Partnering for Change

November 17th, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

Dear Barack,

I hope that you don't mind my calling you Barack. I do so because you look like my sons, mothers, uncles, sisters, fathers, aunts and cousins. I do so because you look like kin to me, and I imagine that most of the people in this country (perhaps the world) could and should say the same. At the same time, I want to acknowledge your roles as Community Organizer, Senator and President-Elect of this vast experiment we call the United States of America.

The morning after the election, I found myself weeping as I made my bed. Weeping because I realized that, for the first time in my life, I believed that black people would survive. I didn't even know that I thought we wouldn't. Your ascendency has changed that deep, hidden belief in me, and for that I am truly grateful. It feels like I have been holding my breath since slavery, and I can now, finally, breathe. Thank you.

In the ensuing days, I have been thinking much about partnership. Partnership is one of Rockwood Leadership Institute's five basic practices, and I've been considering how to be a good partner to you as you lead us in the coming years. Many of us on the progressive side of things have gotten used to being resistant and oppositional, and I know that we need to relearn how to stand with our leaders. We need new tools, new ways to support you so that you succeed.

I know that you will take steady hits from many corners, and I want you to know that I (and I speak for so many) am completely committed to standing with you. Your job is not to make me happy. Your job is to create spaces of possibility that will allow me to do my work. I fully anticipate that you will disappoint me - how could you not? I know that I have certainly disappointed those who love and care about me - ask any of my partners.

What matters is that you know you can count on me. I may question your thinking or strategies, but I promise not to question your heart. I will trust that you see far more than I do - I need you to do just that. And you can trust that I will attend to my work - I see things that you cannot, and so we need each other. I will count on us both to remember that.

Here's what I offer to this partnership: I will trust that you will always move from your best intentions, and I will not criticize you. I will not hover over your shoulder, vigilant for your smallest misstep. When I disagree with you, I will offer solutions and support. I will not whine. I'm not sure about this "accountability" thing people seem to be talking about. I cannot hold you accountable - you are accountable to your own heart and to our collective well-being, not to me personally. So I'll hold you to your heart.

In return, I ask that you do the same. Please trust that I will move from my best intentions, and do not criticize me. I will make mistakes, so please cut me some slack. When you disagree with me, I ask that you offer solutions and support. And please don't whine. Hold me accountable to our collective well-being and to my heart.

Together, I know that we can do great things. Of this, I have no doubt. And I speak for legions. I'll count on you. You can count on me.

With all the love and respect that I can muster,

November 2008