Sanctuary, Joy and Revolutionary Leadership
We're celebrating the power and vision of Sabrina Hersi Issa, the Petticoat Award Honoree for our 2019 Evening of Joy and Liberation. In 2018, Sabrina penned a FB post that went viral - asking people to give to Sadie Nash to support the leadership of black and brown girls - not just talking about important causes, but giving resources to support those causes. She asked her community to demonstrate the behavior that she saw modeled by her parents - what she calls integrity in action. Sabrina is committed to investing in sanctuary, joy, and revolutionary leadership and asking her community to join her.
We’re thrilled to be launching the Integrity in Action Fund in honor of Sabrina. All funds will go towards vital leadership programming for our Nashers in New York City and Newark.
We’re also still in awe of the amazing speech given by Sabrina Hersi Issa! Check out the full speech below from An Evening of Joy & Liberation, borrowed from her article on medium.
“I gave the following speech at the Sadie Nash Leadership Project event: An Evening of Joy and Liberation on June 12, 2019. The talk — on joy, gratitude and revolutionary leadership — was my acceptance speech for 2019 Petticoat Award, given in honor of bold leadership. I was introduced by writer Veronica Chambers and the evening also celebrated the leadership of Sandra Jackson-Dumont. It was a spectacular occasion.
Below are my remarks, slightly edited for clarity. Enjoy!
I want to start first by giving gratitude to all the wonderful souls powering Sadie Nash and I want to say thank you for all the work you do in the world. I also want to share my deep gratitude to Veronica for your really beautiful, touching words.
It is meaningful to me to have Veronica here. We are new friends but I am so proud to be in her tribe as her words have helped me feel seen in the world. A strong belief I hold is that we are all due sanctuary and we are all due peace and feeling seen is a path toward sanctuary and light toward peace. So thank you for all you do Sadie Nash and Veronica for helping us find sanctuary and peace.
The intention in my work is to create opportunities for others to feel seen and to own power. Feeling seen in a world that is often hostile to your existence, to your leadership and to your voice is a tremendous way to spread peace.
The world opens up for you when you let yourself be seen.
And that is what I am here to talk to you about tonight. I want to talk about owning power and what we need to do to build new worlds together. I haven’t gotten a chance to spend much time with all the beautiful souls here tonight but I know I want to build new things with you all.
We need to feel seen because we need to spread peace.
We are living through a revolutionary moment and precarious times in the world. Tonight marks the third anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando and I want to acknowledge that. As we stand here tonight, activists in Sudan are undergoing brutal attacks from a ruthless regime and we need to acknowledge that because the world is not. We in America are living through an administration bent on unleashing trauma after trauma in our communities and I know a lot of you beautiful souls here tonight are also experiencing pain and I want to acknowledge that.
We are all due sanctuary. We are all due peace. We need revolutionary leaders committed to revolutionary love to show us that it is possible to achieve this.
And I know this because I needed this for myself.
This award came to fore through a series of painful events I experienced as a black Muslim woman working in America, being seen in the world as less than human, through serious traumas, through watching my colleagues, my peers and people in my community — some us also here with us tonight — also experience harm. Through all of that, I experienced fear of what would become of me if I walked away from what I knew — even if what I knew did not serve me.
How many of you can you relate to that?
Knowing I was seen, loved and valued created a break in the chaos and calm in the storm. It was through being seen in the world and experiencing revolutionary love that I was able to step into revolutionary leadership.
It is why, despite and in spite of so much, I am standing here today with all of you.
We are standing here today together.
We are still here.
Love did that.
We need to feel seen because feeling seen expands love. Feeling seen expands humanity. Feeling seen opens us up to joy.
Joy has been my life preserver.
I love that this event is called an Evening of Joy and Liberation because we need joy. We cannot live in the fire.
So I want to dig in on that — on joy.
I believe that success is surrounding ourselves with people who see you, hold your humanity and bring you joy. When we feel seen, when we see one another we open ourselves up to joy.
Joy connects us to possibility. The people who bring you joy help you imagine bigger than you could ever dream for yourself.
Joy is a critical component to building a better world.
Joy is what brought me here tonight and I had some help along the way. Not just from my parents. Or from my awesome family who is here tonight (it’s my big sister’s birthday!).
Unburdening myself from walking away from joyless ecosystems including a process that involved talking about my experiences, talking my trauma and doing it with and in community.
As a human rights technologist, as a writer, as someone who cares about the world — I work to bring dirt up to the light. But I never realized how freeing it would be to toss my shame into the sun as well. And that has been liberating.
And I think this works with joy. So I turned to my community and I asked them — What brings you joy? And they shared some great examples I want to share with you tonight because I am also a tech nerd, a child of the Internet who is all about good crowdsourcing:
My friend Anita says, “For me it is the greatest joy sharing happiness with others.”
Emma shares, “Being able to lift up and cheer on other women and colleagues in my life.”
Isra, who is here tonight, brings the real: “The food my immigrant mom makes brings me joy. Holding space for others and making a difference in my communities brings me joy.”
Now it’s your turn — I am someone who comes from an organizer background and I don’t think I should hog the mic for myself. So I want you to turn to the person next to you and share with them one thing that brings you joy and I’m going to set a timer and give you some time to do that…
[THE PEOPLE SHARE THEIR JOYS]
Ok! Welcome back! Raise your hand and when I call on you, you can shout out your thing:
[A RECAP OF ANSWERS]
Sabrina! [from my family’s table!]
My best friends
Thank you for participating in this and indulging me because how do we share that? How often do we get to share with someone else not in our current bubble what brings us joy? How often do we speak our gratitude? How often do we tell our sources of joy in our lives that they bring us joy and light?
Gratitude connects us to community, to people who inspire possibility. I am going to tell you what I am grateful for: I am grateful for perspective.
I am grateful that I knew when I’ve walked away from trauma or terrible situations — when I walked away from what did not serve, I knew that my future is greater than my past.
Our future is greater than our past. And thanks to organization like Sadie Nash, this I know for certain. As soon as I came across this organization I instinctively knew that this was the exact organization I want to champion.
Revolutionary leaders thrive on gratitude.
So I want you when you home tonight to ask yourself what are you grateful for and who are you grateful for?
And I want us to share in a commitment and I ask if we can make this a commitment together tonight: Can we commit to telling someone who matters to us in the next 24 hours that we are grateful for them?
If you’d like to join this commitment, shout “I COMMIT” on my count of three:
[THE PEOPLE ANSWER: I COMMIT!]
On Trusting Your Dreams
I am going to tell you what I am grateful for, because hey — I have the mic and I can…
I am grateful that I know in my heart that a better world is possible and I trust that through letting myself be seen, experiencing joy and living in gratitude that life has directed me and is going to continue to direct me toward the people and communities I can build that better world with.
I did not always believe that. I did not wake up like this. Which is exactly why I am so grateful tonight. In trauma, one of the first things one of the first things to usually get destroyed is trust in yourself, to trust your ability to read a situation for what it is and respond and protect yourself and your loved ones accordingly.
But the perspective that I held, that my future is greater than my past, propelled me past this unease and pushed me forward.
It meant a lot to me to see all these fierce, vivacious young people through Sadie Nash not only trust themselves but also trust and support one another’s leadership as well.
Others in my community wanted to pass along words of wisdom to reinforce this trust in your leadership and I want to share some of their words with you tonight.
My colleague Anna shares: “Healing is living and healing is a form of citizenship.”
Anita says, “When you live free, you make room for others to live free too.”
Tracy passed along the words, “You are leaders and you get to decide what your path looks like.”
Deepa, who is here with us tonight, shared: “In seeking who can support you on this journey I think of this quote from the late Nipsey: ‘If you look at the people in your circle and don’t get inspired then you don’t have a circle. You have a cage.’
Isra, our friend, says, “Breathe deeply and trust yourself.”
I do not believe revolutions to be at odds with peace. I believe revolutions represent a shift, a recognition that there is a gap between the world we have and the world we deserve.
The core ingredients for revolutionary leadership are this: let yourself be seen, experience joy, dwell in gratitude, dream expansively and trust yourself.
This is what I believe we need to live in vision and not in circumstance.
A better world is possible. Let’s celebrate that.
Thank you for dreaming with me tonight.”
Sabrina Hersi Issa is a human rights technologist and investor. She cares about living her values and keeping brown and black people alive, well and thriving.