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Cover Story: Connecting the Dots

Making the world a better place one leader at a time

By Katie Ford Hall · May 7th, 2008 · Cover Story
What question lies at the heart of your work? Mary Pierce Brosmer, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change, posed this idea to a group recently as keynote speaker for the Woman's Leadership Symposium at Miami University.

Her question was inspired by work done by the international Society for Organizational Learning, where Brosmer recently became a consulting member. It's a deceptively simple question, and helping others search for an answer to it is at the heart of her own work.

Brosmer created Women Writing for (a) Change in 1991, starting with 15 students in the basement of a rented home. The organization has since blossomed.

Hundreds of people have attended classes, workshops and retreats, and last year the organization purchased a building in Silverton. The programs reach a wide demographic; women in one current class range in age from 21 to 95. The programs stay relevant to the changing needs of the community, so over the years classes for men, girls, teens and young women have been added.

The core of the writing process is truth and creating a space where people feel safe enough to speak it, especially for young girls. As radical as it is straightforward, Brosmer repeatedly has witnessed the profound impact this process has on the participants' lives.

Word spread, demand increased and Brosmer envisioned even greater potential. To meet increased demand and to expand the program's effect on the community, she wanted to implement a leadership training program for women and girls.

She couldn't find an existing model that properly reflected her organization -- one, she says, that moved "from a view of leadership as heroic, individualistic 'star power' to a view of leadership as participation with gifts in a connected system with sustainability for the long haul."

The leadership model she created emerged as the Feminist Leadership Academy (FLA), an intensive training program that involves three weeks of retreat full of leadership theory and practice.

The program has been offered every other year since 2002; with the class of 2008, 39 women have graduated. (Find more at the Web site, www.womenwriting.org.)

Some have become certified to use the process and have either stayed to teach in the academy or taken their leadership lessons back into their careers. Others have obtained licensing and moved across the country to open satellite locations. Currently there are locations in nine states, plus a virtual school that reaches all over the world.

"When I was enrolled in FLA, I kept imagining how incredible it would be to offer a similar program for young women in our writing programs," says Jenn Reid, one of the leaders from the first FLA class. A certified English teacher, she was appointed director of Young Women Writing for (a) Change in 2006.

Young women assisted in their own classes, and Reid wanted them to take on more of a role of co-teacher.

"I could envision these young women doing much more with their leadership skills," she says.

Leadership is a word often used and rarely defined. In keeping with the intentional practices of the organization, Brosmer clearly states her ideas about it.

"In my vision of leadership, it is a calling, not a career," she says. "It happens when a whole person shows up and participates in a community, not leaving any parts of herself or himself in the shadows: bringing soul, heart, kindness ... in with intellect judgment and fierceness. Above all, authenticity, not persona."

So Reid launched the Young Women's Feminist Leadership Academy (YWFLA) in 2007 with four young women. Rather than the weeklong retreats of the adult FLA, the program completes the same work over several weekends. This year, an additional eight young women will graduate.

Just like the adults, the young women are responsible for a practicum, taking the process into the community. Alicia Brandiwie, a current YWFLA participant, has created an intergenerational writing circle called "Void the Gap." Avery Smith is creating a circle at the Clifton Recreation Center, which she describes as focusing "on a theme of community, friendship and the idea of home."

The 2007 YWFLA graduates continue giving back to their communities. Emma Heldman and Gabi Lang currently facilitate a writing circle at Kilgour Elementary School, which was Heldman's practicum circle in 2007. Courtney Baxter facilitates a writing circle at a Columbus juvenile detention facility.

Both Reid and Brosmer believe in the transformative power of this work. Reid lays out her hope for the YWFLA graduates.

"They understand their responsibility as leaders to create peace and heal the planet," she says. "They understand that they are part of a paradigm shift, and their sense of being a part of a 'movement' creates a bigger context for their work. They have the skills and the consciousness to create effective change."

One of the most important lessons in leadership, as Brosmer sees it, is "coming to a consciousness that leaders need safe places to 'not know everything,' to experiment, grieve their losses, admit their mistakes, connect to their humanity, admit their limits and celebrate their gifts."

Reid and Brosmer remain committed to offering programs that are a good fit and remain true to the processes that have been successful so far. Brosmer actively works to keep the organization centered on its mission.

"At the core, Women Writing for (a) Change is a peace-making, creativity-enhancing, soul-deepening community whose members are totally committed and carefully prepared to make the world a better place," she says. ©



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