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Breaking and ReImagining “Training”: Radical Support Where It Doesn’t Exist

January 11, 2021

Yasmin Flasterstein founded Peer Support Space, a diverse peer-led community that uses the power of lived experiences, to educate and provide free options for mental health wellness. 

She created this much needed program for people who often are failed by traditional mental health “support” systems. This peer model worked so well, it started to grow but at that pivotal moment when she needed support to then figure out scale and balance, she found few resources existed for LGBTQ founders. 

At the same time, Maven Leadership Collective was creating an ecosystem to do just that and Flasterstein joined us on that journey. 

“When you think, ‘support group’ you think, ‘nice,’ but sometimes being nice is letting people know how it is,” she said. “Most spaces won’t do that. That’s so necessary. It saves you time, it saves you money—that’s nice.” 

It is time for something new. If organizations say they care about equity, the old ways that claim to “train” LGBTQ leaders of color simply aren’t going to work—not that they ever really did. That is why Maven Leadership Collective is building out a new model of play, experimentation and holistic support because we understand that liberation is not coming from a single training. 

Two of our new pilot programs, Creators Studio, a 6-week program, and Maven Master Class, a 4-month program, give social innovators the tools and real support they need from ideation to implementation and growth. Maven Leadership Collective is making the support ecosystem to assist queer and trans people of color at their start and when they’re winning and growing. Given the environment that exists for queer, transgdender and people of color, we don’t want to hope for their success, we want to ensure it by supplementing instruction with coaching, financial investments and connecting leaders with long-term resposive networks—even when the classes and structured learning experience is over. That’s the key. 

At Maven Leadership Collective, the social innovators we work with and support are largely queer or transgender people of color who are founders in social impact work, yet the investments to support their ideas are hard to come by. Self-funding for most Maven leaders is simply not a financial option and very little is given from traditional philanthropy to support creation and sustained growth. 

Our work is rooted in the radical traditions of geniuses like author Toni Morrison who once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” We firmly believe, just as Morrison did, that we will not and do not have to wait to be included. If it does not exist, we will make it ourselves. It is in that spirit that Maven launched these pilots.

 

Creators Studio

Creators Studio is a space free to queer and transgender people of color and allies to experiment and design with fellow founders and professional coaches. We create an environment where leaders are encouraged to take risks in ways normally reserved for white folks, which is ultimately the privilege to be supported to create, possibly fail— or in preferred jargon “pivot”— and recreate again. It’s a place to develop ideas without immediately having to deliver a service, a space to really build out strategy.

From there, what happens when you go out into the world and that idea actually takes off?

Look around and…crickets. Again, for LGBTQ people of color who are founders in social impact work, the support is nearly non-existent even after they’ve built successful and impactful work, which is why we also created Maven Master Class.

 

Maven Master Class

Maven Master Class is an advanced learning and creating experience. You’ve been through the beginning and intermediate stages of your work, now what happens for professional development when you scale beyond the initial founding phase? When you’re blowing up? Over the course of our sessions we facilitate a culture of openness in structured group brainstorming for participants to fine-tune their why, explore business and revenue strategies and define methods for accelerating and expanding. Participants also leave with strategies to scale their impact, generate earned income, develop a leadership succession plan, measure what matters and create more equitable spaces, all while having a new responsive network they can tap into anytime. They know that with Maven they are never moving on their own, but in community. 

 

Impact

In this past year, within this new support system, Creators Studio graduates received coaching, matching sponsorships, and the possibility to apply for the Maven Leadership Cohort among other resources.  Maven Master Class graduates receive a cadre of similar advanced resources and more than $42k in financial support. 

We could certainly go on about what happens when queer and trans people of color are given the time and investments to create and grow, but we’d rather you hear directly from them, those who have participated in these two pilot programs. This is their story to tell. 

 

“They Saw Me”

Angela Zanieya Hunt

Project:  Housing for folks who identify as trans and nonbinary, Orlando 

Creators Studio

Everyone in the class understood my passion. I’m self educated, no college and they saw my passion and drive even if I didn’t know all the lingo. I get dismissed a lot because I don’t come from this type of world, but they saw me and said we can help you to get this done. The true honesty got me. 

I’m also a very spiritual person. I was brought up in a group home and I had many struggles along the way with my sexuality, with what I wanted to do in life and I was taught to always take everything to God. For that reason I always take everything to God and ask him to manifest his spirit in me. I’m two and half years sober from a drug addiction, I’m no longer walking on the streets selling my body and when I showed up in my workshop as my spiritual self people didn’t back off and shy away like I’m used to. They didn’t back away from me. They said, “We think that will help you out.”

They encouraged me to stay focused, but they never told me I can’t do it. They did say, “If you do this, or if you set this goal this is how you will get there.” You don’t get many spaces like that. Being that I’m in the “City Beautiful” of Orlando, I thought Disney was the most magical place on earth, but going into the Maven Creators Studio, that was the real magical place.

 

“A Future-Looking Framework”

Adam RopizarAdam Ropizar

Founder of Evolve Campus, inclusive college sexual education classes

Maven Master Class

I decided to join the Maven Master Class because I knew my idea was viable, but I needed the next steps.

The overall goal of Evolve Campus is to redefine the sexual violence curriculum on college campuses. After my assault in college, I realized how bad the program was on campus. I tried to make appointments with the university to make a report. It took them two months to get back to me. At the local police station they said it wasn’t their jurisdiction and for me to go back to campus.  I tried on-campus therapy, they said I had to wait at least one month to get an appointment. I went to find resources where I can take an STD test—I kept hitting barrier after barrier and the more you have to explain it, the more traumatizing it can become when you don’t have the resources available to you. I didn’t even report. I had to prioritize my healing. I could not spend all my effort fighting these barriers that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. 

Master Class gave me the support and the framework on how to start my organization. I learned how to start my 501(c)(3) and they also helped me create a future-looking framework for Evolve and it’s sustainable. We had a great workshop on succession planning where the main framework was that no one organization can rest on the shoulders of one person. You need a team. That’s a really big lesson. 

 

“It Saves You Time, It Saves You Money”

Yasmin Flasterstein

Founder of Peer Support Space

Maven Master Class

I came to the Master Class because I really wanted to focus on measuring outcomes that matter. That’s what attracted me because in the Maven Leadership Cohort I started Peer Support Space. I knew I was onto something, but I was scared that I was growing in such an exponential way. I really needed to build capacity because I was starting to feel burned out. I needed help. 

The business coach they set me up with was very helpful, she helped me with the actual ask. When you don’t ask for money, you don’t get it.

Also, the pitch deck was really helpful in redefining my pitch a year and a half after launching. I’ve learned so much about not talking in the jargon that I knew. The session we went through where people said they hated my pitch deck because it didn’t register with them, that was needed. They let me crash and burn there so I didn’t do that out in the world. 

Some people don’t have anyone who can tell you in a real and honest way and who also knows what they’re talking about in the social justice space. Maven genuinely wants me to succeed and that’s really felt. It’s important to have this group for queer and trans people of color because this nonprofit world was not made for us. 

 

“Aha Moment”

Anthony Sis

Founder of Cultura Shift, consulting company focusing on transformative race, justice and diversity training

Maven Master Class

The first time I proposed the name Cultura Shift  [Cultura is pronounced in Spanish] it was pretty well received and there were a few people in my Master Class who questioned combining the two languages. It really was an aha moment of recognizing everyone doesn’t have to get it if you can explain why you stand by it. I didn’t have to change the name. That propelled my confidence. 

It was scary to be challenged. You launch an idea and you have to be able to talk about your ideas and receive feedback. 

It was a good launching pad with people I trust and can get critical feedback from.

 

“It’s Ok To Change Your Mind”

Rebecca Desir

Project: Black Joy Festival

Creators Studio

The experience has opened up my mind a lot about ideas, the process to hash out an idea and see how it will work. We aren’t going to talk about funding and all that first, we’re just going to spend time talking about the idea. 

It made me ask, “Why is joy important to people? Why should they care about my event? How do I exude joy to get people interested in joy?

My first video sucked. I think it didn’t exude joy.  One of the critiques I got was that I wasn’t even smiling in the video and here I am trying to promote a Black Joy Festival.

I think the biggest moment for me was although we came in with an idea, some people’s ideas really changed. It was ok for us to say, “I know I came in with this idea, but there are other ways to fulfill this without going forward with this particular idea.” We were super honest. I learned it’s ok to change your mind about an idea.

I didn’t realize just how important it is to create spaces to bounce off ideas with people who bring in their full selves and allow us to really ask questions of each other with different perspectives and not just your friend who thinks like you. It pushes you out of your comfort zone.

 

“It’s Like I Had Shackles on My Feet”

Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet

Project: Consulting to build power in the South

Creators Studio

I came into the Creators Studio with a critique. Philanthropy does not invest in leaders and organizations in the South. We get a lot of money poured into strategic states for election cycles, but it doesn’t build power and it burns people out. It’s not pushing for more progressive spaces here. I want to change that. 

I try to bring myself fully into a space— as a former undocumented person, as a queer person, but to be honest with you I was afraid. I was afraid of risk and I brought with me a lot of self doubt.

What I got out of the workshops was clarity. Clarity on what I truly believe and what I want to achieve which is really changing the way philanthropy works and pushing for long-term investments. That clarity, I did not have that when I first arrived in the program.

It pushed me to do a lot of self reflection of what I was truly afraid about. Was I afraid of failure of not knowing what to do? But what it came down to is I was hurt. Growing up in the US as a queer immigrant there are so many narratives about what’s wrong with you and your only value is your labor. You’re here as a guest. This is not your country. You’re illegal. You’re in the shadows. 

All of these things deeply harmed me. I didn’t know it was such a hindrance that hurt my own success. The Creators Studio pushed us to ask, “ Why, why, why, why?”

When you ask “why” you get to the core. We also were with a diverse group—in identity and also the ideas they were bringing into the space. By listening to people’s experiences sometimes you find nuggets about you in their narratives. It’s like I had shackles on my feet that I didn’t quite know were there and if I dont’ know it’s there, how do I try to break out?