by Mike Coleman
“Sometimes you just have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down.” – Kobi Yamada
I had not been familiar with Kobi, and wasn’t at all sure of why my boyfriend Rob shared this quote with me over breakfast a few weeks ago. As a guy with a Superman fixation, and someone who’s not crazy about flying at all, I couldn’t get with the whole “…on the way down” part. But I accepted it as a gift from the universe as I prepared for the Rockwood Institute’s Art of Collaborative Leadership training.
I’d been one of 22 GLBT people of color from around the world to participate in the program. It was the first component of the Pipeline Project’s 21st Century Fellows Program, designed to advance people of color leadership within GLBT organizations and within the movement. I’d never been to Sonoma, California, and it was my first professional development opportunity in years, so I anxiously awaited the experience.
The promise of warmth and sunshine in mid-October didn’t really materialize (kind of like the summer of ’09), as a series of torrential rainstorms kept us inside for most of the week. I decided early to commit to the process and give it everything I had. My cohorts in the program are the most impressive group of people – of any color – with whom I’ve been blessed to work in a number of years. The Rockwood Institute facilitators excelled in guiding us toward our core purpose, goals and objectives.
As we grappled with purpose, we discussed leading from that which gives our life meaning. How many of us can say we do that on a daily basis? I discovered a part of my purpose lies in doing everything in my power to ensure the world we leave behind for future GLBT folks – and, particularly GLBT people of color – is far better than the one we’ve inherited. All of the week’s work was challenging, emotionally draining and a lot of fun.
While I haven’t typically been a fan of folks who return from trainings with pages of notes and ‘awesome ideas,’ I had said notes and ideas in hand when I called a colleague and friend, Kathleen LaTosch, on the last day of the retreat. I was fired up! I decided to recommit to the tough work ahead – and to the journey.
I also decided to commit to doing what I can to ensure our organizations are practicing collaborative leadership. Collaboration, I think, is something most of us talk about but very few of us actually practice.
There’s a rich history of GLBT people of color leadership in metro Detroit. Off the top of my head … Pamela Alexander. Treva Bass. London Bell. Bernadette Brown. Jim Brown. Michelle Brown. Martin Contreras. Ruth Ellis. Dave Garcia. Joseph Hall. Rose Holcomb. Felecia Hunt-Taylor. Johnny Jenkins. Melody “Zip” Johnson. Brandon Jones. Amrit Kohli. Curtis Lipscomb. Frederic Macdonald-Dennis. Ray Magdaleno. Hank Millbourne. Tony O’Rourke-Quintana. Lawrence Pennyman. Brandon Reeves. Phil Rivera. Tysha Rodriguez. Atiba Seitu. Alicia Skillman. Hal Smith. Roland Smith. June Washington. Andrea Wilson. Atiba Seitu. Lynette Stallworth. Royale Theus. Charzette Torrence.
I stand on the shoulders of some of those leaders, and shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I also am building my shoulders up for those young people who will stand on mine, moving the movement forward long after I’ve finally made it to the west coast for that long-dreamed-of retirement.
We all share a vision. How will our world be transformed if – when – our individual energies and talents are truly harnessed in a spirit of collaboration? Our wonderful, horrible, sometimes-unified, often-segregated, loving, bigoted community will be better for our efforts. It will take hard work, concerted effort, trust and a willingness to collaborate, take the leap and build our wings…
…on the way down? Maybe. But I’d like to challenge Kobi. Things, for our GLBT community, are looking up.