Global Connect! Gender Justice Writing Project

Part: 4

Mothers on the Move Signals Solidarity in South Bronx

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"I was 100 pound lighter before I became an executive director," shares Wanda Salaman as she offers me fruit that she is eating for lunch as part of her self-care action plan this year.

"People don't understand how hard it is for an executive director to make decisions," says Salaman. There are days that she doesn't sleep, being stressed about everything, "I m not only carrying the whole community on my shoulders, but also staff as well, making sure they have bread on the table."

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In addition, Salaman shares that when she is stressed she does not show it and keeps it within adding to the anxiety she already has. She also believes that this is a cut-throat business so she guards what she can tell people and as a result she feels like she does not have a safe space to express issues that may arise for her personally or about the work.

"I am not the best in practice yet, but I know that working 70 or more hours a week is not sustainable, actually, it's not cool. I have learned over the past year that if you have people take care of themselves, they have more love for the work, if not then you develop a cycle where the movement is on their backs" says Salaman.

In 2010, the Movement Strategy Center published Out of the Spiritual Closet: Organizers Transforming the Practice of Social Justice, validating the sentiments of Salaman. The report is the first in a series looking at how leaders and organizations are transforming the social justice movement by integrating transformative and spiritual practice.

The report contextualizes the stories of social justice organizers as they deal with leading within the current global environmental, economic and political crises.

Confronted with the burnout, isolation and fragmentation so common in the progressive movement, many leaders are seeking a "new way" to practice social justice -- a way that can meet the challenges of our time, sustain our leaders and transform our movement and the world.

"For staff appreciation day, I took my staff to the spa. After everything we have been through this year, we all needed it and if we want to have a sustainable place then the people need to be sustained," says Salaman.

There were times over the last two years that the she and her staff did not get paid. They had to work together to have the necessary foods to eat and depended on their partners and family for support. Salaman also lost some of her staff as they needed to go find other jobs. These where hard days in which she had to make hard decisions, either stop, become more dedicated or continue for the love of the work and for each other in the organization.

Salaman says, "There were a lot of days I couldn't sleep worried about closing down." There were questions running through her head like how do you pay Peter and leave Paul starving? And do you pay rent or pay staff?

Knowing that there are other organizations with a lot more money, one of the biggest questions Salaman had to ask herself was: Does her organization go under another organization and possibly lose their identity but knowing the staff will be okay?

The sad part about all of this is that Salaman is not alone. She is one of over 100 women of color executive directors in New York City having to ask themselves the same questions. Since 2006, organizations have been feeling the impact of the economic crisis at devastating rates. "I know that there are a lot of executive directors going through the same things but not having the conversations as a group, says Salaman.

In 2006, collaborating organizations: Artemisa, Elige and CREA published the Self Care-Self Defense Manual for Feminist Activists providing a unique tool that supports women in social justice in working through "the breach that exists between our discourse on human rights and social justice, and the reality of the labor practices adopted by our organizations and work spaces."

They put this manual together because they believed that we don't recognize ourselves as workers with rights and duties and therefore create a "sacrifice" mentality that justifies forms of violence that we would never accept in a factory or workshop, yet continue to live with and perpetuate every day in our very own NGOs, collectives, and groups.

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Series Overview

Global Connect! Gender Justice Writing Project

Part: 9

A Woman In the Pursuit of Justice

Part: 8

Lives Cut Short: Trafficking from Mexico to New York

Part: 7

Family and Work: An Immigrant Woman's Dilemma

Part: 6

Poverty Is not Folklore for Indigenous Mexican Women

Part: 5

Bronx Playwright Creates to Engage Her Community

Part: 4

Mothers on the Move Signals Solidarity in South Bronx

Part: 3

Limitations of Language: A Barrier for mothers to overcome

Part: 2

A Mother is Murdered; Suspect Flees Again

Part: 1

Leaders Who Are Women of Color: Take a Deep Breath