The stories of incredible strength, resilience and inspirational collaboration that have emerged over the last year are certainly worth celebrating. But, as we celebrate the silver linings of a difficult year, we should also examine how those accomplishments happened, and at what cost. The COVID-19 pandemic and heightened racial, social and economic disparities are not just affecting systems. It is not just the education system, but students and families being impacted. It is not just the nonprofit sector rising to the occasion to pour into the community, but individuals working hard to make things happen while navigating their own personal situations and barriers.
“Difference makers rarely have psychologically safe spaces to unpack the difficult realities they navigate behind their titles, smiles and roles,” says Shannon Cohen, an award winning difference maker in her own right whose expertise lies at the intersection of emotional intelligence, psychological safety and equity. “This is especially true for people of color in spaces of leadership and women navigating what has been coined, the Motherhood Recession.”
Through research for one of their programs, Shannon Cohen, Inc.’s data revealed the following insights:
- Strength, courage, pain and uncertainty often occupy the same mental space in the life of a leader.
- Leaders need psychologically safe spaces to be humans without the titles and mantles they carry.
- Funding and budget constraints have reduced capacity for individual leaders and organizations to invest in this type of leadership care and development. This is even true when they see the value and recognize symptoms of functioning burnout within their staff.
“Sometimes our strength as difference makers renders us invisible,” says Shannon Cohen. “We are considered the ‘rock’, ‘pillar’ and the ‘anchor’ in homes, marketplaces and communities.”
As a community, we cannot continue to build organizational capacity, stretch our resources and expect more from our difference makers without providing healing to our community and its leaders. Grand Rapids Community Foundation is committed to supporting initiatives that invest in the health and well-being of leaders bringing equitable change to their communities. We also recognize the added burden leaders of color doing equity work have faced over the last year. One way we are responding is through a multifaceted partnership with Shannon Cohen, Inc., which includes investments in spaces and experiences that nourish local leaders, including Community Care Circles, #ToughSkinSoftHeart podcast and their signature Rockstar Women Brunch.
Rooted in healing-centered engagement and people care, Shannon Cohen Inc. addresses the state of functioning burnout many different makers feel. Community Care Circles are custom-curated inspiration and strategy sessions designed to help difference makers candidly discuss the visible and invisible struggles and realities they navigate. The Community Foundation is investing in this work because our community needs to heal. Our support provided opportunities for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other local leaders of color to participate in a Community Care Circle, recognizing the unique and layered experiences they navigate, especially in this season. The additional resources of the #ToughSkinSoftHeart podcast and the Rockstar Women brunch support the work that happens in Community Care Circles as ongoing maintenance for healing and recovery.
Stress connected to crisis is high. Productivity in pandemic is exhausting. Demands, stressors and pressures are increasing for everyone. “We are virtually homeschooling our children, witnessing death and exacerbation of systemic inequities and disparities connected to race, navigating new levels of uncertainties at home and work, grappling with political tensions, socially distanced from sources of support, experiencing heightened fears connected to illness and working under rapidly changing conditions and realities,” says Shannon Cohen. “We are functioning, performing and producing, but as a collective WE. ARE. TIRED.”
As we continue to navigate and respond to the long-term impacts of COVID-19, we know that healing has to be part of the equation. For the Community Foundation, that includes support for the work that Shannon Cohen, Inc. and others are doing to leverage resources for those healing from multiple traumas. While we celebrate these partnerships and opportunities for difference makers, we know that there is still much to be done and remain committed to finding ways to support the health and wellbeing of our community.