Racial-ethnic leaders want expanded leadership pool

Hope for the Future
Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, and Michelle Armster, interim executive director of MCC Central States, perform “Lovely Day” during a talent show. Photo by Anna Groff.

by Anna Groff, The Mennonite (reposted by permission)

Forty-five participants gathered in Leesburg, Va., Jan. 30-Feb. 2, for the third installment of Hope for the Future.

Hope for the Future is a gathering for Mennonite leaders of color and other Mennonite leaders to work on finding solutions for culturally appropriate leadership development.

The first meeting was held Jan. 9-11, 2011, in Tampa, Fla., and the second was held Jan. 25-27, 2013, also in Leesburg.

The first two meetings were open only to members of under-represented racial/ethnic groups (Africans, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans).

This year was the first time members of the dominant culture were invited to join for part of the meeting. About 10 white leaders joined the gathering.

On the final day, the participants named three areas of focus that came out of the previous day’s work.

The three areas include more networking opportunities, expanding the pool of leaders and intentionality by “credible” leaders to ensure access to resources for leaders of color.

Regarding the need to expand the pool of leaders, Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, said, “There’s a small pool of people that get overexposed.”

Several participants mentioned concrete ways to expand this pool—especially for leaders of color.

These ideas include cultivating leaders as young as high school age, keeping in touch with leaders as they transition to college and throughout their life, being sensitive to gender issues and offering networking opportunities for young people of color.

Another theme that emerged throughout the gathering was access to the “invisible playbook”—the unwritten rules in a culture that those new to the dominant culture feel pressure to learn.

Mentors and credible leaders of the dominant culture must offer insights into this playbook to minority leaders.

Iris De León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking, also pointed out the significance of “being in relationship.”

She said she hears agencies ask, “Why don’t these [minority groups] come to our events or use our material?”

De León-Hartshorn challenged the agency representatives to visit the communities and gatherings of people of color first.

“Relationships have to be intentional,” she said.

She provided several upcoming opportunities this year: the Native Assembly in Winnipeg July 28-31 and the Iglesia Menonite Hispana and African-American Mennonite Associate conferences in August.

On Feb. 1, Luke Hartman called on the members of the dominant culture to move beyond acting as allies or advocates. The term ally, in particular is “overutilized, played out, tired,” he said.

Allies demonstrate support to those in the minority group, and advocates voice their responsibility to bring social change, said Hartman, who is vice president for enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

However, he asked the white leaders present to work as “agents of change” that have the “power to act to create change.”

“It’s more than a social relationship,” he said. “[Agents] engage in strategic action designed to bring about ongoing organizational improvement.”

The gathering also included times of worship led by Moniqua Acosta. Isaac Villagas, pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship, and Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, offered the messages.

Villegas spoke about recognizing God in the strangers among us as well the power in Communion.

“Jesus turns the table on ‘host’ and ‘guest’ in Communion and reminds us we are guests in God’s house,” he said on Feb. 2.

On Feb. 1, Green—referring to Acts 13—said that the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of the church in Antioch demonstrates God’s “design for the church.”

The next Hope for the Future gathering is scheduled for Jan. 22-25, 2015, with the location to be decided.