This past week I attended the American Express Leadership Academy in New York for 4 days and 4 nights. Co-led by the Stonewall Community Foundation and the Center for Creative Leadership I joined 71 other leaders from organizations like Lamba Legal, the Trevor Project, GLSEN and the Anti-Violence Project. All connected by professional and personal missions to improve quality of life for LBGTQ communities, I went into the week with equal parts trepidation and excitement.
Excited because a conference of this caliber would be a first for me as a nonprofit founder, I saw this as an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals while receiving the benefits of sessions with an executive coach and in-depth assessments of my leadership style. But I was also really nervous. Seeing my bio listed alongside such reputable agencies I couldn’t help but see in them all the things that Represented lacked: full-time staff, large donor pools and national recognition. Additionally, many leaders came to the program as teams, sending more than one employee per organization. Feeling a little like the only new kid on th
Among the panels, one included co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Marsha P. Johnson Foundation, Elle Hearns. In her appearance, one line stood out to me, that “above all else, leadership is personal.” In asking Elle, and a few other founders in the program how they attracted early support to their companies, I was asked to consider how I had gotten into the room. Prior to the selection, I was actually told that my organization’s mission didn’t reflect the focus of the week, disqualifying me from eligibility. My response was to reach out, and advocate for myself, --describing just how my intersectionality of being Black, Queer, First Generation (US citizen and college graduate) weren’t separate experiences for me, but intricately woven into my motivation to support POC social entrepreneurs. That attitude, I was told, was exactly the type of personal connection, that would ensure Represented be a success.
As we look forward to welcoming our next cohort of Black and Latinx social entrepreneurs in January, I’m reminded to keep it personal. Greater than my revere of imposter syndrome is my anticipation for hiring our first staff and delivering the greatest incubator yet. Mostly I’m looking forward to leaning into my authenticity as a leader in a way that helps our incoming cohort find their own.