Rebel Leadership for our Collective Future


On behalf of the National Equity Project, we hope you and your loved ones are in a position to remain healthy and safe. We offer our unending gratitude and affirmation of well-being to those charged with caring for the health, safety, and food distribution of our beloved communities across the country. We also acknowledge the devastating choice too many are being forced to make between economic survival and physical safety during this time.  As we confront the deep structural inequities and racialized impacts as well as the creative ingenuity and loving spirit that is simultaneously unfolding, I can hear the prophetic wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King’s words reverberating…

In a real sense all life is interrelated.
All [of us] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Martin Luther King Jr.

The COVID-19 pandemic is providing us an acute global lesson about the undeniable interconnection of all our lives.  Our linked fate rests on our collective and conscious action to be one another’s keeper. “What will we be willing to notice?” asks Margaret Wheatley in Walk Out and Walk On. What have you noticed in this moment about each other – about the people who make our lives work, about the earth, about your family, about yourself? What will we do now as we bear witness to such demonstrable evidence of structural inequity acting as a double-edged sword – deeply and devastatingly impacting those who were already most vulnerable in our unjust systems? What have we noticed about our collective creativity and capacities, and our need to connect, make art, demonstrate love, be of service – to say thank you? 

Weeks into this crisis we are still teetering on chaos relying on moral, decisive public leadership, and an unprecedented social agreement (individually, collectively and globally) to keep one another safe. The crisis is far from over but if we are lucky, things will never be the same again. That will depend entirely on each one of us. This moment of crisis, like all those that have come before, begs a question and offers us a choice: who will we choose to be once the storm is over? And as we pick up the pieces from this great reckoning: what future will we create by the conscious actions we take today?

The future is not an escapist place to occupy.
All of it is the inevitable result of what we do today,
and the more we take it in our hands,
imagine it as a place of justice…
the more the future knows we want it,
and that we aren’t letting go.
adrienne maree brown

At the National Equity Project we believe in the possibility of a new future – a world that works for everyone. We lead and move guided by Arundathi Roy’s whisper, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”  We believe social and racial justice can be achieved. And we believe that leadership is required. Not the kind of leadership where “you’re the boss” and you [wrongly] believe that everyone is supposed to do what you say. Not the kind that makes decisions for others or the kind that issues mandates without consideration for conditions and supports needed. Not the kind that goes along to keep the trains [and status quo] running on time regardless of who is harmed along the way. No, not that kind of leadership.

We’re talking about Rebel Leadership – the kind where your palms are sweaty, your ears hot, and your voice quivers. The kind of leadership where you have the courage to say out loud, “I don’t really know how we go forward, but I know we can get there together” and actually mean it! The kind where something feels like it might be on the line [it is your freedom and it always has been] and you take conscious action with others anyway. Rebel leadership requires us to make inequities visible; disrupt discourse, practices and policies that perpetuate harm; and create new ways to engage and co-design with our communities so that each of us and our children can develop, thrive and experience a sense of belonging.  Rebel leadership now requires that each of us SEE the system, ENGAGE and ACT differently than we ever have before.

Rebels are people who break rules that should be broken. They break rules that hold them and others back, and their way of rule breaking is constructive rather than destructive. It creates positive change… Rebel leadership involves positive deviance.
Francesca Gino, Author, Rebel Talent

If we are to learn any lesson from the most extraordinary disturbance in recent history, we must pause and consider this; in our rush to a more familiar state, to “get back to normal” –  exactly which part of “normal” are we prepared to return to? “Normal” is code for status quo. Normal has never been neutral, objective or fair.  Language of going “back to normal” and “new normal”  are dangerous propositions for all of us.  Paulo Freire has long warned us, “There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.”  We cannot pretend we didn’t witness and/or experience the gross inequity and vulnerability, the disproportionate impacts on our brothers, sisters and siblings all over the planet. We must take the position as rebel leaders, in the words of the great freedom fighter Ella Baker that,

In order for us…to become part of a society that is meaningful,
the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms.

So how do we think (and practice) in radical terms? 

In response to this crisis, many organizations and systems have paused their “equity initiatives” to tend to immediate needs of students and families. But, what if this tending IS the “equity initiative”? How can the urgency of this moment – and emerging forms of virtual collaboration – re-center us around our core purpose and accelerate transformation? We can’t wait until we have taped our inequitable system back together to begin looking for ways to make it more equitable. What if this is our moment to catalyze more radical approaches to designing together with our communities? Can we learn from this moment of explosive innovation how to create more liberatory experiences in our organizations, schools and classrooms and advance the sacred work of creating a new future for ourselves? What if, together as rebel leaders, we start designing for the future we want to live into now?  What changes if we commit to being more radical in our thinking and action now?

It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Assata Shakur 

What will YOU do now as a Rebel Leader for our collective future? Share your #rebelleader stories, innovations, questions, and visions for our new world and tag us on Twitter – @equityproject
Instagram – @nationalequityproject and
Facebook – Facebook/NationalEquityProject.

Additional Readings & Resources

About lashawnrchatmon

Executive Director National Equity Project
This entry was posted in Current Events, Leadership, leading for equity, Rebel Leadership and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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