Dear Y-WE Community,
What I have always loved most about the name of our organization is that it is a question: Why We? The name asks of us: What is each of our roles within the “WE Culture” of this organization? It holds us accountable to create programming, policy, fundraising practices, ways of being together…that answer this question. Why us? Why communities of belonging? Why create? Why write? Why connect with nature? Why lead?…etc. Everything we cultivate organizationally is one possible answer amongst a galaxy…we listen to the young people and BIPOC folks we exist for; we listen to the memories of our own teenage selves; we listen to the tide of racial, gender and social justice movements around us…and then we cultivate programmatic offerings that we hope will meet the needs of the communities we hold at our center.
Rooted in my ancestral Jewish tradition, I love a good rhetorical question with infinite answers. When Yasira Njadoe at age 17, (my forever chosen family member who is now the mother of my Godchild), came up with the name Y-WE, we were sitting under a tree in our founding board chair, Leslie Cotter’s, backyard. My daughter Amirra, age 1.5, was sitting on my lap and I was 25 years old. We had just completed our first year pilot program called Young Women on the Rise through our fiscal sponsorship organization PYE Global, and we were having a celebratory Barbecue, soccer game and dance party on Whidbey Island to joyfully nurture the ideas that the first year program had seeded, into the Bloom of a new organization. This group of founders at a backyard BBQ was made up of female identified and/or socialized people from 22 different countries or origin, ranging from ages 13-75. I still have the slip of lined journal paper on which Yasira scrawled the acronym of our name and then encircled it with a heart.
Being a Co-founder of an organization that has been co-led, co-shaped, co-critiqued, co-loved, and co-named by this intergenerational community of youth and adults over the past fourteen years, has been the greatest honor of my life. I write this “departing” letter humbled by the experience of being raised within this organization. I have been raised by all of the generous, intelligent, honest, passionate, brave, fierce and visionary young women & gender expansive youth, mentors, donors and volunteers, who have chosen to make Y-WE a part of their lives. Just to name a few of the ways that Y-WE has shaped me: Because of this community, I had role models who helped me to come out as nonbinary and queer and live a more authentic and fulfilling life than I ever dreamed possible. Because of this community, I had the opportunity to learn how to embody my racial justice values as a white leader and be held capable of change when I make mistakes. Because of this community, I have experienced the joy of raising my two children in an ever-expanding chosen family who have shown up at my door to babysit, to offer food and be fed, to give parenting feedback and invite me to hold their babies, to offer advice and allow me to listen to their stories. Because of this community, I have grown up as a professional organizational leader who now knows how to manage three million dollar budgets, build a thriving board of directors, support a talented and committed staff, craft policies and procedures that align with our equity values, etc. I am truly in awe that we have grown from an organization that provided one program for forty young people per year…into a community that now provides over fourteen programs and a myriad of support services to over two thousand youth and adults annually. One of my proudest contributions to Y-WE is launching our Dream Fund, which now provides $50,000+ annually to Y-WE alums to seed their future dreams. It is critically important to me to pass on the legacy of investing in young leaders through financial resources & professional mentorship. Were it not for the friends, family, foundations, and mentors who believed in me as a 24 year old founder, Y-WE would not be here today. I want Y-WE alums to receive that same community support for their entrepreneurial & changemaking ideas. My gratitude to Y-WE for raising me is infinite, just like the answers to our name.
So now I stand before you as an ever-evolving co-founder who is ready to pass the torch of organizational leadership to the next generation of Co-Directors. In Silvia Ginnattasio-Lugo and Reagan Jackson you have the exquisite balance of creativity and pragmatism; of visionary ideation and collaborative manifestation; of responsive commitment and healthy boundaries. I trust these two powerful torchbearers, and our phenomenal board, staff and youth leadership council, to guide the future of Y-WE. In their highly capable hands and hearts I have no doubt that Y-WE will continue to be of deep service to the BIPOC young women and gender expansive folks we center and the communities that support them. I have no doubt that we will continue to practice our values of equitable access; of listening to youth; of growing in accordance with the community’s needs; and of asking ourselves the infinite question, “Why We?”.
While I am leaving the role of Co-Director of Y-WE after 14 years, I am in no way leaving the community. I will continue to serve as a passionate supporter, a mentor to and mentee of our alumnus, as a consulting guide as needed by the Y-WE staff and board, and as a devoted family member. I have launched a consulting practice through which I hope to support other founders and organizations who are working to build values-aligned companies and communities of practice. You are welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in collaborating on future projects. Thank you for trusting me to co-lead Y-WE for so many years. Thank you for raising me into a human and professional who continues to grow into my ancestors’ wildest dreams.
With Gratitude, Respect & Love,