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Dispatch from #ForumCon23: Leading with Love towards Liberation

Thursday, August 17, 2023

This is a guest post by Brea Butler, Coordinator of Philanthropic Advising Services at ABFE.

Last month I was granted the opportunity to attend United Philanthropy Forum’s Annual Conference in New York. While it was my second time experiencing a conference in the sector, it was my first as an attendee, and it served as a wonderful continued introduction to philanthropy for me. The sense of community that was fostered, the conversations that were prioritized, and the lessons that were learned were invaluable not only to my professional development but also to the sector as a whole, as I’m sure each attendee found their own takeaways. In reflecting on my experience at this year’s ForumCon, two major throughlines emerge: love and liberation.
The first session I attended was the Emerging Leaders Workshop facilitated by EPIP. With the excitement and activity of a large conference, being among my peers in a small-group setting immediately helped me feel right at home. One of the first conversations we had in the session was around Liberatory Leadership and what it could look like. Hearing the perspectives of my colleagues- some echoing sentiments I already had and some sparking new ideas I’d never considered- really set the tone for what I’d continue to listen for in other sessions. Some thoughts on liberatory leadership that emerged include:

  • Valuing people’s personal and collaborative power as much as we value the power we grant people based on their position or level of expertise.
  • Leading from a place of love and wholeness within our organizations, empowering folks to show up as their fullest selves.
  • Centering repair in our internal and external work.
  • Understanding the leaders must simultaneously be learners.

Another session I attended was a discussion on Race and Disability within Equity & Inclusion Training and Learning led by Disability and Philanthropy Forum. This session was not only important to me personally, but it helped frame my professional work (which is centered around racial equity) through the lens of disability justice as well. During the presentation, Sarah Napoli, one of the facilitators, shared the statistic that 1 in 4 Black people have a disability, helping provide empirical basis for a fact I already knew internally: there is no racial justice without the inclusion of disability justice. The 10 Principles of Disability Justice is a resource we all can use to further our impact and amplify the voices of those most marginalized.

The love I mentioned earlier was felt and expressed throughout the conference, not just as a feeling, but a call to action to adopt a love ethic within our organizations and work, helping us as philanthropists to live up to our namesake. But love of humanity, love of culture, and love of community were most viscerally felt at the supplementary events the Forum curated. I attended the Black PSO Professionals Dinner and the Walking Tour of Harlem, both leaving me physically and emotionally full. It was incredible to connect, learn, and strategize and at the same time let loose and have fun. At a time when anti-Blackness is no longer covertly written into legislation but unabashedly broadcast on national and statewide stages, cultivating a space for Black philanthropic professionals to sit with the seriousness of our reality (as we always do) but also to just be in fellowship with one another was of the utmost importance. Touring Harlem helped us focus on learning the lessons of history and accounting for present-day trials to help inform a better and more just future. Also, seeing national treasures like the Apollo Theatre and the homes of Harlem Rennaissance figures made my inner child’s heart soar.

Overall, my experience at ForumCon2023 was enlightening, and I honestly wasn’t ready for it to end. I felt so energized by all of my interactions, and warmly welcomed into the field. There were so many interesting sessions and activities that it was impossible to attend them all, but the survey I got was enough to hold me over until next year. Thank you to all the Forum Staff for providing such an amazing learning opportunity and experience for all who attended; job well done. 

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