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Updated: Apr 29

How Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearings Illustrate Why the Women of Color Leadership Circle is So Needed Today



Countless women of color watched Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and saw themselves — in all of the pride of finding oneself reflected on the national stage and the familiar frustration in how Judge Jackson was treated. Over days of testimony, Judge Jackson was interrupted and talked over and down to through, at times, coded language and lines of questioning that often mischaracterized her job performance. Often, senators’ questioning centered critical race theory and crime, a choice that doesn’t quite feel separate from Judge Jackson’s identity. Repeatedly, we watched Jackson explain herself exhaustively, with remarkable calm and composure in the face of outbursts from men.


Ketanji Brown Jackson has more years of experience on the judicial bench than four current Supreme Court justices had combined when they were confirmed, and she brings more trial court experience than any other judge in nearly a century. It’s not Jackson’s resume that was the basis for such treatment. The disrespect she endured from a largely white and male committee was a glaring example that no matter your accomplishments, your income bracket, your level of education, your notoriety, where you live or what you do, women of color are impacted by the same oppressive systems and the double-edged, intersectional sword of race and sex-based and discrimination.


Underneath Jackson’s treatment lies societal doubt about women of color’s inherent capability to succeed. This doubt impacts women of color in their personal and professional lives, and even those who share their racial identity are not necessarily immune from its grip.


The Personal Impact on Women Leaders


Jyoti Sinha founded the South Asian Worker’s Center in Boston. When she began her work just over four years ago, she faced skepticism from South Asian men in her field who told her that such work wasn’t for women — and that, even if it was, certainly it’d be better suited for someone more widely known, with an Ivy League education, perhaps more familiar with Boston’s political economy.


“‘How could she initiate a center?” Who is she? What caste does she belong to? What religious group? Oh, she’s upper caste. Could she be a right-winger? What’s her last name?’ These are the questions that were coming toward me,” Jyoti Sinha says.


“I have a few supportive South Asian men within the South Asian Workers’ Center team, but they’re very suspicious of my vested interest. ‘What is she aiming to do? Does she want to run for office? Does she want to get into some position? Is she running after tenure? Is she all in for her promotion?’ Nobody wanted to accept the fact that I’m looking for social change. I’m looking for respect for this community,” She added.


Sinha is also faculty at a university and noted that her way of building community, which created space for innovation that serves the unique needs of the migrant community the organization supports, wasn’t openly accepted by a few academic communities. Skeptics viewed her public sociology practices as soft, or unscientific.

Charline Alexandre-Joseph is a senior-level professional and explains that her leadership style differs from others she’s worked with, too. It’s more collaborative. She mentors youth and says that if the goal is to make sure tomorrow’s leaders are well equipped, she wants to teach others everything she knows, which, she shared, isn’t a popular idea.


Alexandre-Joseph also spoke to the ways that society’s doubt about women of color being capable creates increased scrutiny in the workplace.


“When we are in our leadership roles or in our organizations, no matter which ones they are, there’s always a sharper eye on ‘what is that brown woman is doing? And why is she at the table? She doesn’t do it the way that the rest of us do it, so let’s keep our eye on her’ — and in a judging way, not in a loving, supportive or constructive way,” Alexandre-Joseph shared.


Over time, this can take a toll, Alexandre-Joseph says. “You start to believe, “am I enough because I do things differently?”


For Alexandre-Joseph, that societal doubt showed up within herself and her family. Alexandre-Joseph is Haitian-American and described how the work she does strays from her community’s ideas of success, which she says are very specific. Get a job — like a doctor, lawyer, or engineer — and earn a stable income. When she chose to work in the nonprofit sector, her family didn’t understand.


“There’s a bit of being raised and thinking that success looks a very certain way because mainstream, white dominant culture is only going to respect you as a Black professional if they can ‘understand you’ and so you walk around with that. I walk around with that a lot in my life and in my career.” Alexandre-Joseph said.

Before pursuing her current role she wrestled with wondering, “Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I savvy enough to do national work?”


“Here I am with my friend saying I saw this [job opening] and I thought of you, and here I am telling myself you’re not good enough for it…That fear is driven by the subtle, and not so subtle, social cues you get from mainstream white dominant culture that if you’re not going to be a leader in a way that they recognize, then you’re not going to be successful.”


In launching the South Asian Worker’s Center, Jyoti Sinha had pulled off a concept that men in the community had been working toward for years. But, she said, rather than joining her, she faced more judgment, demeaning comments about her work, and discriminatory assumptions about her personal life.


Sinha described how toxic masculinity drives a view among some in the South Asian community that women who are driven, independent and outgoing, conversing with women and men, must also be “sexually open” and “promiscuous.” She faced harassment from contacts through her work.


“Sexual advances were made toward me, and I felt horrible,” she said. “We come from a cultural background where we’re not supposed to talk about it. [We’re told to] ‘Just be quiet…’


“​​In South Asian cultures, rigid gender norms create a system of crime and punishment that is cyclical and functions to disempower women,” Sinha says. “If a woman tends to break the rules of being quiet and obedient, if she reveals her knack for free thinking or acts progressive, it’s a threat to the men in general. It shines an ominous light on the fact that in a patriarchy, women are held under control for male benefit.”


This reminds me of thoughts I’ve had about the skepticism around Judge Jackson: Why can’t a successful woman of color simply be a successful woman of color? Also, clearly, there’s so much in the experience of being a woman of color leader that is completely unique to us.


Far-Reaching Impacts


Maybe this doubt translates to why women of color are extremely underrepresented in top leadership roles at companies (only 3.8% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are Black) or why we receive less than 1% of all philanthropic funding. You can draw a line from such underfunding directly to the competitive, rather than supportive, energy many grassroots leaders experience from other community organizations, who may fear that if another group gets funding, their effort will suffer as a result. This only perpetuates the myth that “there can only be one” successful minority-focused organization or minority within an organization, not to mention, such unnecessary competition can’t be helpful in alleviating the isolation women of color experience at work.


What the Women of Color Leadership Circle Brings


All of the above is why the Women of Color Leadership Circle (WOCLC) is so needed. The circle creates a space where 15 women of color from all levels of leadership, from first-time managers to CEOs, can come together in shared experience and connect over their challenges and celebrate their wins together. The circle is about restoring what white supremacy in our workplace and in our society at large has torn down — the notion that we are enough.


Jyoti Sinha is a member of this year’s WOCLC. When she began to feel ostracized by the other leaders in her field, who were men, she decided to find her own support group. Sinha says the WOCLC celebrates the qualities that often prompt some women in leadership to be labeled as difficult. She shares:


“I have been interacting with a brilliant cohort of 15 leaders…and I feel so connected every month…The monthly all-day meetings help the cohort to deepen our connection through our common struggle. Nurture our leaders and foster meaningful collaboration. Create a safe space for self-care, which is so important while doing this meaningful community scholarship. Learn to say NO to the misogynist activist and academic community within the progressive Boston city.


To the men who refused to support her work, even after admitting they’d been thinking of creating a similar project for years, she says:


“[my work] shouldn’t make you intimidated, rather you should be joining hands. To those of you who want to have the power – who want to hold the leadership only for yourself, and think that is necessary because 'women can’t be leaders' — to those who question a woman for being a more recent migrant, for not having the same Bostonian background or jargon or Ivy League connection, and ask 'oh, who is she?!' To those, I say, I am Jyoti, and I don’t come from any of those things of which you think one should come from to make social change. This is also my Boston and I will form an ethnic workers' center. I will support this woman’s group I am a part of, and will make each and every woman as empowered as I can. You can do whatever you want to do. But this kind of confidence, this kind of amazing strength, came to me when I started facing the criticism with an open mind and decided to break the cycle of disengagement, to break the systemic racism, which exists within our cultures. Since I joined the WOCLC, no longer will I tremble – rather, I will roar."


Charline Alexandre-Joseph is also a member of this year’s WOCLC. She shared that the circle has helped her worry less, trust herself, and move away from overworking for fear of being perceived as incapable. Here’s more about how the circle impacted her over the last four months:


“We haven’t even met in person yet, but the energy is so beautiful and dynamic that tears are shed on a regular basis, and there’s no shame in the tears because…no one’s going to hold it over your head that you had a vulnerable moment, which is different than what it feels like at work.


I think the WOCLC is so critical, it’s been such a blessing because it's a lot of like-minded professionals who also lead differently than their mainstream counterparts or than the organizations that they’re in. Some of the leaders are running their own thing. Others have inherited leadership, like CEOs, or are new to leadership, and they’re nervous. But, it’s also that fear, I think, that’s at the bottom of that, this fear of not being enough. Because that’s a message that a lot of women of color get. When you’re in the room with 14 other amazing women and femme-identifying people, you realize that you’re not the only one who’s had this socialization, and that there is an opportunity to change it and shift it, and that you are enough.”


The 2022 Women of Color Leadership Circle is sponsored by The Boston Foundation and the Angell Foundation and led by Boston Women’s Fund, with facilitation by Interaction Insitute for Social Change. Learn more about the Women of Color Leadership Circle here and send us your questions at info@bostonwomensfund.org.



Updated: Apr 21

Boston Women’s Fund is honored to announce our support for three new recipients of our 2022 Movement Building Grant: Abilities Dance, Neighborhood Birth Center, and Sisters Unchained!


We believe that philanthropy has a responsibility to equitably distribute resources to communities and work in true partnership with community organizations. For us, part of that mission means perpetually rethinking how philanthropy has traditionally operated and holding to our commitment to participatory grantmaking, a process that allows communities to decide which organizations and initiatives get funding.


To determine which organizations should receive this year’s Movement Building Grant, Boston Women’s Fund created an Allocations Committee comprised of 11 volunteers diverse in age and ethnicity, from inside and outside of philanthropy. Committee members and the general public nominated 37 organizations they thought should be considered for the grant based on BWF’s definition of movement building. Together, we selected 11 to move forward. Then, rather than issuing a request for proposals, the committee issued a request for conversations with each organization’s executive director, disrupting the grant proposal process by removing the application burden from organization leaders. The committee conducted research, interviewed community members, and then, after five hours of discussion, selected recipients under a consensus model. The group had to unanimously agree on each recipient. This approach decentralizes power by shifting it from foundations to the community while democratizing philanthropy through fostering transparency, equity and inclusion.


Boston Women’s Fund can’t thank our Allocations Committee enough for all of their time and incredibly hard work in selecting this year’s recipients! The task was not an easy one, and it could not have happened without their steadfast dedication.


Each of our new grantees is working to improve the lives of women, girls and gender-expansive individuals across Greater Boston. Abilities Dance is shifting the dominant culture around disability rights through advocacy and education. Neighborhood Birth Center is creating an alternative model of care that centers the birthing needs of marginalized people through an anti-capitalist structure, and Sisters Unchained enables self-transformation for young women impacted by incarceration through community organizing and an abolitionist and political lens.


We recently spoke with leaders from each organization and could go on for days about the significance of their work, but we’d love for you to read on and hear their stories in their own words.



Abilities Dance

Ellice Patterson, Founder/Director


Abilities Dance’s mission is to disrupt antiquated ableist beliefs and disseminate the value of inclusion through dance. Abilities Dance is the only employer in Massachusetts explicitly hiring disabled dancers. The company is run by folks who identify as disabled, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQIA+, and their productions are informed by the lived experiences of disabled artists with intersectional voices.


Boston Women's Fund: Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?


Ellice Patterson: I founded the organization because I couldn't find space for myself as a professional disabled dancer, literally, as well as space that was telling stories that resonated with my intersecting identities. The catalyst after starting the organization was boldly putting ourselves out there in a reimagined Firebird ballet that was our first high-quality full-length ballet. It showed our international community that we were capable of creating, producing, and being in productions that were made by us and for us.



What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?


The grant will help continue to support the creation of our full-length ballet by supporting different artists within that production as well as supporting year-round administrative support to help move the work forward in coordinating the various logistics across both performing company and community engagement programs.



What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?


I would love for others to know that we take intersectionality very seriously. We believe intersectional disability rights = Black lives matter = environmental justice = LGBTQIA* rights, and more. We bring all of these ideas together through an access lens and strive to liberate all.



When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?


I am most proud of our Firebird ballet since it was an enormous feat to pull off with no one being part-time or full-time. There were many contract artists and volunteers committed to this representation that had never before been seen in the Boston area.



How can people get involved and support you in your mission?


Donate, attend events, and share your learnings here in your community. Find us on Facebook and Instagram: @abilitiesdanceboston

abilitiesdanceboston.org



Neighborhood Birth Center

Nashira Baril, MPH, Executive Director


Neighborhood Birth Center is on a mission to offer comprehensive midwifery care throughout pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period by integrating an independent freestanding birth center in Boston’s healthcare and community landscape. They believe birth is a sacred process, and when the pregnant person is centered, the experience has the power to transform and heal individuals, families, and communities.


Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?


Nashira Baril: I spent most of my career steeped in the very traumatic data of the maternal health crisis, and in particular the ways that crisis bears down on Black birthing people. In 2013, I had a powerfully transformative home birth experience with midwives and felt a tension between what I experienced and the stories I know of loss and trauma and sadness. Over lunch with Dr. JoAnna Rorie, my mentor and long-time Boston midwife, we talked about reviving the 30-year-old vision of a Roxbury birth center and bringing to scale the high touch care of midwives in a warm homelike setting, but covered by insurance and accessible to all. I quit my job shortly after that fateful lunch, and began pouring into this project — for the first six years as a volunteer, then came on as part-time staff last January after the intersecting crises of 2020 opened up a portal of possibility and accelerated our work.


What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?


Most birth centers are for-profit entities, started by midwives, using their own personal savings or lines of credit. At Neighborhood Birth Center, we have committed to birthing a nonprofit model, allowing us to maintain a humanitarian mission and share power with community. In doing so, we are steadfast in our commitment to community engagement and weaving a web of believers around this vision.


In addition to real estate development, fundraising, and business planning, we see shifting the narrative and building community as a fundamental piece of our sustainable success. Therefore, we seek to build partnerships with funders committed to movement building. This grant from BWF will support our efforts to socialize the community to midwifery and birth center models of care by hosting and participating in events from birth story slams, to house party fundraisers, to church gatherings, to social media conversations, to tabling at events. Midwives will join board members in support of educational efforts and other opportunities to speak about birth center models and safety. Areas of focus are safety, dignity, and FAQs from a client perspective.



What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?

A freestanding birth center is a home-like setting providing midwifery-led, family-centered care to healthy pregnant people outside of the hospital. Birth center midwives provide continuous, supportive care, using interventions only when medically necessary. Birth centers are integrated into the healthcare system, referring patients to hospitals for consultation or transfer of care when needed. Freestanding birth centers are the perfect solution to meet the triple aim in health care: lower costs and better outcomes with high satisfaction rates. A shift of 10% of births from hospitals to birth centers would save $1.9 billion annually.


Neighborhood Birth Center is a community-grounded, Black-led, nonprofit birth center that is part of a national movement to #ReclaimMidwifery and create a future in which quality health care is accessible to all. We believe that birth is a sacred process, and when the pregnant person is centered, the experience has the power to transform and heal individuals, families, and communities. We are designing everything from physical space to policy to organizational culture with a commitment to healing the past and creating a new model of care.



When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that we have kept a sense of abundance at the center. It’s hard! But it feels so good! Often, in this nonprofit fundraising hustle, and in the broader context of deeply internalized experiences of late-stage capitalism, we are faced with scarcity. The belief that we should trim our budget, low ball costs, cut corners, and do more for less. One of the ways that showed up this year was in my sticker shock at the costs of construction in Boston and immediately, I and others, started to feel like we could trim costs by reducing the number of birth suites, or cutting the garden, apothecary, or atrium from the design. But that feeling was fleeting. We have a shared practice of naming “oh, there’s that feeling of scarcity again” and acknowledging it, then breathing into abundance.


What’s the impact of saying we need an extra six-figures in order to build the birth center that Boston needs, versus, not building it to the specs we know we deserve? From that place, there is no comparison. I refuse to sacrifice creating a beautiful space that has the power to transform people for generations because we are afraid to say we need to raise another $1M, when for many in this city, that’s a rounding error. So, I’m most proud that we are not making decisions from a place of scarcity and limitation, but from the belief in abundance and that there are enough resources for Boston to have an exquisite, luxurious, birthing center, the presence of which will benefit everyone, even if they never give birth there.



How can people get involved and support you in your mission?


Sign up for our quarterly newsletter at neighborhoodbirthcenter.org and become a sustaining donor.


Follow us on social media

Twitter @BirthCenterBOS

Instagram (IG)@neighborhoodbirthcenter

Facebook Facebook




Sisters Unchained

Ayana Aubourg, Executive Director


Sisters Unchained is a prison abolitionist non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young women and girls with incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parents. They are a refuge space where young women of color can focus on loving and improving themselves and their communities in the way they see fit. Sisters Unchained believes that community-based alternatives to incarceration will lead us to a more liberated future.


Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?

Ayana Aubourg: Formerly incarcerated mothers yearned for and sparked the vision for a space dedicated to daughters of incarcerated parents. This led to a pilot project called Coding for Justice in 2015. During our first summer together, we experienced transformation in sisterhood, leadership, and our inward journeys of healing. So, we collectively decided to rename ourselves Sisters Unchained. Why? Because we created a sacred space to break the isolation, build political and self-awareness, and strengthen our imaginations/visions for people-centered solutions to a more just world without prisons.

One member who became involved during the founding summer says, “When I first started Sisters Unchained I was a nervous young teenager. Throughout the program, I made bonds with a lot of the girls who came and participated.”

She joined after her father, who was sentenced to prison for four years of her childhood, encouraged her to give our program a try. She shares, “This helped me feel more comfortable in my skin to know that I had a sisterhood. Over the course of the first couple years...I started to gain more of a voice and now...I’ve advanced from participant to facilitator and program assistant. Every day I’m still learning and growing as a person within SU. I’m appreciative for all the opportunities I have gotten and that are to come in the future.”

Today, she is still working on strengthening her relationship with her dad.

A current member that recently joined Sisters Unchained shares, “It’s a second home for me and makes me feel comfortable and free to say what I need and feel.”

What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?

With the investment of the BWF, Sisters Unchained will work towards increasing the number of young women involved in our summer and fall intensive; expand our Rides for Families project providing free transportation and accompanied visits to loved ones behind bars; increase the number of people reached and engaged in public awareness campaigns led by our members to highlight issues facing young people.

What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?

Our work is deeply rooted in abolitionist values and ancestral healing practices. We are non-traditional in the sense that we uplift solutions that exist within the margins of society. However, we are traditional in the sense that we are cultivating a space for young people to experience the healing modalities and creative/liberating outlets of expression that have been practiced within their ancestral lineages.

When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?

We are most proud of the systems we have built, within our organization and programming, to cultivate community and self-care practices that can nourish our spirits and sustain our leadership.

We are also proud of our two alumni participants, who are now in college and have returned to give back to Sisters Unchained by becoming program facilitators. We have witnessed their growth and are so thankful for their incredible contributions to the development of our curriculum and for sustaining a safe space for our members. They are absolutely amazing! We are excited to continue to explore more ways to invest in the leadership of daughters with incarcerated parents.

How can people get involved and support you in your mission?

There are so many opportunities to get involved and support children with incarcerated parents. Here are just a few ways:

  1. Do you have a passion, skill, or story that you would like to share with our community? We are always looking for guest speakers/workshops, as well as opportunities for young women to shadow and explore new experiences in various fields.

  2. Interested in offering pro bono graphic design services? Please email info@sistersunchained.com

  3. Every summer, we provide free lunches to our participants! We greatly appreciate discounted offers or in-kind food donations from restaurants and cafes.

  4. Are you a part of a youth group/org and interested in community building or collaborating with Sisters Unchained? Let us know who you are — we would love to connect with you! We are active on Instagram (@SistersUnchained) and Twitter (@SistersUnchaind).

  5. We believe that any and everyone can work towards prison abolition (not just activists and organizers)! We encourage you to have these conversations with your friends and family, try boycotting a company that invests in prisons/jails, or speak to your local rep/senator about ways they can support legislation that offers community alternatives to incarceration. Lastly, we hope you will continue to uplift the stories and visions of Black, Brown and Indigenous women and girls affected by incarceration.



Thank you, Ayana, Nashira and Ellice for your time! We’d also like to give another huge thanks to our Allocations Committee for making this possible. We’re honored to welcome these organizations to the Boston Women’s Fund family!





Updated: Apr 21


At Boston Women’s Fund, we recognize that although we are all navigating oppressive systems, some folks are even further marginalized. We're highlighting Ericka Hart and her work, specifically during Women’s History Month, to center support for who we believe to be the most vulnerable individuals: the LGBTQIA+ community, and for us, specifically, Black trans women.


We all need to consider how we can create safer spaces for queer, trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming folks. As an organization, we are dedicated to building an environment that pushes beyond the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community and instead fosters true belonging. Ericka Hart has incredible knowledge to share regarding just that, and we invite you to learn with us.


In Solidarity,

Natanja Craig-Oquendo