The WKKF Community Leadership Network (CLN) with the Center for Creative Leadership is an innovative fellowship that supports local leaders to connect, grow and lead transformational change toward a more equitable.
CLN Class Two graduated August 2021. During nearly two years together, extended by the impacts of the pandemic, fellows have written books, started businesses, moved up in their careers – and most importantly developed networks of mutual support.
As they graduate, our fellows join a network of alumni that stretches the globe and strengthen their community work with new levels of confidence and boldness.
Sandra Ortsman has worked for immigrants’ rights and against domestic violence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the past decade, first with an organization and then with her own consulting firm. Along the way she also worked with Nusenda Credit Union to co-create an affordable lending program for people who couldn’t access capital.
Sarah Stripp is the managing director of Springboard for Opportunities, connecting families in affordable housing with programs and services in Jackson, Mississippi.
For both Ortsman and Stripp, the opportunity to join CLN Class Two came at a time when they were wondering about their role as White women in racial equity and racial justice work.
“I wanted to be a better leader in anti-racism work but was also aware of the need for White people to step back from leadership roles,” says Ortsman. “The fellowship was appealing as a way to figure out the best place for me in that work.”
After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Ortsman’s sense of urgency to find her place in anti-racism work grew. She thought the CLN fellows who identified as White may also want space to explore issues of White supremacy and anti-racism, without causing harm to the fellows of color. So she suggested forming a White allies group that would meet virtually.
Stripp wanted the group to depart from the many other White allies groups she saw developing in the days and weeks following the racial justice uprisings of summer 2020.
“In my life at the time, every White person wanted to be a White person having conversations about race,” Stripp says. “A lot of those groups became echo chambers, where we’d say ‘I’m liberal, I get it and let’s talk about how bad other White people are.’”
Among her colleagues in the Mississippi-based cohort, she saw vulnerability and a desire to uplift each other’s work. She felt the White allies group needed those elements, too.
Ortsman says Stripp brought those concerns to the first meeting and the group established its first ground rule, “There would be no woke competitions,” says Ortsman. “We all acknowledged we’re each in different places in our own anti-racism journeys, there’s no value in competition and it wasn’t where we wanted to place our time.”
Stripp says they also replaced the common mode of call outs with an approach of coming alongside a person on their journey – or journeying together – collectively recognizing things they didn’t recognize before. Organically, through the modeling of a couple of group members, the allies committed to intentional reflection – sharing honestly where they struggled in relationship-building and in their work for racial equity and justice.
It helped, in some ways, that emotions were at the surface after Floyd’s murder. “We were all in a raw and vulnerable time last summer,” says Stripp, “and during many of those check-ins, people would say I’m not okay right now. That prevented it from being an echo chamber, where we just say our platitudes and keep it moving.”
The White allies group drew from its own process to develop a user-friendly how-to guide for assembling effective White allyship collectives, which will be sent along with a letter encouraging other White leaders and colleagues not to let the momentum wane. But they say their work of understanding allyship needs to continually evolve.
“The how-to guide is just an offering,” says Ortsman, “We’re not that special. The harder work is, how do we do this with White folks who haven’t yet started their anti-racism journey?”