Building a Sisterhood at GMU: Final Session & Paying it Forward

Session 4: Leadership & Paying it Forward

By Krystal Marie Thomas

Catch up on previous posts hereherehere and here.

How does one become a leader? What defines a role model? Is it an intricate mark left on ones’ DNA or rather a sense of collective human consciousness that beckons individuals to fight for the needs of others? What is it about leaders that motivate us to follow their cause? Their words, possessing true power, inspire us to be better versions of ourselves and provide a new lens in which to see the world. How do we choose whom to follow? Do we look for people who share similarities to us? Or is it solely based on their merit or skill? Perhaps, it could be both.

Our final session was dedicated to defining what it means to be a leader or role model within the female Black community. To get started, we identified characteristics that generally describe leaders or role models: Compassionate, Strong, Intelligent, Determined, Motivated, Genuine, Focused, Inclusive, Purposeful, Empathetic.

Then, we thought about who among black female leaders/role models possessed those characteristics. Automatically, everyone’s mind went to Oprah. We all started to laugh, because after Oprah’s name was mentioned we all fell silent! It was almost as if Oprah was the only Black woman that could be seen as a leader in the Black community! We collectively knew this wasn’t true, but it exposed a deeper issue.

To get the juices flowing, we identified characters a female leader in the Black community would possess. We mentioned women who were connected to the Black community; women who wanted to create change and improve the lives of other Black women; and women who strived to challenge the negative stereotypes about Black women.

Read the article, “Are There Fewer Black Female Role Models? Or Are We Ignoring Them?” here.

The word independent came up. I asked the group to go more in depth with that word. While conducting my research study, the word independent, in reference to Black women, tended to have a more negative connotation and correlate directly with controlling, dominant, and bitter. This phenomenon is interesting because in another situation, independence is seen as a positive attribute – something that people aspire be. We struggled with this word, never really deciding if it deserved to stay on our list.

To continue the conversation I asked: “so who comes to mind when you think of female leaders within the Black community?”

Silence.

“What about role models?”

Crickets.

Feeling super depressed I asked “why all the silence?” One of the women explained that it was hard to really think of a female leader within the Black community. There were many Black women who were famous, but did that make them leaders? Success is something that we as a group truly valued, but we questioned whether it was enough to really make someone a leader or someone people would want to model.

To make this easer, I tried to make it personal. I asked each of the women to talk about a person in their life whom they admire.

“I have always admired my parents,” one said. “They always provided for our family and made a way for themselves against all odds.”

“I have been blessed to know so many amazing Black women while I was growing up. These women were strong, independent, and successful. They knew what they wanted from life and were willing to go get it. They had faith and they understood the importance of family love.”

“I don’t really have role models. I see qualities that I admire from my family members, friends, and others and use those to empower me to be the type of person that I want to be. I don’t really look for someone to follow. Rather, I prefer to the be the person that is willing to say what needs to be said.”

It was interesting how the group reacted differently between the phrase role model versus people we admire. Something about the latter allowed us to think on a personal level. We were reminded of the people that had been so influential in our lives, not necessarily because we wanted to imitate them, but rather become our own leaders. This was truly inspiring. We are capable of being the leaders that we are so desperately seeking – we can make a difference.

In a time where we look for leaders with motivational influence, do not forget about the skills and power that you possess, ladies. Be the leaders you wish to see in our community. You can do that by realizing your own worth, following your passions, and being willing to take risks and make mistakes. It’s not possible to live without making mistakes. And acknowledging and learning from them is what makes us the beautiful women we are today. And yes, there is still so much work to be done, but take comfort in the fact that we are in motion.

The last part of session was devoted to recommendations to both men and women within the Black community that want to make a difference. Regardless of your social status, if you truly want to make positive change the best thing you can do is to give your time. As a group we talked about the impact we experienced from others with whom we interact. Those brief moments are really what make the difference. Making donations and signing checks is not a bad thing, but everyone is capable, regardless of funds, to improve the lives of others, even if it’s just a smile or a kind word.

Find your inner leader. Be the role model you wished you had. Follow your passion and dreams. And above all, know that just your presence has the power to shift a person’s world for the better. Go on, be the person you were meant to be.

Lots of Love and thank you so much for reading! It’s bittersweet for me that this is the last blog from these sessions. I hope you all have enjoyed these as much as I have. The wonderful ladies and I did one final project as a means of practicing what we preach. We’re pretty sure you’ll love it. Love, Krystal.