What does leadership mean to you?

By: Renee Kim, MSW, LCSW, OCADSV Equity and Access Coordinator

In the world of domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, there are plenty of opportunities for leadership and sometimes your job title matches and other times not, what is most important is that you feel valued and respected for the job you currently hold at your agency.  You do not have to have the word director, manager, or supervisor in your job title to be a fabulous leader.  I define leadership by actions matching your words in the work place.  Many of us internalize messages we hear from our families, friends, and community around us to define ourselves and that can be either a positive or negative experience. If you identify yourself from a traditionally marginalized community you have other barriers to equity and access that are seen and unseen. 

For over 20 years, I have worked with numerous communities of color, immigrant and refugee populations as well as first-generation students; in non-profit, education, and government settings. I have been an advocate, manager, supervisor, counselor, and academic advisor. This variety has built a strong foundation for my professional and personal life. In addition, I have had the opportunity to be a part of several leadership and professional development programs and to be honest some were more enlightening than others. What was most important is how I applied theory to practice from those programs.

My experience from dominant culture leadership programs is that they move at a fast pace in which you develop an “elevator speech” and “network”. You find out who you need to know and buy them an expensive coffee or lunch and then you wait for something magical to happen. These types of expectations stem from privilege and a dominant culture lens. The leadership program that has made a lasting impact on me was The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI).  The program faculty are all people of color and taught the concept of Whole Person Leadership. This style of leadership looks at leadership on the individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels.

If you are a part of the OCADSV’s Communities of Color Task Force or POC Caucus you will learn quickly that I share a lot of what I have learned not only from the aforementioned jobs I have had but also from my APAWLI experience.  Much of my work has included mentorship programming and this will be paramount to my work at OCASDV. I was cared for by mentors at many stages of my life and many of those people saw something in me I never could see in myself.  The most memorable mentors led with humility, humor, and grace.

I encourage you to begin shifting your thinking about how you define leadership for yourself, your community and organization.  I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”

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