Q&A With Two 2019 John W. Mack Movement Building Fellows
Janel Bailey and Cheyenne Reynoso
The inaugural cohort of the John W. Mack Movement Building Fellows participated in their last convening in early December 2020. The Weingart Foundation had the opportunity to ask Fellows Janel Bailey and Cheyenne Reynoso what they would want share with others—including peers in movement work, individuals interested in applying for the Fellowship, and the philanthropic community—about their experience as a John W. Mack Fellow. Here’s what they had to say.
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself as a leader as a John W. Mack Fellow?
Cheyenne: One key thing that this Fellowship has supported me in realizing is the importance of incorporating and acknowledging myself as a whole person in my work. This Fellowship has encouraged and empowered me to listen in, nurture and grow my inner self. It has given space to reflect and build with others as well as guided a deeper understanding and practice through our coaching and retreats together. That necessary inner work is essential for the movement work.
Janel: That I’m not alone in continuing to de-colonize my mind, my practices and my perspectives, even as a social justice leader. Part of the persona of being in an anointed leadership position at a social justice organization is the idea that you have a pure vision of a world without oppression, when really I was born from that same oppressive world everyone else was, and my attitudes in some ways still reflect that. Black and proud as I am, purging the white supremacy from my mind is an ongoing practice. It’s affirming to be alongside other leaders who are also super proud of our genders and respective heritages, yet similarly re-evaluating our so-called “success” and navigating white spaces with any kind of finesse and dignity. I’m re-evaluating what it means to “be authentic” or “have boundaries” in a workplace that I’m passionate about leading.
Describe one thing that you do differently now that is a result of your experience as a John W. Mack Fellow.
Janel: Following my experience with this Fellowship, I’m much more cognizant of how I act in alignment with my values. As a values-driven worker in a new leadership position, I constantly find myself navigating the tensions of wielding power in a white-dominant non-profit system while acting in the interest of Black working-class people. Being in this Fellowship has put me in network with others who are navigating similar tensions from a similar place. Having the space to reflect both individually and together on our actions and opportunities has offered me some great insights. I am moving forward with greater intentions to stay close to those who share my personal values and the interest of my organization’s base. I have already navigated these moments alongside other Fellows and received feedback in real time on decisions that impact working people in Los Angeles. One concrete thing I’m also moving forward with is a new board member who can help hold our organization’s leadership accountable to our base and our values!
What are three words you would use to describe your experience as a John W. Mack Fellow?
Cheyenne: Transformational, familial and connecting (to self and others).
Janel: Powerful, appropriate, worthy.
What would you like to share with someone who might be thinking about applying for this program?
Cheyenne: I would tell those who are thinking of applying to this program that it is something that you will not expect. The support, relationships and genuine care that are facilitated throughout the John W. Mack Movement Fellowship supports your growth in your organizing as well as within yourself. This Fellowship creates the space to build across movements and supports those next steps in your transformation. I have been able to connect with our cohort throughout personal, professional, academic and global pandemic shifts. The grace and guidance that has been shown has helped ground me on some of my toughest days. The John W. Mack Fellowship has exceeded any expectation I previously had. I appreciate and will always be grateful for the opportunity to connect with and be a part of such an amazing group of people organizing towards liberation.
Janel: I would urge them to seize the opportunity to rely on their cohort for support, even if they think they could go without it. This program emboldened me to ask for and accept support that I would not have asked for before. I was able to get support to safely reconnect with my family during the pandemic, and although that was key for my well-being and success, I almost did not request that support. You deserve to surround yourself with peer support and institutional support that affirms your well being and the idea that you are worthy. During the summer, I underestimated the impacts of burnout on my own body. I was encouraged to accept meal support from Fellow people in our circle. At first I was reluctant, but I quickly realized how much help I needed to take care of myself, and that this was lighter work for many hands than just my two. My participation in this Fellowship has elevated how I value myself as a leader and expanded my creativity for how I can value others and their many ways of knowing.
Janel Bailey is Co-Executive Director of Organizing and Programs at the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. Cheyenne Reynoso serves as Director of Ocean Protector’s Program, Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples.