From a very young age, I realized the power of influence and that my voice carried weight. At age five, I aspired to become a catholic priest. You see, I had been raised by a woman who never stepped foot in a school. She taught herself to read and write using the bible. My grandmother instilled in me that I could become whatever I wanted. Despite not having formal education, she was brilliant, so in my mind, she was right. She also raised me in the catholic faith. We would go to church every Sunday and lived the Franciscan values every single day. I remember one day, as I was enjoying delicious homemade apricot jam while inundating my grandmother with questions, Tere, our neighbor came over to talk to my grandmother. Tere was conflicted by the priest’s sermon. She was experiencing domestic violence and to turn the other cheek just did not make sense to her. I remember thinking, but of course, the priest is a man. He doesn’t understand. That’s the problem!
Kindergarten started, and when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I did not hesitate to answer, “I’m going to be a priest”. Needless to say, that did not sit well with the nun. Long story short, I did not become a priest for obvious systemic reasons, but I always remembered the reason I wanted to become a priest- to use my voice and my power to inspire and influence others.
As a professional, I have the honor of leading the Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB) in Denver. It is a movement-building organization that centers impacted communities at the core of growth. For so long, economic development has only included government and large corporations. This toxic relationship has created imbalanced and difficult conditions for those who were already at a disadvantage. In metro Denver, we are seeing legacy communities involuntarily displaced as a result of growth and gentrification. We are seeing the fabric of our communities change because our communities were never included as part of the conversation. Through CCWB, I have successfully used my voice and influence to elevate those who have been at the margins. I have been able to organize and work with traditionally disenfranchised communities and established institutions to find alternative ways to use their economic engine, support local economies, and contribute to a sustainable way of life.
Together, we have an opportunity to be bold. We need to develop and test a blueprint for inclusive economic strategies that build community wealth in communities of color and increase the economic stability of low-income families. Together, we can successfully implement these strategies that can offer a roadmap for shared prosperity to economically and racially marginalized communities at risk of involuntary displacement as a result of gentrification. Are you ready to join me in exploring how we use our power and influence to create a more just economy?
A Legacy Worth Living
One of the three people I will interview is a Vice President at the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC). CNDC is a fiscal agent to 60 initiatives or programs throughout Colorado that range anywhere from $10,000 to $800,000 in annual budgets. The VP and I already have a good working relationship, so I will start the meeting by thanking her for the support provided to CCWB to fundraise and grow our capacity. She has learned a lot about me because she has asked me to present to their staff and board. I will use this time to get to know her better. I hope that some of the risks I have already taken will help her feel more comfortable with me.
I will start by asking questions such as, “Are you originally from Denver? No, what brought you to Denver? What’s the story behind your name?” I have proven Dale Carnegie’s quote, “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Given my experience, I have an entire list of questions at my disposal to break the ice.
Once I learn more about her personal story, I will ask her about how she uses her skills and passion to advance the work of CNDC. I would also like to ask, “when you retire, what do you want your legacy to be?” This will help me identify the motivator and driving force that can help us identify mutual benefit outside of cutting costs down the road.
Balancing the relational versus the current transactional nature of our work with CNDC will definitely be a challenge. CNDC is used to being the “well-oiled machine”. I, on the other hand, am comfortable sharing my personal story. In fact, my default is always relational. I rely on my organizational skills to take care of the transactional needs. It is my hope that I can get to know the VP so that we can start from a place of abundance.
My current challenge with my relational nature is that I have a difficult time prioritizing work/life balance when relationships are at play, and they usually are. It is difficult for me to say no when it is my community, my people, my relatives who are negatively impacted by displacement. I feel irresponsible sitting back because I need a day off. While I understand, in theory, the importance of days off, my communities do not have that luxury. I am currently working with a coach to address this issue. It would truly help to know someone of Color who is fully committed to the cause and has prioritized a work/life balance.
The meetings I enjoy most are those with whom I share a common interest. I truly enjoy meeting with those who bring their uniqueness, sense of humor, and critical skills to the table. Even if we disagree on approach, I get a lot out of conversations that respectfully challenge and strengthen my position. At the end of the conversation, I like it when I feel that I have accomplished something, which includes getting to know someone better.
The other two people that I will interview are our local IAF organizer and a program officer at a local foundation. Again, there is already a relationship with both, so it will be about aligning priorities to see where they intersect.
The goal of these meetings is to spark interest. I am not wedded to the end product, but I am committed to figuring out how we best use the collective power of institutions to create a mutually-beneficial model that uplifts traditionally disadvantaged local businesses. Given the strategic approach that Michelle, Paul and I are taking, I am confident that we will identify the next steps. Once we identify areas of need, we will assess the market to identify the current local businesses that can provide that product/service. If there are gaps, we will work with business development organizations to communicate the need. It is my dream that eventually, more worker-owned businesses are also part of this model.
During the initial relational meetings, I would like to also capitalize on the opportunity to bring a new lens to the interviewee’s perspective. Personally, this is much bigger than CPA. For me, CPA is one model in which we can build and preserve community wealth, but there are many more. Even if CPA is not the right fit for these institutions right now, I want to invite them to reflect and see what other aspects can be incorporated to support a more sustainable way of life.
In a sense, I find my CPA challenge easier to process than my personal one. In theory, I do understand that respecting my time and prioritizing myself is the right thing to do. Theory is easier than practice. Yet, through this process, I also realize that my voice is not the only thing that carries weight- my example does too. I need to embody balance not just for myself, but for others as well. I owe it to everyone who is in this fight with me. I do not have all the answers yet, but I am committed to figuring it out.
As of now, progress is what keeps me fueled. Wins, even the smallest ones, provide the much-needed energy to keep fighting. Opportunities also continue to be the light at the end of the tunnel. While this has worked, I want to identify other aspects, outside of work, that will provide the same level of satisfaction. But I will admit, I am definitely a work in progress.
Thank you all for the thoughtful questions!
6 thoughts on “Our Influence, Our Voice, Our Legacy”
Yesica, I love to see your confidence shining through in this post (and on our calls!)
What is your goal with the foundation officer? Are you walking in with a CPA specific ask?
Is there any aspect of these meeting that still has some nerves associated with it for you?
I also wanted to offer: I finished a graduate program over a year ago in which several of my classmates were strong leaders of color several of whom I know have done a lot of personal thinking and practice around balancing the passion for the work and connectedness to community with the need for and self-permission for self care. None are in Denver, but I would be happy to connect you if you would like to hear their perspective and tips.
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Thank you so much for the perspective. My goal is to get foundations to also purchase locally whenever possible. I would use this meeting to influence their thinking.
I appreciate your kind offer. After this training, I would love to connect with someone from your graduate program. I need to figure this out. Thank you again!
Yessica – Kudos on a great post.
Do you think that being more disciplined with your time might be more about respecting yourself?
Holding yourself and your most important work in higher regard — and respecting your own work and the power of the work you are and can be doing?
What might be one elegant step you could take that would meaningfully keep your time tendencies in check?
Your story is powerful… to use your voice & power to inspire & influence for good.
Who are the people you most want to be in relationship with and accountable to as you go about doing this work?
I sense a little distance from the people that might be most affected by (and hopefully those that will most benefit from) the work you most want to be doing? For example, are they people of color owned small businesses? Or a local charter school CFO serving the poorer kids of Denver?
I understand that you are doing relational meetings with the IAF organizer and also with the funder. Those make sense and seem very practical… Another part of the co-op building is really relating to the types of people (and the specific individuals / leaders) that really want this co-op to exist to meet real self interest / problems they are wrestling with right now. Perhaps those are relationships you already have, or you assume will come later… can you think of one more to add to your list or one person you’re already in relationship that you really want this co-op to be meaningful for?
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Felipe, thank you for your questions. I like the change in perspective.
Regarding the businesses, I find that I already have a great connection with many business owners of Color. However, I’m not sure they would necessarily be the ones to be a part of CPA initially (because of the industry in which they operate). For this next step, I want to identify the demand before I identify more businesses led by POC within an industry. It’s a strategic choice given the limited resources. Once we learn about demand, the next logical step is to research POC owned businesses and connect with them.
I identified these leaders because they are also influencers. I believe that if we can get them onboard early on, they can also be additional (formal or informal) disciples of CPA.
Yessica, you are a luminary. I see how you deftly move us forward in our calls and the depth of your commitment shines brightly when you speak and write. What is needed to keep that lantern of yours fueled? And is that fuel worthy of your time and making? How can we help you continue to make it so that you keep shining and showing the way forward?
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Hi Yessica! The title of your post caught my attention. I’m very glad that I decided to click on it!
Thank you for sharing your narrative! I’m very inspired by your story and your ability to communicate it so succinctly and compellingly.
I also appreciate how clearly you’re able to articulate your ask to people, “let’s explore this together”.
Are you already kind of wedded to a vision or blueprint of what your end product will look like? How open are you to tweaking/reshaping your vision in response to what you hear in your relational meetings? Being mindful of that (no right or wrong answers) can help you stay true to whichever course you choose.
Last thing: Thank you for being so candid about your struggles with ‘no’. You are not alone. You are modeling what it looks like to bravely fight against internal (and maybe even external) pressure to assume the full mantle, put the weight of a cause and community squarely on your shoulders. I affirm and encourage your quest to find balance.
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