The last few weeks have been life changing as I have had the opportunity to see children from the San Diego Family Justice Center and the Shasta Family Justice Center (Redding, CA) come to sessions of Camp HOPE, a specialized camping program for children exposed to family violence and other forms of trauma and abuse. There are a few major passions in this work over the last 27 years that have captured me – bringing everyone together in a community under one roof to serve victims and their children, creating high risk case responses and strategies that get us to “before” the homicide and change the tragic ending we see so often in family violence situations, and…camping. For everyone who ever went to camp as a child, you know the magic of camping, especially when we are talking about breaking the vicious generational cycle of domestic violence with children who often seem destined to the misery of their parents. In the words of my daughter, Karianne, Camp HOPE is about “giving children their childhood back.” Lt. Bernie Colon, Client Services Coordinator Katie Llamas, my wife Beth, and the whole team at the San Diego Family Justice Center have touched the lives of so many children in their effort to bring children to Camp HOPE San Diego this past year. With the support of the local businesses, the District Attorney, the Police Chief, and San Diego City Council members, the San Diego Family Justice Center has changed the world for so many children with the camping vision.
At the Shasta Family Justice Center, Angela McClure, Michael Burke, Laurel Park, Mimi Moseley, Jean King, and many others have done it as well with more passion and energy than I have ever dreamed possible. With the support of the District Attorney, members of the Board of Supervisors, and local business leaders, they have created a beacon of hope with the Family Justice Center and Camp HOPE. They teamed up with an all-volunteer team of Walmart truck drivers working out of the Walmart Distribution Center in Red Bluff, CA and the Missing in America Project (www.miap.org) and put on a one week camp this month that will forever change the lives of 80 children and 30 teen youth counselors.
The people of the Shasta Family Justice Center and all their friends, supporters, elected officials, policy makers, and other allies inspire me. They have their challenges and obstacles like every community in America and around the world, but they are determined, passionate, and relentless in their effort to change the world for victims and their children. As a dream develops in my heart to have a Camp HOPE facility here in Northern California that can serve children from the Western United States and become a model for others across America, I have been reading a powerful book called A Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman. I finished it last night after a day of looking at camp properties for sale here in the Redding area.
Edwin Friedman, before his death in 2007, identified five key characteristics of successful leaders. Whether you are dreaming of a camp, a shelter, a transitional housing facility, a Family Justice Center, a specialized investigations or prosecution unit, a Domestic Violence Court, a high risk case team, an education and outreach program, or another way to change the world for victims of family violence and their children, the five characteristics that Rabbi Friedman identifies should be a clarion call for all of us. Today, more than ever, every agency head, supervisor, visionary, dreamer, and leader in the domestic violence movement should reflect on these key attributes of successful leaders as we look forward to the next chapters in our journey to reduce, stop, and prevent intimate partner violence. If you want to be a part of world changing leadership, here are the things you must aspire to and challenge those around you to embrace:
1. A capacity to get outside the emotional climate of the day
Vision casting is not just a mental process. Visioning is also an emotional process. True vision casting must overcome the emotional defeatism of the day and must overcome the current willingness to settle for crumbs. Leaders must reject the discouraged, emotional pauperism of our day which says: We don’t have any money, we cannot afford to do anything new, we need to hunker down and struggle to get by in these difficult times.
2. A willingness to be exposed and vulnerable
One of the persistent problems of our day is the fear of standing out and being thought crazy. It is not just a fear of criticism though many leaders suffer from that virus. It is the fear that if you push the envelope too far, you alone will have to take responsibility for your position if you are wrong. True leaders must not fear this position. It is your lot in life. It is the territory of those that want to make true change. If you have a dream, you need to share it, expose your heart, and ask others to join you in it. They may reject you. Your dream may not be their dream. Your dream may be too big right now for others. They may laugh at you. And exposing yourself in that way can leave you feeling alone. But the willingness to dream big about ways to change the world and do things we have never done before is critical for leaders at the local, state, national, and international level.
3. Persistence in the face of resistance and rejection
Leaders have to be willing to be unpopular. William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln and others who fought to abolish slavery did not have the slave owners cheering them on. They faced intense opposition, criticism, and even hate. Leaders in the domestic violence movement that call for: Different approaches to service delivery in local communities; A central focus on prevention instead of only intervention; More survivor-honoring, victim-centered court responses; and better treatment of families in government agencies must always battle the critics who say, “This is the way we have always done it”, “Our system is as good as it can be”, “We cannot afford to do what you want,” “How will you pay for it?”, and “How can you be right and everyone else be wrong?” Perhaps the best sign of a weak, visionless leader is to hear “We cannot afford it” as the first words out of their mouth when someone shares an exciting new idea. We can, of course, afford anything if we find enough support and make it a high enough priority. The recent call of the Obama Administration and Acting Director of OVW, Bea Hanson, to focus on reducing intimate partner homicides is a perfect example. Most domestic violence homicides in America are predictable. And if something is predictable, it is preventable – it is only a question of priorities and resources. But many will respond and say we cannot afford early intervention approaches, specialized responses, Family Justice Centers, high risk teams, or other strategies that can reduce murders. Reducing homicides by 50% will take massive determination and persistence by many of us in the face of resistance and rejection of new ideas and cost-related programming. But it can be done.
4. Stamina in the face of sabotage
One of the greatest challenges for leaders in the domestic violence movement is when supporters of their vision lose their nerve. At the local, state, or national level, mutiny and sabotage most often come from colleagues and allies whose will gets sapped from the battles and hardships along the way. Too often the greatest opposition to innovation in our movement today comes from those within, not from external enemies or opponents. Gael Strack and I often say that our movement tends to eat our young. It is always a threat to the older generation, when the newer generation comes along. We don’t want to delegate our power, share our authority, or surrender the reins to the young. We think we have earned the right to be in charge and make decisions and we, sometimes even unconsciously, sabotage new ideas and innovative approaches because it was not our idea and we feel less important and less relevant if we let someone else run with a project or concept.
For the young leaders reading this, stamina is critical. Surround yourself with cheerleaders and supporters and stay at it! To the older, more mature leaders who may be, even unintentionally committing the small acts of sabotage and putting up the barriers to innovation, let go. The world will survive if you let others get the credit, pursue their dreams, and try new approaches to changing the world.
5. Courage when accused of being ‘headstrong’ and ‘unwilling to compromise’
Great leaders throughout history have not allowed relationships to get in the way of their vision. As Edwin Friedman points out in A Failure of Nerve, they did not use and manipulate people, but where they had to choose between giving up a relationship and giving up their goals, they stuck to their goals. Many of you reading this today are leaders and dreamers and you too often have surrendered to the popular concepts of our day: Team-building; Consensus; and Camaraderie. These are all good ideas and have their place as we build coalitions and mobilize communities. But if you want to challenge systems, current funding priorities, or entrenched government approaches that re-victimize survivors and their children and allow mediocrity and complacency to destroy hope and healing opportunities for those in need, you have to act with courage. True advocacy, as Ellen Pence so often reminded us, takes courage and you will make enemies. You will face criticism. And you will not always have the enemies of change cheering you in. Sometimes you will lose a relationship; sometimes they will stop inviting you over for dinner. But only the determined reach their goals. Respecting others and honoring them is always important but sacrificing your goals to placate others or avoid upsetting power structures has never been the legacy of world changing leaders.
It is time for many of us to recommit ourselves to being world changing leaders. Millions of women, men, and children are counting on us.