Leadership development is about much more than learning the"right skills and competencies." Leadership development is also about personal liberation and what it means to show up to social justice work as whole people. In this guest post, Kristie Bardell, a 2017-2018 participant in CompassPoint’s HIVE Leadership Development Program, shares her own leadership journey through the program as one of exploring healing, inspiration, voice, and equity.
A little over 18 months ago, I submitted my application to the HIVE leadership program, but at the time was filled with so much doubt as to who I was and whether I was good enough. Joining the HIVE enabled me to undergo a radical transformation, or as one of our facilitators, Spring, would say, led me to being “five times bolder.” This started my journey to becoming a queen bee.
I recently found out the difference between worker bees and queen bees. Bee larvae that are exclusively fed royal jelly hatch into a queen. Queens are raised in specially constructed queen cells. The HIVE facilitators, my fellow participants, and my coach were that specially constructed cell and, in part, were responsible in helping me become a queen.
I was called to the HIVE and, over time, it birthed me anew through the journey of healing, inspiration, voice and equity.
Healing, while beautiful, can be such an ugly thing, because you have to navigate through the darkest of places and desolate roads. There was an internal sense of inferiority that lived in my intestines that would eerily creep up at the most in-opportune times, like when I needed to advocate on my own behalf in my work and personal life. I knew that I was passionate, self-driven, and a warrior for the underdog because of the disparities I experienced firsthand and that I saw my family push against. However, for some reason, I would become depleted when it came to advocating for myself. I had the desire to support others in becoming their best selves, while inside of my soul I felt unworthy of my own success. Through the support of my HIVE facilitators and coach, I was able to unearth the root cause of my pain, begin to heal, and speak my values into truth.
HIVE, like college, was a roller coaster. At times, you didn’t quite know where you would end up, but you knew it was going to be worth it. Through the tears shed with my HIVE family and through their unconditional support, I began to feel a love and fearlessness that I can compare to another key moment in my life: graduating from a historically black university. Being surrounded by fearless leaders, facilitators, and a coach that were black and brown was an indescribable experience. Similar to going to a historically black university, being in an environment surrounded by people of color with shared experiences, fears, dreams and hesitations, let me know I wasn’t alone in my journey.
Our voice is one of the most powerful, unique tools we possess and it is shaped by our lived experiences. These lived experiences and the societal factors that push back on us can lead to self-doubt about the importance of one’s voice, making us feel stifled by marred experiences and making us want to be invisible at times. Being part of HIVE has reaffirmed that my voice, coupled with my lived experiences, are invaluable and can serve as a bridge for those who are voiceless. This realization has been tough because at times, you may be the lonely outside voice without supporters.
I have always been aware of the multiple blatant inequities that the community in which I live in (and other communities that are comprised of individuals with shared experiences such as myself) face. I strived to be proactive in identifying how I can contribute to making those wrongs right, which in part is the reason why I chose my career (public health); my passion. At one time, I felt that I would never live to see the day when the structures and systems that I navigate would really be equitable.
On mid-term election night, I found myself listening to NPR as I navigated through the woodsy areas of Mississippi on my drive to Northern Louisiana. I’ve taken these roads multiple times over the last two years due to various work-related trips.
When traveling this same route months prior, I was pulled over due to speeding while talking to my best friend on my Bluetooth. My friend quickly told me to keep her on the phone throughout the stop—after all it was late at night and there had been multiple incidents of police brutality toward black men and women nationally. One story in particular that made headlines—Alton Sterling—struck very close to home as this incident occurred in the city I was born and raised in.
To make a long story short, my getting stopped was very unpleasant and I vowed never to travel alone in the dark again on this path. Well, daylight savings time occurred and I found myself trying to beat the dark. I was 30 minutes from my destination on election night and saw red lights in the very far distance behind me, but I knew there was no way these lights were meant for me because I purposely set my car on cruise control under the speed limit.
Yet, as the lights approached, I began to feel tense. My heart was racing. I was literally in fear, but for what I didn’t know at the time. I even considered pulling off of the road. As the lights got closer and closer, I realized it was an ambulance. I was amazed at how terrified I was, and it probably didn’t help that the NPR host was discussing a new book about the death of Emmett Till. The NPR radio host said something along the lines of, “It’s so easy for people not to see what they don’t want to see.” This statement shook me to the core. While so simplistic, it is the challenge I face every day when trying to address the conditions in which people live, learn and work to ensure that they are more equitable and lead to better health and just outcomes.
Experiences like the one I had at my traffic stop can forever stay with you. These are the very systems organizers navigate that can eat you away on the inside. HIVE has reenergized me to address dysfunctional systems that can erode your self-worth to create more equitable systems instead.
The HIVE journey of healing, inspiration, voice and equity is just that—a journey. It’s a rocky path without an end. It’s not a finite journey. Leadership is ever-evolving, growing, learning and contributing to the larger world around us. Along the journey, you will have questions, encounter roadblocks, possibly even have to jump a few ditches. However, you grow and become stronger with every new discovery and obstacle to cross. This is the journey that equips you with the tools of a lifetime and it’s worth every second.
Kristie Bardell serves as the Director of the Family Health Portfolio at the Louisiana Public Health Institute. She works to improve sustainability of school-based health centers, build capacity of schools to improve the overall health of students, and implement adolescent risk reduction initiatives. She works with schools, community based organizations and faith based entities to assess and build capacity around programming, clinical services and policy change to develop strategies to address reproductive health services at a systems level. Ms. Bardell has over a decade of experience in community health developing and implementing health improvement initiatives. She is a graduate of Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine receiving a Masters of Public Health. As a native of Louisiana and passionate strategist, she continues to carve a pathway to health for all.