Becoming The Woman With The Torch

January article in African American Point of View, by Lora Wondolowski

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”- Ezra Lazurus

Last month, Leadership Pioneer Valley focused on inclusive leadership in our core leadership program. Our leaders dug deep into themselves to explore differences, micro-aggressions and ways to enhance understanding of one another. There were frank discussions that built trust and better ways to talk to each other about difficult subjects. We are incredibly proud of our cohort for their honesty and willingness to be uncomfortable in order to be better leaders.

This day was in stark juxtaposition to the current discourse in this country around Syrian refugees. Many governors (including our own), members of Congress, and other leaders have suggested closing our doors to these exiles in need. Our communities are filled with refugees from around the globe, yet some want to single out one group undergoing a humanitarian crisis. In the 1970’s and 80’s Vietnamese refugees and immigrants came to the US and Springfield-area. Central American refugees fleeing dictators and war settled in the Amherst-area in the 1980’s. Recently, lost-boys and refugees from genocide in Sudan and other countries in Africa have come to the Springfield-area. They all have left unimaginable circumstances to brave unfamiliar shores away from home, friends, and family. All of these refugees have added to the richness of our communities by bringing new perspectives, ideas, and ways of doing things. They have started new businesses, become our co-workers, community leaders, and married friends and family. We are better off because they are in our midst.

Leadership calls upon those who presume to be leaders to make difficult decisions during tumultuous times. Inclusive leadership is not always easy. It can be hard to include those that others perceive as “different” or a “threat”. Inclusive leadership relies on leaders that can bring out our “better angels” when the task is difficult. Being truly inclusive calls upon us to move along a scale from repugnance to tolerance to finally acceptance. Leaders can model the way by taking risks and showing others how to be inclusive. I call to mind the church leaders in Indiana who have drawn the ire of their governor for accepting refugees into their homes. That is true leadership. To be inclusive leaders, we must become the woman with the torch lighting the way to acceptance and tolerance so others can follow the way.