“When I look at you, I see myself. If my eyes are unable to see you as my sister, it is because my own vision is blurred. And if that be so, then it is I who need you either because I do not understand who you are, my sister, or because I need you to help me understand who I am.” Lillian Pierce Benbow, Past National President, Delta Sigma Theta Inc. 1971-1975
Although divided geographically by the Atlantic Ocean with a total of 7,903 miles apart from Raleigh- Durham Airport to the Cape Town Airport, I have come to realize that the experiences and problems faced by so many black Africans in South Africa is very similar to the struggles people of color face here in the United States. When I looked into the eyes of the people within the townships of Cape Town, I didn’t see something other… I saw myself. I saw my life experiences being reflected throughout the culture both expressed and witnessed. I wondered how that could be possible. It weighed very heavily on my heart. How do we shift the sobering reality that exists post-apartheid and civil rights? The injustices that continue to permeate throughout our communities leave us with broken promises spoken by those who only want to get elected but no fulfillment insight. The people no longer want reparations, they are calling for restitution. Where is the hope? As we met with the J L Zwaane Presbyterian Church community, I saw a glimmer of hope. It was the beginning of a new day. An opportunity for us to sit with the tension and not only reflect but feel compelled to respond. It was an awakening of leaders to see the pain and recognize the generational impact of systemic oppression. Furthermore, it was being awaken to understanding how our own power, privilege and race impact our communities, our cities, and our countries. It is true what Nelson Mandela said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
“Pain which is not transformed is transmitted“-Wilhelm Verwoerd, grandson of former South African Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd who was responsible for the racial policies enforced in the apartheid.
As we work collectively to turn our common suffering into hope, how do we as leaders transform pain and not transmit it? Rev. Michelle Boonzaaier, with IAM.org, in her lecture session exhorted us by reminding us that being a leader means being an embodied presence. We have to be willing to be vulnerable and open. She stated “anytime I find myself uncomfortable to engage with people is a place where I can encounter God”. As leaders a part of our responsibility is to take risks and sit within the tension that exists on the fringes. Our vulnerability becomes transformational through relationships. When we engage in relationships with one another we all bring our truths. As leaders, we must hold our biblical truths lightly within the space we have created to foster our relationships. We cannot force our truths but give room for genuine connection through listening and understanding. It does not mean we make all things permissive but we understand the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to bring Truth and transformation in our lives. Our challenge as leaders is to allow our impact and influence to come through real, truthful and honest relationships.
I found myself, at times, uncomfortable and challenged with what I was witnessing and experiencing at our Advance. Instead of resisting it, I embraced it. Our lead mentor Dr. Jason Clark encouraged us to jump in with both feet. Leaning into these experiences requires our whole bodies and presence. In doing so, I was able to engage others in our program in deeper dialogue about the racial issues and injustices that existed in both South Africa and America. We created a space that made room for us to become vulnerable and uncomfortable in order to grow. I am grateful for those opportunities.
“Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.”– Nelson Mandela
As leaders our values are at the core of who we are and how we lead. It is one thing to say what are values are it is another to see how they are shared and applied. When we visited Learn to Earn, I found myself both inspired and challenged. What are the values that dictate how I lead and engage with others? What do those values say about who I am? I wish I can say that I have the answers to these questions but I do not. What I am blessed to have is a wealth of knowledge and experience afforded through this advance opportunity. For that I am eternally grateful. I hope that I continue to look across the ocean and see myself in order to connect our compassion together to establish hope for the future.
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The Alpha Eta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, January 13, 2012, , accessed October 13,
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 Erika Andersen, “15 Inspiring Quotes From Nelson Mandela On Leadership, Change And Life,” Forbes, December
05, 2013, , accessed October 13, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2013/08/21/15-inspiring-