Leading by Example

As the co-director of the Undergraduate Leadership Program at Futures Initiative, it is important for me to have a certain level of transparency with the Leaders. Although I am a private person, I do lower my guard for the Leaders to let them know that they are not alone and not everything is alright. Last year, returning Leader, Cherishe and I had a heart-to-heart about balance and navigating racist situations in higher education, such as a fellow student thinking it would a good idea to have a slavery themed panic room.

I told Cherishe that she is her number one priority. Her health, in all capacities is important to preserve and maintain. The only problem was that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I was doing the same thing while countering the signs my body was showing me, such as cluster headaches.

However, when activist Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, died last December, I felt her death was partly because she lacked self-care. Garner was a warrior and fighting a hell of a battle, but she was also human. Activists usually have ailments because of their dedication to their cause, but not to their health. I went to my vision board took everything off and started over again. The new year would not be one in which I was constantly chasing my dreams while neglecting myself. It was about me taking care of Kashema on this next trip around the sun and beyond.

This time I focused on my health and wellness. My ambitious goals needed to take a back seat…but, I’m also a creature of habit. I fell into the same pattern after a while, with what I should be doing in the back of my mind. I did implement self-care throughout the year, but I wasn’t consistent.


During my session “Reflecting with Audre Lorde about Leadership” at the Annual Leadership Institute, we were discussing the quote above. Cherishe told the group about our conversation and how it helped her to focus on herself. I felt like a hypocrite and the same way I would call anyone out, I called myself out. I told the cohort that I didn’t practice what I preached for the most part, but that the importance of self-care should never be undermined.

That was August, it’s now October and I am sitting still reminding myself to practice what I preach, not only because I said it, but because it’s vital to my survival. I reflected on Audre Lorde’s most recited poem, “A Litany for Survival” and Alexis Gumbs’ analysis of Lorde’s poem as a promise to our ancestors, our community and our bodies while being a Black woman in academia, which survives by using various forms of systemic oppression against me. I have my scars as proof, therefore my survival is political warfare.

So the next time I have this conversation with the Leaders, I can look at them and say yes, I am taking care of myself. It’s the mask in the airplane rule (put your mask on before putting on someone mask). Most importantly, it’s the first rule of nature, self-preservation–you can’t pour from an empty cup, as they say. Although my cup is not full, it’s not empty either–nor will I allow it to be.


The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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