Reflections from 2019: A Letter from Our Executive Director

Today marks two months that I’ve been back at work part-time after maternity leave, and the six month birthday of our amazing little one and greatest teacher, Khalilah Rosa. What a whirlwind this year has been, marking a time of big transitions for me personally, for our organization, and also for the world. Huge thanks to Kimi Lee for providing executive support, as well as Zachary Norris, Miya Yoshitani and all the partner EDs for providing Executive Committee support, and Elly Rhee, Beth Gunston, Laneisha Butler, Jocelyn Cansino, Sheryl Walton, liz suk and all the members of our Field Fundraising Team and Daily Outreach team for holding down the work over these last few months.

I am bringing a bunch of lessons from the early days and weeks of motherhood back with me to Oakland Rising, and I’m delighted by how much this journey has informed my work as well as my personal life. Amongst the top lessons I’m bringing are:

  • Lean into trust. I had to consciously and intentionally learn to trust my body to grow and birth my baby, and I’ve since learned how to truly and deeply trust my family and friends to support and care for me and Khalilah through a difficult postpartum recovery period. I’ve also learned to deeply trust my team at Oakland Rising (and Bay Rising) to lead the work and make decisions for the organization. They did a spectacular job, and it’s been amazing to see everyone’s growth on the team as they stepped into leadership in new ways over the course of my 5 month leave.
  • Embrace the unknown and cultivate flexibility. These days Khalilah and I are finally finding our rhythm and groove together, but the first few months of parenthood were full of surprises despite my best efforts to prepare. From the challenges of breastfeeding (why don’t people talk about how hard it is?!?), to the realities of functioning on months of sleep deprivation, to the surprise of how long it would actually take us to get out the door, I learned to take deep breaths, be gentle with the discomfort of not-knowing, and give myself grace. Those lessons proved useful as we faced an unexpected staffing transition at Oakland Rising (more on that below), and as priorities shifted and we needed to shuffle around workplans and responsibilities. Deep breaths, gentleness and grace go a long way for our team as we step into an election year with so many moving and shifting pieces.
  • Slow down, be present and tap into the deep connection and growth that spaciousness allows. In the first months of motherhood I was spending hours and hours a day breastfeeding my baby. When I remembered to take deep breaths and bring presence to the situation, I was able to appreciate that those seemingly boring hours of sitting and rocking were literally keeping my baby alive and helping her grow. This period of time would be so short-lived that my fully engaged presence was the best thing I could offer to both of us. Similarly, when I returned to work I spent my first few weeks listening and being present with my team, and not rushing to get immediately caught up or into the busy-machine right away. That time helped me to understand my team’s needs and thoughts more deeply, allowed us to come up with solutions that wouldn’t have been possible if we’d been rushing or if I’d been directive, and allowed us to develop new dynamics that support our work and our sustainability in the movement.

I’m excited to return full-time in January as we enter a huge election year and the culmination of Schools and Communities First, which we’ve been working towards since I started at Oakland Rising eleven years ago. We’ve had time to take stock of the changes that occurred during my leave and to lay out strong plans to carry our team, our collaborative, our city and our state towards concrete victories in 2020.

The biggest changes that occurred during my leave were some staffing transitions in early fall. Reverend Damita Davis-Howard left her role as Political Director of Oakland Rising to assume a critical role in city government as the Director of Oakland’s Ceasefire Program. We are happy to have such a strong community advocate in that position, and can’t wait to see what successes she brings and how we will continue to work together to end violence and advance racial justice in the town.

To address Rev’s absence we enthusiastically moved our Leadership Development Manager, liz suk, from splitting her time between Oakland Rising and Bay Rising to become 100% at OR as our new Program Director. liz has worked in various non-profit and grassroots organizations in the Bay Area for over 20 years. Currently liz sits on the Board of Directors of Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN). A single mother of two school aged children (and amazing auntie to Khalilah), liz enjoys camping and imagining a new world rooted in love, peace, and justice. Just a few months into her new role, liz has gelled with her Program Team and has brought strong leadership to the organization that’s exceptionally grounded in anti-racist, feminist practices.

You may recall that in early 2019 in anticipation of my maternity leave we held our first ever overnight retreat with all nine of our partner orgs and over 30 people (including all EDs - a feat in itself!). Since then the EDs of our partner organizations have stepped into greater leadership of Oakland Rising through the formation of an Executive Committee that replaced and expanded upon our former Advisory Board. They are more engaged in the direction and strategy of Oakland Rising, and more aligned with each other, then has been the case in recent years. Between our Executive Committee’s leadership and the reconfiguration of our team, we are working from a place of strength and we are ready to take on 2020. Here’s to leaning into trust, cultivating flexibility, and being present with one another as we welcome the battles ahead.

Thank you for standing with us. We couldn’t do this without your support.

Towards Love & Liberation,
Jessamyn Sabbag
Executive Director

NETWORK