November 29th, 2016 was a day that is burned in my memory for two reasons — it was when the New Millennium Leadership Center was born and it was when I knew that Tucson was the city that I never want to move away from… We planned an evening event for 75 that day.  Without RSVP’s, it was unclear how many neighbors and community members would attend, but Kelly Fryer had rallied the partners for a bystander intervention training and accompanying discussion were going to be our intervention to address the uptick in hate crimes that the Southern Poverty Law Center had been reporting.  At 5:15pm that evening, as people continued to come in the front door, I had that line from the sea weary captain in Jaws go through my mind…“We are going to need a bigger boat…”

Our 75 planned attendees quickly became over 400 that evening. As volunteers and staff scrambled to set more chairs in the Conference Center, Board Room, Galleria– we finally had to be ok with the knowledge that some folks were going to have to listen to the presentation in their cars or back at home on Facebook live.  We were at capacity. This gave us pause as we debriefed and discussed what role the YWCA should play in continuing to meet the needs for leadership around the question of inclusion.

That evening I learned a lot about the people of this community that I call home.  People showed up and took stickers donning a logo and the words “We Stand Together” and they meant it.   I still see those stickers on cars, front doors and windows throughout our town. I still recall people sitting on the floor and making room for each other.  I remember that in this town it is possible to feel “in community” sometimes… And, that has become a huge reason behind why I show up everyday to do my work here at the YWCA.  

In the time since that evening, Michelle Pitot and I, along with the occasional assistance from trusted friends and colleagues like the magnificent JP Wilhite, have developed workshops and training opportunities to begin to address what it means to develop greater inclusion.  In the last two years we have met in community with public education institutions (k-12, university and community college), church groups, civic organizations, human resources organizations, therapists and social workers, attorneys, governmental agencies, and foundations as well as non profit leaders to work together to answer a question of what does leadership for a more just future require? What is clear to me is that this work is not only messy and triggering at times, it is necessary.  The future is indeed becoming more female and brown, how we collectively face that reality with dignity, purpose, vulnerability and a sense of justice is a challenge that will require new ways of operating. Raising awareness, increasing empathy, understanding our own biases and doing the work to change ourselves, our institutions and our capacity for change are some of the myriad challenges we face. This work is a starting place to build the skills necessary to embark on this journey as well as becoming a community of practice.

The research bears out that to meet the needs of the future and to be truly innovative, organizations and businesses require a not only diverse staff but inclusive practices to ensure that their hard won talented folx are going to stay and thrive.  It is not merely a quota to meet, but rather an environment that is based in respect and a culture that can adapt and learn in order to meet the future with courage, innovation and success.

Over the last 30 years, the YW has been the site of leadership development and empowerment through the Women’s Leadership Conference and the Women’s Leadership Academy, the New Millennium Leadership Center (NMLC) continues that tradition. Through the NMLC, we have been having one-off workshops on Implicit bias and Microaggressions.  We also provide year long consulting on developing greater inclusion for organizations, as well as deeper dives into inclusion via half day workshops and facilitated trainings. Two weeks ago we offered our first Train the Trainer full day workshop, that was such an incredible day, to share our learning and to hear and learn from the attendees as well.  

I look forward to our continuing work as we develop online modules and challenges for folx who follow us and are interested in learning and growing this community of change agents.  I want to continue to feel inspired and to dig in with folks here in Tucson and beyond as we do this work together. I hope that you will test the waters. Stay in touch. I invite you to this table as we continue to learn and work towards greater trust, equity and to be the leaders that we must become.  Join us.


About the Author:

Liane Hernandez, YWCA STAT Community Outreach & Education Director. Liane is a convener who works to create space for individuals and organizations to do the work of community building. Trained as an art historian, chef and anthropologist she is a student of the questions of what is community, who gets to participate and how. Previously she served as Community Life Director at YWCA’s Frances McClelland Community Center and led YWCA’s advocacy work. She sits on the the Pima County Women’s Commission and was a member of the Tucson Voices OpEd Project 2016.  She lives with her partner, Peter, their two dogs and a cat.