THE BLOG
02/28/2015 11:52 am ET Updated Apr 30, 2015

The Power of Embodying Black Mastery and Our Full Leadership Potential

MICHAEL B. THOMAS via Getty Images

On February 1, 1960 four black students sat down at a segregated lunch counter I Greensboro, NC sparking one of Black America's largest waves of protest. By the end of February the sit-in movement had grown to thirty communities in seven states and by April had spread across the entire South, involving up to 50,000 participants. Over the next decade the leaders who emerged out of this wave of actions would carry out some of the most important campaigns of the Civil Rights movement -- from the Freedom Rides to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's challenge to racism of the Democratic Party. Eventually their work would help to topple the Jim Crow regime and launch the Black Power movement.

In the decade after the sit-ins, these new leaders would experience both incredible triumphs and crushing defeats. They would try different strategies and tactics for Black liberation from direct action to bring down segregation to voter registration to build Black political power. Underlying every new stage of the struggle was a deep dedication to breaking the chains of fear and internalized inferiority and transforming the conditions of violence and exploitation that limited the potential for the full flourishing of Black lives. For these leaders, personal liberation and social transformation were inseparable and the role of leadership was, at its heart, the practice of supporting everyday people in taking effective action to transform themselves and their conditions in the face of great odds and uncertain outcomes.

Today we talk about this style of personal and social transformation and this approach to leadership as transformative organizing. For the transformative organizers, leadership is understood more as a practice than a position, more a relationship than a role. Leadership is not simply a place in an organizational structure, it is a discipline and a path -- a calling to become powerful catalysts of and embodiments of transformation. In the context of Black organizing, we call this the path of Black mastery.

Each leader and moment in the history of the Black Freedom Movement offers rich lessons for us. However, as we reflect on the current movement moment, we think there are eight elements of Black mastery that are most relevant for us today: courage, compassion, authenticity, accountability, rigor, resilience, attention, and agility. We find it useful to group them into four pairs, where the element balance each other.

Courage & Compassion

As poet and revolutionary Audre Lorde reminds us, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act even when we are afraid. Compassion is the ability to understand, to feel deeply, both the suffering and the joy of others. It is the ability to literally feel the humanity of others and to act from that place. Social justice movements practice compassion and courage when they insist on the humanity of oppressed people and challenge society to respect that humanity.

But we also need to practice courage and compassion with ourselves and with each other. It takes courage and compassion to acknowledge our own weaknesses and breakdowns -- our own humanity as leaders and as a movement. We must learn how to work with both our strengths and our tender places.

Authenticity & Accountability

When we are authentic, we are true to ourselves. In the face of repression and violence or the forces of cooptation, it is tempting not to be authentic. It can be difficult to acknowledge when we don't know something or when we've made a mistake. And for some of us who have been socialized not to speak or to dream, it can be difficult to confidently stand in our true vision and beliefs. But it is when we are authentic that others are moved, that others are able to feel and touch our humanity and connect more deeply to their own.

Accountability -- the willingness and ability to accept responsibility and to account for one's actions -- is the other side of this coin. Our actions and our words have consequences. As we learn to speak and act with authenticity we must also learn to speak and act with accountability.

Rigor & Resilience

To be rigorous is to be precise and disciplined and flows from accountability. When we understand and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions, we become more and more able to act with skill and precision. Black mastery requires us to hold ourselves and each other to rigorous standards.

At the same time, we must also cultivate our resilience. Resilience is the ability to restore our strength, health, and well-being after experiencing something difficult or traumatic. It flows from our ability to touch our joy and to practice connecting with the things that bring us to life and connection. Without resilience we burn out.

Attention & Agility

In many ways the ability to attend to the world around us and ourselves is the foundation of Black mastery. Attention allows us to stay in touch with what we care about as well as whats happening with others and the world around us. Conditions are always changing, especially in social movements, and attention is the skill that allows us to notice what's happening so that we can act effectively.

Finally, agility is the ability to move, to pivot and shift easily and quickly. Knowing that things have changed and that our movement or our leadership needs to shift isn't enough. We actually have to be able to move, to be nimble.

It is not accidental that these elements reflect physical, emotional and feeling concepts. The reason being is that we will not simply mastermind our way into leadership but we must work to embody these elements for them to be recognized, and of service to our work and our people. This is the work of leadership development that is not found in a book or thinking differently but rather within our full body self - emotions, sensations, feelings and mental narratives.

Like every discipline, every tradition, Black mastery is an intergenerational affair. No generation of leaders make themselves from scratch but they draw from what has come before them. We have drawn from our elders experiences who share our ethics of Black Mastery, low ego/high impact to build our leader-ful next moment.

We will know that Black Lives Matter when each of us is supported in embodying Black mastery and our full leadership potential.

This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.