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July 2, 2013


Relationships are very important to me—personal relationships and professional relationships. Cultivating connections. Fostering friendships. Maintaining meaningful relationships.

Participating in the Rockwood Art of Leadership training was transformative in my practice of relationship building. During the Art of Leadership, I was introduced to the practice of “conociemiento.” Conocimiento is the concept of shared power and awareness through trust and building a rapport. In essence, we must learn who a person is and share with one another before we can build the bond and trust needed to really collaborate, partner, and share power with others.

The key to our work in this field is to build relationships, mending the broken and ending the unhealthy. But more than teaching or preaching, the best strategy to do this work is to model healthy relationships. This is particularly true when working with young people—we must model for them what healthy interactions look like. Yet, I realize that I may not always be doing this.  For example, I have spent so many violence prevention sessions focused on the “education” piece, ensuring that young people are building their knowledge and learning the specific information, that I’ve missed opportunities to build true human connection with many of my youth.

In my new position as Director of Youth Leadership and Development at the Weingart YMCA, I’m putting into practice “conociemento” time. Rather than placing emphasis on educating on the “the keys to a healthy relationship” or some other topic that seems to be of urgency (which they all seem to be in this violence prevention work)—I’m focusing on modeling a healthy relationship with my young person by engaging in an one-on-one conversation with them. Making the YMCA’s Teen Center a place of openness where youth feel free and comfortable to share, connect, bond, build relationships, so that the youth and I will really begin to share power. Because when the youth really feel that someone is listening and cares then they can really become engaged and personally connected to the work.

This also all holds true in coalition building collaborations and partnership--that's what excites me about Move to End Violence! To come together and meet with a cohort of 20 folks and build long-term meaningful relationships, with people I would of otherwise never have an opportunity to meet.

Our convenings are incredible spaces to meet and make connections—to develop relationships. More than just your everyday conferences where information is thrown at you from a top down approach, our convenings provide adequate time to share, not just share our our work or strategies, but share ourselves. Tune into our hearts and spirits. Tap into our inner selves and connect on a deeper level beyond the “what we do”, “how we do,” but get to the “why we do.” That is my hope for the movement,…a shift from focusing on what we do, how often we do it, to what scale we do it, but begin to tap back into the reason why we do the work we do.

The seeds have already been planted. Just days after our first convening, I received a text message from a colleague I met in Tarrytown, that said "hey girlfriend! Looking forward to working with you.” I received a phone call from cohort member offering invaluable expertise on how to engage men in the movement from a forefather in the men against violence against women. This type of support, advice, and tips were shared so freely (and might otherwise have a consultant fee attached) was given from the heart because of our new founded connection. An email chain one cohort to another seeking out strategies to work together and mobilize collective action in response to VAWA. It’s all these moments that both inspired me to apply to Move to End Violence that also have me hopeful for the next two years of participating in the program.

Having made such short but deep connections in less than a week (and for some only in a couple of days) is one of the key reasons I sought out this leadership opportunity.  To dialogue, share, learn, grow, collaborate, partner with a beloved community. Relationships are important. If people don't feel a sense of collegiality, collaboration, or a sense of fairness, they won't engage in the behaviors that we expect of the people we serve.

Art by lizar_tistry