Image by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Throughout the work of the Communities of Care Initiative and other communities of practice, we have learned about the challenges confronted by Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) social justice leaders. These leaders often encounter obstacles similar to those experienced by the communities they advocate for, including racism, structural discrimination, educational barriers, and poor health conditions. The combination of these factors, along with others such as disparities in philanthropic funding, potentially unhealthy employment environments, or cultures of selflessness, are shown to contribute to long-term harmful levels of stress and burnout. A rise in burnout could be individually debilitating and could influence leaders to lose passion or withdraw from work, disrupting the momentum of community building and systems change work. Leaders from organizations we collaborate with have emphasized the importance of connecting with peers and accessing resources to sustain their work and prevent burnout.
In response to this imperative, we are proud to have the unwavering support of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health on the AESOP's (Activists Engaged in Sustaining our Power and Purpose) Leadership Network. This network will create and co-design programming and connect BIPOC leaders to a variety of opportunities to engage in self-reflection and collective exploration of issues impacting their wellbeing.
Over a four-year period, we will collaborate with selected leaders across Texas and a group of subject matter experts to establish a support network that aims to sustain the wellbeing and power of activists. Key activities include peer dialogues and idea exchange on participant-identified topics, healing circle discussions facilitated by experienced subject matter experts, culturally-responsive programming that combines the intersections between arts, culture, healing, and activism, and confidential referrals for those leaders in need of other support. Examples from the network's first year include the discussion series 'Revitalize Your Enthusiasm: A Revamp for Overcoming Burnout' and an art-based exploration titled 'Returning to Ourselves: Practices that Ground Us for the Journey.' AESOP’s activities are designed to explore the best approaches to cultivating connections among network participants, generate and reinforce self-care practices, and provide an opportunity for healing experiences.
Prevention Institute is keenly aware of the imperative to develop healthy leadership practices at the community level. There is a pressing need to explore and expand the system of support for those leading and facilitating change, particularly as their work may heighten susceptibility to mental health challenges such as stress and burnout. Ideally, AESOP's Leadership Network will identify promising approaches to sustain community-driven systems change by strengthening participants' individual and collective leadership.
Aesop was a North African enslaved in Greece during the 6th century BC. He became renowned for his parables that helped explore complex truths in memorable ways. Aesop's fables became a way for harsh realities to be more easily understood and shared through oral tradition and part of cultural values. AESOP's Leadership Network seeks to do the same by recognizing the healing, connection, and hopefulness found in telling stories and imagining common solutions.
AESOP’s Leaders’ Vision Board Activity (June 2023)