I have had the honor and privilege to serve as the Affiliate Advisory Chair this past year. During this time, I met a remarkable group of advocates who stretched me beyond my comfort zone and taught me so much. This group of affiliate leaders from across the nation (including Puerto Rico) has brought so many life lessons and shared so many lived experiences with me. I have stretched as a leader and learner. Just this week, while having an amazing conversation with a group of these leaders, I had an insight: inviting voice through stillness.
My name is Raquel. I am named after my mom, a Cuban immigrant who came to this country with 30 pounds of belongings. She struggled to speak in public places because she was conscious of her accent. As the youngest daughter in a Cuban household, my voice was not only unwelcome but discouraged. I was not allowed to interrupt “adult” conversation—that was considered bad manners. I only came to find my voice as an adult, married with children. It happened so quickly; it was an explicit invitation from my graduate school professor. When I was in his class, he asked me to provide critical feedback on a reading. I was stunned and uncomfortable—critical feedback had the word criticism, and wouldn’t that be bad manners? My entire life, I read and took in what was provided as truth and not allowed to be questioned. As a teacher in the classroom for 17 years, I must have modeled that subtle obedience to my students. When I was in my 30s, I pursued a doctorate and was finally allowed to really read and digest the content of what I was reading. I never turned back. Once the invitation is given, you cannot go back.
Being in a community of advocates helps one build comfort with being uncomfortable, comfort with ambiguity, and the ability to see critical feedback as a gift of growth for the receiver. I am an extrovert, and it was hard to shut me up once invited. One main lesson I have learned in my council service is that some folks are actually “quiet storms” (a term introduced by an amazing affiliate peer). Some people do not have a lot to share, but when they do, it is transformational.
How do we invite and provide space for these quiet storms to shine? The answer is stillness. Stillness is intentionally giving space and not filling space with your words. Stillness is being fully present without judgment. We need to embrace silence and see it as a time to allow others to engage in the space and process the content. Being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization, where we want to ensure folks belong, requires us to invite others to bring their voice and to provide a space to listen. As affiliate leaders, I invite you to be critical, speak your truth, and be still so others can use their voices.
Raquel is a member of the Council. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.