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Faithful Fools in the LeadStrong Fellowship

Silena and Leah at the Fools Court

Towards the end of 2022, one of our funders shared the call for applications to the Women of Color LeadStrong Fellowship. It appeared to be such a magnificent opportunity for members of our staff. Fast forward to today, one Fool (Silena) has completed a year of the program and another Fool (Leah) recently started as a participant. The LeaderSpring Center created the program as part of its commitment to fostering inclusive leadership and empowering Women of Color in their professional endeavors.

Our organizational YES, to Silena and Leah participating in the LeadStrong Fellowship program is symbolized by the large, red, quilted “YES” that hangs in the lobby of the Fool’s Court. YES! we say to supporting and empowering people, especially Women of Color, in becoming stronger leaders. It not only benefits them as individuals and our small Faithful Fools organization, but also the social sector more broadly and the communities in which we live and work.    

As a way of uplifting the voices of two Women of Color on our Fools team on International Women's Day, we share with you some reflections by Silena and Leah on their experiences thus far in the LeadStrong fellowship. 

Silena Layne, Class of 2024 African American Women LeadStrong: 12th Month

Silena with the African-American Women LeadStrong cohort at an Origin watch party

Being a LeadStrong Fellow has provided an expansive understanding of what it means to be my liberated self in the workplace and in life. Our group spends an intentional amount of time exploring what can and will elevate, heal, comfort, nourish and inspire the African American woman spirit. 

Silena supporting a co-fellow, Natalie, at her Educational Equity Walk event

This is the first cohort made up of only Black/African American identified people in the organization's history and the space is meant to heal us, shift our learning, assess how we lead and offer radical acceptance. The fellowship has taught me that I am not alone in how I have existed, performed, sustained and survived some workplace trauma in my career of more than 25 years. We have discussed and learned how to be accountable and forgive ourselves for adopting practices and standards that are counter-productive to our overall health and wellness. 

The cohort has modeled what it means to rest, be free and activate joy, peace and change that includes my history, my voice and my community. I am especially grateful for this fellowship opportunity being offered for an extended amount of time (two years instead of one) and look forward to applying the learned cultural awareness and leadership competencies to my career initiatives and personal practices for as long as I live.    

Leah Laxamana, Class of 2024 Women of Color LeadStrong: 1st Month

Leah with the Women of Color LeadStrong '24 cohort at the opening retreat. Photo by LeaderSpring Center.

From the start, I was simply grateful to discover that the LeadStrong program exists and knew it would be a transformative experience for anyone who goes through it. Even the  application process was thought provoking and powerful for me because it prompted my deep reflection on a range of themes including my identity as a woman of color (especially as a Filipina-American) and my leadership, and how these are defined by me and by society. 

Leah capturing the "in-between moments" at the retreat with new friends.

I was honored to be accepted into the fellowship and at a loss for words following the opening three-day retreat in February where I met awe-inspiring women who were everything and nothing like me. The sense of welcoming and belonging that was immediately palpable was striking, and so was the diversity of backgrounds, her-stories, and personalities. There was a universal feeling of being genuinely seen, heard, and held throughout our time together, and even when we delved deep into heavy and painful topics, tenderness and loving care still enveloped the group. All of this and as a backdrop we had Mother Earth in her full magnificence – the calmness of the bay, the singing of the birds, and the twinkling stars. In 2.5 days I was able to connect deeply with myself, my environment, and a new community of humans who choose to live their lives fully and purposefully including by giving all they can for others to get to do the same. 

I know mostly what to expect from the program based on the agenda outlined for the fellows, but I can only guess the extent of the learning, growth, and community building that will take place. Nevertheless, I am grateful and ready for the journey.

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