Who are you?
I was born and raised in South Bronx, New York ... I'm Puerto Rican and I'm 55; I came of age in the 70s South Bronx, 70s New York.
Everybody had their eye on the children and the elders, people in the community that needed to be watched because of either age or were vulnerable. That’s my foundation, and then outside of the home, I loved to be outside playing. I'm the middle daughter of three sisters-- I have an older brother.
What role has Leeway played in your own evolution?
My first encounter with Leeway was as an applicant; me and Magda Martinez applied to do a residency in Denver with Su Teatro, which is a community-based theater company in Denver. So, that was my first exposure to Leeway; Barbara Silzle was the Executive Director at the time.
Next encounter was with the advisory committee and the reason why this sort of process began. The story that sticks in my mind is when Linda Lee Alter, Leeway’s founder, shared the story about somebody she knew upfront who had applied for grant from Leeway and got the money.
This woman came up to her and said thank you so much for the grant and Linda congratulated her. She also asked her what she did with the money she was awarded? The woman said, it was so great because it helped me to pave my driveway. Linda was horrified.
In remembering our conversation, I think Linda realized that there had to be an application process and a change in how these grants were structured. Folks should actually apply, instead of just giving the money outright.
A committee was organized. Through the process, the committee members talked about what kinds of grants should be established. We talked about hiring people to administer and manage the grant making process, separate from an ED. They (the committee) created the foundation for the grants programs that you see now. After that process, Denise Brown became the Executive Director and I became Board President.
I was the President for about four years, maybe a little more, and that process was interesting because then we had to develop the actual board and do a search.
We talked about race, class and gender. One of the big issues for me was the class issue, because throughout a period of time as a Board President, I was unemployed. I would find myself signing checks for $15,000 – it was tension for me, it was really kind of weird.
At the time, the kind of conversations that we were facing; this idea of grants for women and the dynamics of talking about the transition to becoming inclusive of trans folks. Those conversations hadn’t really been heard out loud.
I never had those conversations, even though growing up, I met all kind of folks, but I never had any kind of conversation about the life of someone who was different in regards to their gender identification. Except with my experience of my own race and class issues. And being the girl in my family that took control of my own destiny and questioned the role of my brother and the liberties he was afforded because he was the only son.
We identified a consultant to help develop the board. I think her name was Jennifer Henderson, I believe she was the board president of the Ben and Jerry Foundation at the time. It was a really intensive process and it was good, but it was just the beginning of scratching the surface. There was tension.
We came to the conclusion that we had to go through a process, to create a strategic plan and to really do some work around how we are going to build this. To look at ourselves as individuals and ourselves in our roles as ‘gatekeepers’. I don’t know if we used that language at the time, but we would become ‘gatekeepers’ even if it was for good.
I think that this process pushed me to find my own voice, not find, but claim my own voice by giving value to my experiences. My experience helps me to look at decision making in a different way; to really look at all the variables, before you make a decision that could affect somebody’s life.
I also had to check how I interacted with people and acknowledge my own biases. I’d have to be a little bit more open – yet acknowledge my feelings – I had to be open to criticism, to a reflection that involves my role, manage my feelings and then explore why I was feeling that way.
We are at 25 years of Leeway and you have reflected a lot on some really important process to get Leeway where it is now. Where do you think Leeway should go, over the next 25 years?
I think there should be a plan for leadership transition. I had been through that process with founders, when I ran a small social services agency.
You need new blood, and I think in terms of staffing there has been some movement forward. The first thing is to explore what kind of a process would it take to create that trajectory and how much time it would take. It won’t necessarily happen tomorrow. Its thinking about what are the next 25 years going to look like?-- that’s really what I'm thinking.
If Leeway was a playlist, what song would you be?
First song, this is terrible! The first lyric I thought of was, ‘I talk to myself, because I have no one to talk to’ I think that was from an ‘80s song. I was thinking about the early days when at times I felt like I was talking to myself. (The song referenced is Talk to Myself by Christopher Williams.) The full playlist, like for the 25 years? That’s one, because they were many moments where I was like, I was talking to myself, which I think is normal in this process.
I'm also thinking of Carlos Santana. So crazy…Madonna just came into my head: “life is a mystery/everyone can stand alone, and it feels like home” …was it Like A Prayer?
I think like a prayer, talk to myself and then all the process – life is.