By Jennie Lusk
These days, Black Leadership Council founder and director Cathryn McGill reminds herself of two important approaches to maintaining the organization’s leadership and commitment to service.
She regularly remembers, “I am the system, so I am the solution,” and the phrase, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” The first keeps her from separating from the community she and BLC serves; the second defines her approach to improving the world Albuquerque’s Black people encounter.
McGill applies these on a daily at BLC, which she founded in 2019. The Council was formed in part to respond to the historical exclusion of Blacks in New Mexico in the political, social and cultural landscape. The Council’s primary goals are: (1) promoting true multiculturalism in New Mexico; (2) seeing New Mexico to be at the top of all the good lists; (3) changing the tricultural myth and (4) supporting thriving and vibrant communities. It works in five areas of impact: positive youth development, advocacy and civic engagement, workforce and leadership development, health (including behavioral, financial and physical health) and cultural vibrancy.
In taking inspiration from identifying as both the system and the solution, McGill reminds herself and BLC volunteers not to attempt to separate people from the crises that affect them and not to stand apart. Identifying a problem becomes part of the solution, but is not a solution in itself.
McGill said she believes that if are troubled by something without working to resolve concerns, “you’re tacitly compliant. If I see things that aren’t right, stay silent, then I contribute to the problem.” Solving problems requires commitment and engagement in order to move the community forward. Identifying and labeling a problem just isn’t enough to change anything.
BLC volunteers are challenged to engage wholly—finding a solution for anyone and everyone who calls seeking help just as they would seek a solution for themselves. The BLC volunteers are not there merely to identify problems but, instead, to solve problems as they present themselves. Even if BLC’s services cannot directly address a problem, volunteers can provide a “warm handoff” to another group that does.
In taking on “everything, everywhere, all at once,” McGill continued, she dedicates herself and the council to taking—or making—time to work on some facet of every significant problem. “We’re all busy,” she said. “We’re all working at something. But at the Black Leadership Council, we are never too busy to create a better community.” The ability to tackle challenge from a financial, employment, health and advocacy perspective helps screen for potential to meet the challenge and helps find a message able to translate to any individual.
More than 20 organizations and 100 volunteers that ultimately formed BLC with McGill created the first annual New Mexico Black History Month in 2012. In 2014, the group participated in the African American Economic Transformation Study (AACETS), which identified the need for a council serving as both a financial and capacity-building support to the African American community here. BLC, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, is designed as a “hub” organization of leadership development in a spectrum of issues.
The AACETS study found that Albuquerque lacked a consistent communication infrastructure among people in the African American community. In response, BLC created the New Mexico AACETS database and website, allowing organizations and individuals to find each other. In addition, the study identified the lack of a comprehensive, intergenerational leadership development program and, in response, BLC has taken on leadership development through statewide strategic planning. Another deficit, according to the study, was a physical and psychological sense of place here—in other words, noting that Albuquerque’s Black community has few institutional anchors; in response, the BLC has found a permanent home that can serve as a focal point of the community.
The leadership council stays busy, stays oriented towards its goals, and stays engaged in its multi-faceted work. Its logo, shown above, pays homage to the Zia Sun Symbol.The logo recognizes and acknowledges Zia Pueblo and combines the Zia symbol with the “Adinkra” symbol of Ghana. The Adinkra symbol conveys truths, traditional wisdom and the environment. The symbol used at the center of the BLC logo is Adinkrahene, the chief of all Adinkra symbols, meaning “to act in a leadership role and inspire others.” The logo symbolizes BLC’s desire to promote true multiculturalism in New Mexico, using dots around the symbol to represent the ripple effects that one individual or one organization can have when there is both leadership and service.
McGill and BLC link leadership and service among members of the African American community and link that community with others in the State. They’ve taken strides in a scant few years by identifying as both system and solution as well as by tackling problems by every means, “everything, everywhere, all at once.”