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Five Actions Courageous Leaders Take to Create Change

Cultivating change takes courage and commitment. It is no small task to embark on institutional, communal or political change. As change agents, non-profit leaders, and community activists we take on the noble, yet extraordinarily difficult, task of challenging the status quo and co-creating more just and equitable institutions and communities. I believe that true change requires courageous leadership. To truly build a beloved community we need leaders who won't easily waver when faced with significant opposition. We need leaders who are resilient. We need leaders who are rooted in community, liberation, and justice. We need leaders who posses courage.

The topic of courageous leadership emerged Sunday during the talk back service at Beloved Community Church. After the sermon, we collectively wrestled with how to view those who act as our enemy as our neighbor while also working to protect our communities from harm caused by systems of oppression and those who align themselves with it. As the conversation ensued, I realized that there are five distinct actions often seen in courageous leaders working for institutional, social and political change. The first two were inspired by my pastor and spouse, Rev. Nelson Pierce Jr.

  1. Courageous leaders condemn systems of oppression: Courageous leaders are unafraid to condemn systems of oppression even and especially when others are silent about them. We understand that condemning systems isn't the same as demonizing the people who work within, live within, and lead institutions that align with them.

  2. Courageous leaders call out the actions of those complicit with systems of oppression: Courageous leaders understand that we have an obligation to speak truth to power and illuminate how individuals, groups, and organizations align themselves with systems of oppression. This includes being willing to challenge even those institutions, funders, and leaders with extraordinary social, political and economic power. This requires courage and a willingness to stand strong in our convictions even when the backlash comes.

  3. Courageous leaders interrogate their own complicity with systems of oppression: Courage leaders understand that we are all susceptible to aligning ourselves with systems of oppression. We understand that ego, self-interest, self-preservation and our own blind spots can often cause us to unknowingly take actions and stances in opposition to our own cause. This is why courageous leaders cultivate a discipline of reflection and introspection. Moreover, we surround ourselves with those who are oppressed and take heed when we are called out for being complicit with systems of oppression.

  4. Courageous leaders work to support and care for those most harmed by systems of oppression: Courageous leaders understand that while systems of oppression in some way harms all, that harm is not equally experienced. As such, we commit time and resources toward the care and support of those in the throws of marginalization and violence.

  5. Courageous leaders reimagine and experiment with new ways of living and being together: Courageous leaders know that we have to do more than just challenge the status quo, we also have to co-create the type of institutions, communities and world that we desire. We understand that to truly create a just and equitable society we will need to learn, adopt, and practice new ways of being with ourselves, one another, and the world together. We will need to experiment with new structures of community and new visions for institutions. We will need to think beyond the frameworks currently provided to us for how to have a functioning society and instead reclaim ancient practices and dream up new ones. Courageous leaders understand that to do so, we must be willing to experiment. We must be willing to try new things, fail often, and evolve toward who we are called to be.

The late, great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr reminds us of the extraordinary power of courageous action when he states, "...there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."

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