Monica Ann Arrambide
One Leader's Road to Empowerment
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In this moving personal account of her journey as a leader of color in the queer youth movement, Monica Ann Arrambide lays bare the doubts and trials she has encountered as a leader and how the Next Generation Leaders of Color Program, her peer participants, and resilience have given her the knowledge, support, and recharged strength to redefine and restore her on the leadership path of her choice. Monica is the co-founder of Maven, an interactive virtual community for LGBTQA youth to network, organize, and educate for social change.

Audio Transcript:

Monica gave this presentation at the Closing Session of the 2011-2012 Next Generation Leaders of Color Program.

Einstein once said, "The life as an individual has meaning only in so far as it aids in making the life of every living thing more noble and more beautiful."

For close to two decades I have dedicated my life's work to better the lives of our queer youth. I have experienced great joy and fulfillment on this journey of empowering our younger brother and sisters. I have fond memories of the young lives I have had the privilege to work with. On this social justice journey I have also experienced great sorrow.

I have been spit upon, had beer bottles thrown at me, my car vandalized. I have had parents of queer youth verbally assault me in reaction of their discovery of their children's involvement in my center's program. I have experienced communities who have flooded school board meetings in hopes of preventing me to speak at school assemblies. I have received countless hate mail expressing disgust and perversion. I have beared witness to the destruction of our queer youth by the means of drugs, alcohol, and meth. I have lost count of the times I have looked deep in the souls of our queer youth to see inner rooted scars inflicted by the concept of religion. I am haunted by memories of personally working with queer youth who have succumbed to severe depression and taken their lives because they lost hope for a better tomorrow.

Through this downpour of sorrow and challenges, my journey as a leader in the queer social justice movement for over 15 years has never faltered or ceased. This all changed over three years ago. I left a secure job in Austin for a director's position in a well-established queer organization here in San Francisco. After 30 days, my employment was dissolved. My dreams of doing social justice work in a city which revolutionized the queer movement had came to an abrupt end. My leadership was displayed on a platter for everyone to question and examine. Through this process I deeply questioned my leadership and ability to work with queer youth. I suddenly found myself unemployed in a state in which I did not qualify for unemployment benefits, in a city which has the highest unemployment rate in the country and 3 times the cost of living than that of Austin. I found myself in a city in which I knew no one. Most importantly, I found myself stripped from the passion for queer work and ashamed to face my family and colleagues who instilled so much hope and promise for my future. I internalized this setback as "I am not good enough to lead." The remaining relic parts of leadership which were left standing from this storm, I used my own bare hands to tear down in defeat. During these trying times, I experienced firsthand how one can lose hope for a better tomorrow. There were nights I woke up in a panic with my heart in my throat unable to scream. I was overcome with sadness wondering how and when I will work for the queer movement again.

After 6 months, I was able to secure employment, leaving a trail of financial slaughter. I took the first job I could land; it was not a queer organization nor a social justice organization, but an organization who believed I could lead. When I applied for this opportunity [NGLC] with CompassPoint, I was still healing from my recent challenges and was still deeply undervaluing my leadership. When I received notification of my acceptance into this program, I was in the construction phase of rebuilding myself as a leader.

Today I am sure we will hear stories of how better a supervisor someone is, how coaching has improved their work, how budgets are aligned with heart of the agency's goals. We will hear all the wonderful tangible gifts this program has given to us as leaders. The story which I wanted to ensure was told are the gifts which are hard to measure. Such as: the gift of compassion to address the restoration and healing of leaders of color; the building of spirits and souls to step into leadership as a humble whole leader; the gift to be surrounded by POCs [People of Color] in order to create a safe haven to explore the framework of leadership; the gift of providing a learning environment free of power dynamics and culturally supportive. These gifts which may be hard to measure into quantitative data are the gifts which make me a stronger leader today.

We have learned that coaching is not therapy, and yet there is something very much rooted in my work which relies on the humanity of the human heart. Social justice is the outward therapy our world needs to heal and connect us all as one. Through this year of growing through CompassPoint, I have redefined and restored my leadership in an upward direction for change.

I stand before you a humble servant to the queer social justice movement. With my strengths and weaknesses as a story is one of not just hardship but of dedication and love for social justice work. It's a story of resilience in leadership, and honoring the connections gained through this program.

I believe we are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread that is infinite in its potential and fragile in its design. We are connected by hopes and dreams, by loss and grief. I am connected to those who stand among me and those who throw rocks upon me. I am connected to you by your actions and inactions, your beliefs or disbeliefs. I am connected to your success in leadership and your resistance to lead. We are ALL connected and entwined for we are ALL human. This thread which binds us together is what will align our hearts in the direction of change and healing. It is this web of connections that makes our life unique and valuable. Life is not about good or bad, right or wrong, winners and losers, but about connections in the most unlikely areas of growth.

My story is one of 20 in this room, thousands in this city, millions in this state, and billions in this world. We all have stories to share of life, love, passion, and loss. If we would pause to share and listen to each other's stories we will find we are all the same. We will also discover that by our connections we are capable of repairing our fragile world and create a universe of infinite possibilities.

Learn more about CompassPoint's Cohort Leadership Programs.