Readings: Situating “Us”

Resilience – The Strength We Bring as Leaders

An intersectional Afrocentric focus on revisioning and resilience can lead to a strength-based framework for shaping research agendas, policies and practices for marginalized populations.

“I wrestle with a concept (i.e., “resilience) that is uniformly applied to all cultures and contexts, despite its inherently Eurocentric, neo-liberal, individualistic foundations. There is no word for resilience in African epistemology. What comes close is the maxim of Ubuntu – literarily translated as “I am because we are.” Ubuntu upholds the inherent dignity and goodness of all humanity, prioritizing family and community over the individual. Individuals operate within a web of moral commitments, and duties to the broader society. As such, self-actualization, for people like me, goes beyond personal desires and achievements. Rather, success interweaves both personal and collective goals”

Philomina Okeke-Ihejirika – Walrus Presentation

When we become leaders, we suddenly need to bring together people with different experiences, perspectives, and knowledges to work together toward a common goal. An essential step toward understanding others is to understand ourselves. Before reading further, we invite you to think about your own cultural knowledge, your “cultural basket”: this might be knowledge that you learned in school, knowledge you learned through your faith, or knowledge that you learned from your family and community.  We encourage you to see yourself and your cultural knowledge as part of the strengths that you bring to your leadership.

As we face new and emerging realities, we may need to restructure our cultural basket which may lead us to rethink our cultural belief systems, values, mindset and practices. “Colonialism produced numerous changes … socio-economic configurations as society was forced to respond to political and economic policies imposed by the colonial regime. These changes did not only inform colonial developments but had a profound bearing on post-colonial developments…” (Hamilton Sipho, Sharing my bed with the enemy’).  In a global perspective, we have the opportunity to learn new knowledges, gather wisdom, and enrich our “cultural basket”. As we learn from others, it is important to acknowledge where our learning comes from rather than appropriating knowledge without acknowledging the source.  


How do shared leadership, transformative leadership, or feminist leadership take place in practice? How can transformative leadership lead to social justice? We have selected five papers that reflect on these questions: the first from the North American context, the second focuses on social justice in context of education, the third reflects on challenges of social justice leadership in the context of education in Kenya, the fourth considers social justice in different societies. 

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Finally, while many scholars study these forms of leadership and advocate for their use in organizations, there are few papers that provide examples of how shared/transformative/feminist leadership might occur within academia.  The fifth paper is one of a few and recent reflections on feminist leadership within a University context. 

As these five papers make clear, leadership is an important tool for social justice and that different contexts can enhance and also challenge the application of a transformative, shared, or feminist leadership approaches.  As you move forward in your own journey as a leader, we encourage you to consider how the power structures and expectations within your context influence the way you approach leadership, and how you, as a leader, can act on these structures and expectations towards greater social justice.

Lifting: Black Feminist Leadership in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Author: Denise McLane-Davison

This paper focuses on Black Feminist Leadership in the North American contexts, particularly community-based leadership (McLane-Davison, 2016).  Through interviews with community leaders, this paper describes their leadership as situational, contextual, inclusive, collective, and transformative.

As you read this paper:

  • Consider your definition of leadership
  • How does your definition need to be expanded to include leadership as described by McLane-Davison?
  • How would you incorporate the values identified in this study? 
  • How can leadership be transformative leading to social justice?
Leadership for Social Justice: Preparing 21 st Century School Leaders for a New Social Order

Authors: Gaetane Jean-Marie, Anthony H. Normore, Jeffrey S. Brooks

This paper focuses on leadership for social justice in the context of education. Jean-Marie and colleagues (2009) provide a description of leadership training in education and a vision for how it can be changed to meet the needs of the 21st century.

As you read this paper:

  • Consider your experiences of leadership
  • What barriers to applying leadership for social justice have you encountered, or might you encounter in the different contexts that you live in (e.g., community context vs. work or school contexts)?
A Response to Leadership for Social Justice: A Transnational Dialogue

Author: Ruth N. Otunga

In her reply, Otunga (2009) reflects on the barriers and challenges of leadership preparation for social justice within the Kenyan context.  She argues that there is a great need for comparative, cross-cultural research in this area.

As you read this paper:

  • Consider your experiences of leadership
  • What barriers to applying leadership for social justice have you encountered, or might you encounter in the different contexts that you live in (e.g., community context vs. work or school contexts)?
Leadership for social justice and the characteristics of traditional societies: Ponderings on the application of western-grounded models

Authors: Izhar Oplatka, Khalid Husny Arar

This paper focuses on leadership for social justice and reflects on how this leadership model can apply across contexts (Oplatka & Arar).  Optlatka and Arar argue that since leadership for social justice has emerged “Anglo-American, English-speaking, western” contexts, this model can be difficult to adapt to other contexts, in particular what the call “traditional” societies. They propose a way of framing leadership for social justice within a traditional society context.

As you read this paper:

  • Consider your own context. 
  • Does the dichotomy of “traditional” vs. “modern” resonate for you (do you agree, what nuances would you add)?
  • Would the adapted framework for “traditional” societies be more applicable to contexts you are familiar with?
  • What might be other adaptations or considerations you would include?
Feminists among us: Resistance and advocacy in library leadership

Author: Shirley Lew

This paper focuses on feminist leadership within the University context in the USA (Lew, 2017).  This personal account of this scholar, who identifies as a feminist who applies feminist practice to her leadership, provides insight into her path to leadership.  This insight into the personal and professional can help those of us who are scholars who are marginalized (e.g., marginalized by our racialization, gender, faith practice, English proficiency, sexual orientation) better understand that our individual experiences are part of a larger system of oppression.

As you read this paper:

  • Consider your own experiences of marginalization. For Lew, her experiences of lack of power and oppression shaped her view of leadership and how she leads. 
  • How has your past experiences shaped your view of leadership?
  • How might you lead in a way that does not perpetuate power inequalities and oppression?