Global Connect! Gender Justice Writing Project

Part: 1

Leaders Who Are Women of Color: Take a Deep Breath

Friday, August 12, 2011

Page 2 of 2

"The clock ran out a long time ago, our communities where in crisis way before this one was published and I am not apologetic about saying it," says Jean,. As executive director during this hard time Jean goes to bed every day thinking about her staff and her membership who have to deal with evictions, public assistance and losing their jobs, while also struggling with paying her own bills and rent in the same way her members struggle. As a result Jean works up to 70 hours a week and sometimes around the clock to provide economic sustainability and healthcare for her staff. However, this year FUREE has lost half its budget but doing about 75 percent of the same work, while funders continue to have three times as high of standards to produce because she is a women of color.

According to "Daring to Lead 2011," beyond their organizations' balance sheets, the recession has taken a personal toll on executives; 65 percent. of executives reported significant levels of recession-related anxiety.

However, despite the exhaustion in her voice, Jean laughs as she tells me that this is her life's purpose, to challenge the system but something has got to change, she cannot win this fight on her own. So for the past year, Valery has not only embarked on a journey of self-care but has taken her staff along and is using this economic crisis to build alliances within and outside of the organization.

Today, Valery creates space to take care of herself: She journals, rants on Face Book, plays games and spends more time with her children. As executive director, her and her staff have created a space to address personal challenges and respecting each other as human beings first.

As a result there is a lot more communication and support. we operate more as a team now" says Jean. "Together, we have created a women-centered model because we know we cannot organize without addressing our needs,". This is one of the major accomplishments for her today. In addition, the most important accomplishment to date has been that organizationally she has developed one on one relationship with other executive directors from Mothers on the Move and the North West Bronx Clergy Coalition.

Valery Jean has come full circle since her organizing days at Hunter College, where she took classes on race, class and gender disparities. In spite of what she has gone through, she believes that this recession is a great opportunity for funders to support organizations led by people of color led. However, they must first look at the quality of life for social justice leaders and how much is being requested of them.

"The political landscape and public policy are shifting at a fast rate and it takes lot of energy and time to address them because they cannot be predicted and forecasted," says Valery as she finally advocates for self-care, urging funders to think about pay rates so executive directors can pay themselves and their staff what they are worth.

As for other executive directors, women of color and women on the front lines, Jean has an important message for you, BREATHE!

"I know self-care seems like a long path but it only takes five minutes to breathe and reflect, take a pause and check in on how you are feeling" and NETWORK! "Make sure you have a supportive network of people that you can vent with."


For more information about FUREE log on to FUREE is a Brooklyn-based multiracial organization made up of almost exclusively women of color. We organize low-income families to build power to change the system so that all people's work is valued and all of us have the right and economic means to decide and live out our own destinies.

This blog was originally published on In Bold Rebirth, read the original post at


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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