by Anasa Troutman
Last summer, I made public a dream that I had held close to my heart for over 10 years. In a vintage theater on Martha’s Vineyard with no air conditioning, in front of a modest audience of 100 people, I shared my vision of building Shelectricity, a space where black and brown girls use art and technology grow into women who lead, innovate and transform themselves, their communities and the world.
That night, Shelectricity went from a possibility to a reality. One year later, the our team has planted the seed of Shelectricity in the rich soil of Memphis and are working diligently to nurture and water it as we watch for the first signs of the shape, color and scent of what will bloom.
Shelectricity is not the first vision that I have given birth to. As a producer, I make my living shepherding the visions of my clients from living only in their hearts and minds, to living out the real world for all to experience.
Every time I help give birth to something new, no matter what the project and no matter who the client, I find myself having to share one of the most important lessons that I have learned in my life as a midwife to ideas. The lesson is this; when one decides to take on a task, there is always a point when one discovers what the success of that task requires of them. Occasionally, the time, work and resources required are easy to give and the task is accomplished without a second thought. Other times, what is required is more than was expected. This is most often the case with a big visions and long held dreams.
When the latter happens to my clients, my advice to them is always for them to give themselves permission to take the time to assess what is truly needed and make a conscious choice to push through and find a way to give what is necessary or end the pursuit, acknowledging that the reward is not worth the sacrifice; no judgment either way.
That moment came for me a few months ago, at an event that we held to introduce Shelectricity to the girls of Memphis, their families and other adults in their support system.
There are many foundational pillars to the work Shelectricity does and one of them is movement building. I have learned from many movement-building giants over the years and the thing that they all say is that in order to build effective movements, we must move aside and create space for the most marginalized to lead. In the case of Shelectricity, the most marginalized are the girls. For us, that means that we, the adults, need to work not towards our vision, but towards the vision that girls have for themselves.
I know this intrinsically, and even designed this idea into the process of developing Shelectricity. In fact, the event in Memphis where I had my revelation was a listening party, designed to hear from the girls and make program design decisions based on their ideas and feedback. What I realized at that event is that listening to the dreams of those girls wasn’t enough if after we listened, we sent them home and them made all of the decisions without them.
If I truly believe that girls can lead, innovate and transform themselves and their communities, and if I believe that our collective liberation is tied to their having the access that is required for their leadership and innovation to thrive, then I must be the one to relinquish the access that I have and give it to them.
It is difficult, after more than ten years of ideas, designs and excitement for me to put my wishes in the back seat. It is even more difficult to take a step back when my whole life and career have been about walking the long and difficult road to of finding my voice, taking my power and building up my own courage to lead.
I realized sitting with those girls that the success of Shelectricity now depends on me doing the work that I need to do to move out of the way. I realize that for me, the next level of personal power is the power to make room for others.
When often speak of success as in terms of the ability to raise money, collect allocates, or expand our network of influencers based on our “good work”. That kind of success requires that continue with business as usual. It requires that we remain out front, being the faces, the visionaries, the drivers of this work. The success that I now seek the transformative success that comes when girls discover their voices, amplify their ideas and create things that couldn’t exist without them. We must evolve so that they can.
This is a time of learning for me. We are spending our time finding the balance. I am learning that I don’t have silence myself or abandon my ideas but that I must actively acknowledge and make room for the wisdom that lies in the hearts and minds of the girls that I want to serve. I must look at them as partners in this work and not as people that I am working to help, fix or save. If I want to empower them, I must work to transfer and share the power that I hold, no matter how hard I fought to get it.
I realize now that I wasn’t fighting so that I could get ahead, I was fighting so that I could be in a place where I can push them forward.
That is movement building. That is justice. That is real power.
Anasa Troutman is the CEO of Eloveate and the founder of Shelectricity, a Memphis based organization that uses to use art and technology to enhance natural leadership and innovation in black and brown girls.