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Art of LeadershipProfile of a Rockwood Leader

My Personal Life Fuels My Professional Life

By April 10, 2014May 17th, 2017No Comments

Ayana Walker is the Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator for the Women’s Community Clinic in San Francisco where she spearheads enrolling women for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. In October 2013, Ayana was one of 27 women who went through Rockwood’s 5-day Art of Leadership for Women in Racial Justice and Human Rights. A month after the training, she reflected on her experience.

Ayana WalkerBefore the Art of Leadership, I spent a lot of time at work. I felt overworked, but it was a very normal, familiar and comfortable feeling for me. My life was generally hectic, fast-paced, and go, go, go. I was always doing something.

One of the results of going through Rockwood is that I’m trying to slow down and be very present with what I’m doing in the moment, and not do 800 things at once, which is my natural inclination. I’m working on having a much better work/life balance, and feel a lot more centered and together.

During the training, I was in a two-year long Fellowship at the Women’s Community Clinic in the Western Addition of San Francisco. WCC is a sexual and reproductive health care clinic for uninsured women. During my Fellowship, I wore a lot of hats: clinical coordination, community health education in the Western Addition and the Mission, and outreach to homeless and marginally housed women in the Mission.

I went into the retreat with the mindset that I was there for work, but I quickly realized that it was a very personal retreat, which was what I needed. By the end of the session, I recognized that: a. I have to take care of myself to be effective at my job, and b. my personal life fuels whatever I’m doing in my professional life.

My original Vision Stand [sharing a picture of your desired future with the group] was about bringing more community health education using an asset-based model to WCC. By the end, my Vision Stand was more personal. I’d known for a while that I have a lot of adaptations that I have developed from having a history of trauma. I learned that those adaptations are sometimes a hindrance to my success, and that I don’t need them anymore. I’m holding on to them because I’m used to them, and they’ve been valuable to me. In most cases, they’ve kept me alive. My final Vision Stand was about bringing a sense of vulnerability and transparency to my life.

It’s a really big shift. Interestingly, the supervisor who sent me to Rockwood (she’s an alum), who I adore, told me when she hired me for my Fellowship, “I have ideas about what I want for you to get out of this Fellowship: I want you to have a sense of balance in your work and in your life.”

It was wonderful to be in a group with women who are all doing the same kind of work. I have been to a lot of trainings and retreats. In general, I don’t feel like I have a sense of community and camaraderie with everyone at them, which was the complete opposite at Rockwood. I genuinely felt like I made a positive and impactful connection with everyone there. It’s awesome to have a sense of community now with a group of women who are doing the same kind of work.

I was also really excited about the diversity of the women in the group in regards to age, race, background, religion, etc. It was really powerful to experience that kind of diversity and deep connection. It could be a blueprint for something bigger. I also realized how much of that community/connection was missing from my life in general. I don’t have a lot of experiences where I get to build valuable and rich connections with people.

Surprisingly, there were a lot of organizations that work in reproductive justice in my cohort, so I made a lot of great professional, as well as personal, connections. There were even organizations that WCC had already partnered with, so it was wonderful to be able to build and maintain those relationships.

My supervisor, Kemi, went through Rockwood herself, so in some ways I felt like I was already primed for Rockwood. I recognized a lot of things she’d adapted and brought back to our program. For example, when she leads meetings, it’s clear that she always has a POP [Purpose Outcome Process] in mind. She has also anchored my Fellowship program in a model of shared power.

Another woman from WCC went through the Art of Leadership with me at the same time. I know that my experience wouldn’t have been the same if she wasn’t there, and I suspect hers wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been there too. I think having multiple people from the same organization go through Rockwood can be really purposeful, depending on where they are situated in the organization.

After Rockwood, my Fellowship ended and I got a promotion. I’m now the Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator at WCC. Because my final Vision Stand was about bringing vulnerability and transparency to my life, I’ve instituted check-ins with the volunteers I manage. We usually have little huddles where we go over updates. I’ve added a word of the day to the huddles. It’s usually based on what I’m working on for that week. If I’m working on gratitude I’ll ask everyone to share a story about gratitude during the check-in. Also, during meetings that I facilitate, I start with everyone taking a few breaths together. I think initially there was some laughter and people thinking, “Now we’re going to have this hippie California moment,” but now they look forward to it.


The next Art of Leadership for Women in Racial Justice and Human Rights will be held December 8-12, 2014 at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, NY. Space in this training is limited. The deadline to apply is October 27, 2014