Empathy: A Tool for Liberation or Simply Self-Preservation?

I must say that while I am excited to think about the role emotions play in the decision-making process, I also found this week’s prompt incredibly challenging.  As I shared with my amazing #TeamTuesday, this prompt brought up a lot of emotions. When I moved back to the US, I was told by white people that I should try to understand Trump supporters, and that I should just “grow thicker skin.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the struggle of rural Americans.  I understand that the concept of “privilege” is very different for them. I also understand the level of manipulation that has made a disenfranchised group of people believe that another oppressed group is their enemy.  It is this system of manipulation that convinced low-income whites that their poverty is directly connected to immigrants in this country. It is maliciously brilliant to point fingers at an oppressed group instead of addressing the root cause and the policies of greed that have created an environment where the top 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth (source: Federal Survey of Consumer Finances).  I get that. What I have a difficult time understanding is a decision based on hate. 

I cannot logically justify someone voting for a white supremacist and sexual predator who has instilled so much hate towards my people.  I do not understand how some can even vote against their own self-interest simply because their hate is stronger. How can I be empathetic towards those who hate my very own existence?  How can I be empathetic to those who protest Planned Parenthood in the name of life and Christian values but ignore the lives of the innocent children who are caged at the border? Do they deserve my empathy when, in their eyes, my people are not worthy of theirs? Can I have empathy and still have boundaries to ensure that I am not attacked? 

I find that it is much easier for me to empathize with the oppressed, but incredibly difficult to empathize with the oppressor, although I try. In fact, it has been empathy and honest curiosity that has held me back from reacting to hateful personal attacks. I have found empathy to be one of my strongest defense mechanisms in this new environment of normalized racism.

I also realize that power dynamics play a critical role. Can empathy be used to equalize power? Will we ever get there if only the oppressed are empathetic towards their oppressors? How do we gain power to spark social change and a radical transformation?  How do we change the systems that have manipulated human beings to play into a system that oppresses human beings? 

I guess I need to go back and re-read Paulo Freire.  I want to believe that the oppressed will not only liberate themselves but also their oppressors.  But, how do we abandon the oppressor’s tools? How do we develop and embrace our own? I guess, for now, I’ll just grow thicker skin while I continue to fight the systems of oppression and do my part to repair the world.   

Reflection Script

I continued to reflect on empathy for the rest of the week.  I deliberately thought about empathy every time I disagreed with someone this week.  When I started to feel that uneasiness with a statement, I automatically went to, “Why is _______ right?”  While I am currently dealing with empathy fatigue, I am excited that this simple question, in essence, engages my intellectual abilities and minimizes the emotion. I believe that this skill will serve me well.

I realize that my empathy skills can be credited for my success at building and maintaining relationships.  These relationships have contributed so much to CCWB’s work. I also realize that empathy is the foundation to CPA’s model.  Understanding where all stakeholders are coming from creates a deep sense of connection and responsibility towards each other.  I will definitely keep that in mind as we are building CPA in Colorado.  

I truly appreciated your questions and reflections. The reality is that we are currently in a difficult space, but this too shall pass.  For now, If I could have lunch with someone today, I would definitely choose Paulo Freire (and invite Sheila). I would love to hear his assessment of our current environment. What would he do if he were me? How would his approach change?  What can we learn from this?  

I also realize that I did not directly address the prompt.  I, instead, dove into the philosophical side of empathy and the many components I am grappling with.  I am no one to take shortcuts, so here is the condensed version of the assignment.    

Why Funders Who Don’t Fund CCWB Are Right

CCWB is a fairly new organization.  With only two and a half years of operation, some funders perceive us as a risky investment.

Funders prefer quick results.  Changing systems is a very difficult and long process.  It is much more attractive to funders when you can say, “we helped XX entrepreneurs with developing their marketing skills” than “we built XX relationships to eventually change the system.”  

CCWB is a small organization with big goals. Does CCWB actually have the capacity to deliver?   While we are nimble and flexible to community needs, we are a risky investment.  

Funding CCWB can be a risky political move.  Why would foundations want to be associated with agitating the system that has worked great for their entities? Investing in us might put them in a difficult position.   

Thank you all again for your contributions! 

To CPA or Not To CPA: That IS The Decision

Decision: Should Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB) co-develop CO CPA?  Do we have the capacity to do it well?

The goal that the decision is supposed to produce is to identify if CCWB is the organization best positioned to take on the development of CO CPA.  I want to find out if we have the capacity to convene stakeholders to co-create CPA. If so, I want to identify what additional resources are needed to make CPA happen in CO.

I am currently investing a lot of time and effort into the CPA model because it is aligned with CCWB.  CCWB’s vision is a people-owned, inclusive, and sustainable metro Denver economy that catalyzes prosperous and resilient communities free from racism and injustice.  The CPA model can be a strategy for CCWB to achieve a more just economy that catalyzes prosperous and resilient communities.  

I want to explore and define if CCWB is the best organization to convene stakeholders to develop CO CPA.  Some of the possible choices include:

Take on the CPA development and drop other projects


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Identify other organizations that are interested in co-designing and co-creating CPA
  • Assess which CCWB projects to drop
  • Evaluate the potential negative impact resulting from dropped projects
  • Connect with impacted stakeholders
  • Draft and communicate the message effectively

Take on the CPA development and add 10 hours of work a week


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Identify other organizations that are interested in co-designing and co-creating CPA
  • Personally, assess current activities outside of work to identify where the additional 10 hours will come from (community time, family time, giving circle time, volunteer time, sleep, etc.) 
  • Identify which dropped activity will have the least negative impact
  • Create an exit plan to transition out with minimal impact 

Seek another organization to develop CPA


  • Research potential organizations
  • Build relationships with organizations, if needed
  • Introduce potential organization to the CPA model and leadership
  • Create a plan to transition CPA
  • Share all information gathered
  • Confirm commitment to developing CPA
  • Define CCWB’s role moving forward

Seek additional resources and human capacity to develop CPA


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue relationship-building period
  • Allocate time to fundraise
  • Identify potential funders without cannibalizing CCWB
  • Apply for funding
  • Build relationships with other potential funders
  • Hire a staff member to develop and lead CPA

Merge CPA with The BackOffice (TBO) Project and add 5 extra hours of work a week


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Continue CPA relationship-building period
  • Coordinate with other TBO committee members to assess the idea of a merger
  • Develop a business plan that includes CPA and TBO
  • Create an operations plan that makes sense for CPA and TBO
  • Allocate time to fundraise

Don’t take on CPA

No dependencies identified with this option 

Wait until CCWB has the internal capacity to devote the time to develop CPA


  • Complete CPA feasibility
  • Include CPA in 2021 CCWB budget
  • Identify the types of resources needed to make CPA happen
  • Build relationships with potential resource providers

While these are all possible choices, they all come with their own pros and cons.  Also, while doing nothing is definitely an option. I am not convinced that this is the way to go either. Oftentimes, the easiest option is not the best option. What other choices am I not thinking about? 

Reflection Script

As I sit here trying to digest all the wonderful questions you posed, I can’t help but think that I need to spend more time processing all of this information.  I also realize just how disappointed I would be if we chose to not develop CPA in Colorado. I know that emotion is not supposed to be part of the decision, but it is definitely something that is coming to the forefront for me.  

I also realize that I am hesitant to partner with other local organizations at the moment.  Perhaps this uneasiness comes from not having specific criteria to determine the best partner organization.  I know exactly what I do not want, but I have not spent any time thinking through what I want.   

Felipe, I appreciate your questions.  Yes, I do believe that with additional resources or support, this decision would be slightly different.  I believe in the model and I know that CPA will help advance CCWB’s mission; that was the reason I wanted to do this incubator.  I also believe that the potential for sustainability is significant and can provide even more opportunities in the future. It really is this promise that makes me want to think deeper/longer to make this decision.   

As soon as I’m done with the reflection script, I will go over to my aunt’s house to celebrate my partner’s birthday.  I am incredibly grateful that my family will ensure that he has a (well-deserved) celebration during a time that is incredibly busy for both of us.  There is no way that I could have done this by myself. They planned the party, cooked his favorite meal, purchased his favorite cake, invited people, and helped me purchase, and wrap a gift, and will most likely help with the cleanup responsibilities.  This celebration is the perfect example of how it will take a village to birth CPA. Perhaps, I should also think about which aspects of my current professional responsibilities could be outsourced so we can make it happen.

Thank you all for your thoughtful questions!

My Journey Towards Collective Power

October 23rd will go in the books as CPA Day.  The sessions provided a great opportunity for reflection, connection, identifying potential obstacles, and a path forward.  One of the most valuable lessons or reminders is that we are currently seeing the end product of CPA, but there was a process that took years to get to this point.  I also enjoyed seeing some of you in person. I must say, Felipe was right. There is an effective way to use Zoom to facilitate connections.  

I had many takeaways from the CPA visit.  Some of those highlights of my reflections include: 

Start Small, Build Up – Being realistic with our capacity and the number of members needed to actually start the cooperative is going to be the key to success.  Felipe reminded me to consider the minimum viable product (MVP). What is the minimum “CPA” offering that still meets the needs of members? What is the hook for further engagement?  I am looking forward to further discussing these questions with Paul and Michelle to identify a realistic goal for what we want to accomplish.   

It’s ALL About Relationships – The key to success really is relationships and trust.  I know that we have covered this constantly, but when I was thinking about the most important task to accomplish right now, the answer was ‘build relationships’  When I was trying to distill what it is that makes CPA successful, I realized that it has been Felipe and the team building strong relationships with vendors, members, and each other.  I also realize that because relationships are the value proposition, we will need to make an intentional effort to constantly build and maintain relationships. Relationships are the greatest CPA asset.  I am invited to think of how we build a network of trust and how we can create a practical vehicle for collaboration without losing sight of our values.     

Power of Reflection – I had a great conversation with Merald Holloway regarding Durham CPA.  The conversation started with Merald sharing about how critical it is to keep disadvantaged businesses in mind when developing CPA.  He shared that in Durham, a minuscule amount of government contracts actually go to businesses owned by African Americans. I asked him what his greatest learning experience had been to date with starting a CPA in Durham, NC.  He shared that the most valuable skill has been starting and maintaining a practice of reflection throughout the process. He admitted that at first, he thought it was a waste of time. “I don’t have time to reflect,” he thought.  Despite his resistance, he did it. Having learned a lot about the process has really helped Merald look back and pivot as needed.  Given my experiences in the last three months, I realize that I need to make this a formal practice.  

Strong Board = Strong CPA – In a conversation with Ellen Agler, President of CPA’s board, she shared her excitement for the potential expansion of CPA to other parts of the country.  Just like Felipe, she was eager to share all that she could. Ellen even offered to come to Denver and connect with others if it helps to get CPA off the ground.  At the moment, I realized just how powerful the members can be in sharing the message. I am invited to think about what we can do to foster relationships with those who will become our disciples in this journey.  

Overall, the day was great.  I am still in DC meeting with other organizations, but when I back I will think about what it takes to bring a national model with local adaptations to ensure that it meets our needs.  I would also like to start doing a quick assessment to see what our current business capacity is in the main industries (identified by CPA).  Identifying a few vendors will help us start and provide support with what members need at the moment. Taking this approach will help build trust.  This, along with our relational interviews, will be a good starting point for the creation of the mini-business plan. 

I personally feel very supported in the process knowing that collectively, we have a wealth of knowledge, information, and expertise that we can share with each other.  Thank you all for being part of this journey!

Reflection Script

I want to express my gratitude to Felipe and the CPA team for inviting us to be a part of this journey.  The last week helped me see the importance of building replicable models. It also highlighted the need to develop leaders who can adapt models to get the most benefit out of them.  

It’s been a few days since CPA Day.  More than ever, I am committed to go deeper and build more trust.  I will build meaningful relationships to co-create something that members can be proud of.  I also want to connect with supporters that can connect me to decision-makers. One of those key connections will be with Dr. Rev. Tyler.  His passion for social justice makes him the perfect thought partner and potential CPA member.  

CPA definitely intersects with my personal interest in bringing economic opportunities to disenfranchised communities.  While I am incredibly passionate about this, I know that there are others who also share my passion. My additional task is to continue to identify those movement builders and invite them to help me co-create this cooperative.  At this point, we have not decided who will lead this effort. However, just like with everything else I do, I want to build the capacity so that the success of the project does not rely on one individual. My dream is to co-create something sustainable so that I leave without disrupting the movement.  

Our Influence, Our Voice, Our Legacy

Public Narrative

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.  

Other Interviews

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. 

Reflection Script

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!   

Living the Values; Doing the Work

While there are many aspects of the work that require explicit goals, the underlying condition that prevents us from making even more significant progress is the lack of internal capacity.  My colleague and I are working unsustainable hours. For this reason, I am focusing this professional goal on increasing the organization’s human capacity. Achieving this goal will be the foundation of achieving even more wins in the near future.   


Increase the Center for Community Wealth Building’s capacity by hiring a Deputy Director by December 2, 2019. 


  • Access to another thought-partner
  • Diversity of experience and skills that contribute to the work
  • Shared responsibility
  • More work/life balance
  • Manageable schedule without sacrificing outcomes


  • Balancing urgent needs with the significant effort needed to do a search process well
  • Low unemployment rate makes it difficult to attract talent
  • Longer application window might be needed to attract talent
  • Specialized skills needed
  • Systems-change work is challenging  


  • Ability to do a search process
  • Ability to interview candidates
  • Ability to screen for qualifications
  • Knowledge and connections to strong networks 


People – Michelle Sturm and Carlos Valverde

Organization – CNDC as our fiscal sponsor

Partner organizations – Interfaith Alliance, Mi Casa Resource Center, RMMFI, Colorado Solidarity Fund, and Transformative Leadership for Change

Networks – Colorado Nonprofit Development Association, Rosemary and Cafecito’s Group, LatinasGive! Giving Circle, New Economy Coalition, Colorado Nonprofit Association, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Network, Rich Male’s Listserv 


TaskDue DateLeadStatusDate Completed
Secure funding10/1/2019YessicaCompleted10/1/2019
Write job description10/10/19CarlosIn progress
Get approval from CNDC10/10/19Yessica

Incorporate feedback from CNDC10/14/19Yessica

Distribute job posting to identified networks10/15/19Michelle & Yessica

Share post on social media10/15/19Yessica

Email job posting to partners10/16/19Yessica

Create screening tool10/25/19Committee

Receive applications11/1/19Yessica

Review/assess applicants11/1/19Committee

Develop interview questions11/1/19Committee

Schedule interviews11/1/19Yessica

Interview applicants11/8/19Committee

Schedule 2nd interviews11/8/19Michelle

Conduct 2nd interviews11/15/19Committee

Check references 11/15/19Yessica

Make a decision11/18/19Committee

Offer the job11/18/19Yessica

Facilitate onboarding with CNDC11/18/19Yessica

Prep for CCWB onboarding11/25/19Yessica & Michelle

Deputy Director starts at CCWB12/1/19


My sister and her husband fell in love with the idea of co-housing. They are in a situation where the concept of family co-housing makes sense. They are in the process of selling their house and co-buying another one with another close family. Eventually, it will be a great situation for both families, but in the meantime, it has become very stressful. Most of the stress comes from the fact that they have to be out of their current house by October 23rd, but their new house will not be ready until December. I had helped them find other options, but everything was very expensive.

A couple of weeks ago, my tenants notified me that they could not complete their lease and would be out of the property by October 13th. In any other situation, this could have been very stressful for me. However, I believe that the Universe works in mysterious ways. I am grateful to be in a position to help my sister, but the next two weeks will be a wild ride. For this reason, I have set my personal goal to get the house ready.


Get the house ready by updating the carpet, kitchen floor, and painting by October 22, 2019 using local, People of Color vendors.


  • A sister who is less stressed
  • My sister and her family will have a place to go when they sell their house
  • Safe place for my nieces
  • Affordable housing option for my sister
  • Peace of mind for the family


  • Quick turn-around time
  • Busy work schedule
  • Travel to DC
  • Limited availability of PoC vendors
  • Vendors that are slightly more expensive
  • My own need for perfection 


  • Knowledge of vendors who can meet the needs
  • Connections to trusted people who can assist with the process


People – Eddie Holguin, Leticia Guzman, Omar Sotelo, Alex Hernandez, Carlos Valverde, Irma Holguin, and Gabriela Holguin


TaskDue DateLeadStatusDate Completed
Assess update needs10/1/2019YessicaCompleted10/1/2019
Identify PoC vendors10/09/19Carlos & YessicaIn progress
Contact paint vendor to get quote10/10/19YessicaIn progress
Get 2nd quote if needed10/12/19Yessica

Contact floor installer to get quote10/10/19YessicaIn progress
Identify a point person for painter10/11/19Yessica

House is painted10/17/19Omar

Schedule floor measurement session10/10/19Yessica

Meet with installer to measure space10/13/19Leticia

Select flooring options10/14/19Yessica

Create a list of materials & supplies needed10/14/19Yessica & Vendor

Schedule floor installation10/14/19Yessica

Purchase materials & supplies10/15/19Yessica

Floors are installed10/21/19Vendor

Clean up10/21/19All