spaces for women survivors and victims to do their own healing?

I would love to know if this is a global experience?

Do survivorsin Nigeria, Peru, etc who lead organizations and social movements experiencing the same things?

What would a safe space of healing and leadership look like for survivors and victims in your country look like?

How has your experience with violence shaped you as a leader?

From one survivor to the next and In BOLD Leadership DEE

Comments 3

Log in or register to post comments
Cathy Russell
Nov 12, 2017
Nov 12, 2017

Continue to stay strong and keeping your Faith in God and all you're dreams and blessings will become a reality

Jill Langhus
Nov 12, 2017
Nov 12, 2017

Hi Dayanara. Thanks for sharing your story on leadership and also about your background. It's my experience, coming for a dysfuctional and abusive background, that I had to quickly sweep any of that under the rug. Any mention or even hint to anyone about it over time, quickly taught me to zip it. I felt ashamed for what had happened with no outlet, other than traditional therapy when I finally was out on my own. When I was at any job, it was the same thing. I would try to bond with other women and to get them to open up, but I felt like I was repelling their friendship every time I tried to open up. When I finally did to a woman that I was expressing myself to, she told me to basically stop whining. While I was reeling for sometime after that, I eventually saw this as a wake up call, but it took a long time, and I definitely didn't trust anyone for a long time after that to open up to again. Now, I just started a local FB group where I'm trying to get women to open up more. I'm not sure if it will work or not, but I do feel that sisterhoods and women opening up more and trusting each other more is key to moving forward towards a healthier and more balanced world. I think women have been taught to please everyone and not speak up. I can definitely relate to not feeling good enough and feeling like everything is my fault. It seems like there needs to be more supportive environments, like on here, for women and girls to feel safe and supported. I can see there are more on the rise, and I've found a couple super supportive and loving groups on FB, finally, but it still seems like a work in progress, and I'm still trying to figure out how to get more engagement and sharing on my site. I recently had a wonderful experience in a FB group that was very refreshing. It was an 8 week long commitment for women to share what their dreams, hopes, fears, etc., were, and I had never experienced this environment before where I could not only trust women, but also feel very loved and supported in the group. I feel like WP does this, but it took it to another level of intimacy and deep diving that isn't really the set up for this forum. I hope this answered some of your questions...!?

Harris Namutebi
Aug 11, 2018
Aug 11, 2018

Hi Dayanara,
The little I have learnt through personal experience is believing in what change you want to make.Healing begins with talking about it and you can best walk that journey of leadership when you are open to yourself,accept that you are part of a bigger team that needs healing.