Self-care. Healing. Wellness. Resilience. Over the last few years, these have all become unavoidable words in social movement spaces, as organizers and organizational leaders look for ways to navigate a multitude of crisis conditions. We believe that an organization’s ability to be emotionally resilient—and support its staff in being resilient—is equal in importance to the strategy it develops to win structural transformation and the skills it builds to grow and exert its power.

Last year, Maurice Mitchell’s “Building Resilient Organizations” was published near the end of a pilot program called Resilient Futures that we launched last spring at the Organizing Center (OC). Centering resilience to better empower organizers and base-building organizations, Resilient Futures is a program for Black, Brown, and Asian organizers and directors from the same organization. The program is intended to support organizers’ personal and professional well-being—and ultimately sustain collective resistance for the long term.

Mitchell’s article supported us in naming one of the “common trends” that this program is attempting to respond to: unanchored care. We agree that organizations should not be solely responsible for developing leaders’ emotional resilience, and we also believe that organizations can and should develop a culture of resilience that both positional leadership and staff play a role in carrying out. Our Resilient Futures cohort was an experiment in clarifying the distinctions between these roles, and one in which we learned lessons about what building resilient organizations looks like in practice.


Defining and Moving Toward Collective Resilience in Our Movements

At the Organizing Center, we provide training, coaching, and other support for base-building organizations to build strong and resilient movements for social justice. But what exactly do we mean when we say “resilience,” and why is it important to us?

Inspired and informed by practices in LeftRoots, the OC defines resilience as “our ability to navigate hard internal and external conditions in ways that allow us to meet our political and organizing commitments.” Resilience, in this sense, is a political act of resistance. It is not endurance that teaches us to perform at the cost of our health and perpetuate hegemonic norms to prove our worth. Rather, it is an embodied leadership that supports rigor, rest, joy, connection, ownership, and regulation in a capitalist society that intentionally creates and benefits from social isolation and emotional dysregulation. This ability is important to us because it names that building resilience is for the sake of moving closer and closer to the self-determined, liberated futures that we deserve.

Inherent in our current definition is the concept of collectivity. We use terms like “our” and “we” to show that we are not solely focused on individual wellness. As Gwendolyn Brooks wrote,

we are each other’s


we are each other’s

magnitude and bond.

We see having an individual and organizational approach to collective resilience in our movements as fundamental. We need organizational changes and, as Mitchell mentions, “movement-wide resources” to help make strengthening resilience in organizations a reality.


An Experiment in Building Resilience

One of the resources we chose to offer to organizations was our Resilient Futures cohort. This program was designed to have two simultaneous cohorts—one for organizers and one for director-level staff. We were clear at the outset that supporting organizers to develop resilience practices and then sending them back into organizations that weren’t aligned wasn’t going to work. And that supporting director-level staff to go through a process of thinking about organizational resilience, only to go back to an organization that was busy and had competing demands with no collective accountability, also wasn’t going to work. Buy-in from both organizational leadership and staff was a key piece of this program and its success.

These cohorts worked together over six months with organizers focusing on different types of practices that can support their resilience—practices that are cultural, physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and environmental. Going broadly into different types of practices helped organizers and their directors figure out which ones felt appropriate for themselves, as they navigate personal and professional trauma and hardship, and for their organizations to take on. Organizers also reflected on how they could act as protagonists and work to co-create cultures of resilience with directors. They found great joy in working with resilience practices and reimagining organizing that centered joy, connection, creativity, emotion, and support.

Many of the directors in our program aligned with Mitchell’s assessments of the current conditions that disrupt resilience in movement organizations; notably, the limits placed on nonprofits by funders and the “lack of models of collective labor in nonprofits.” While directors shared how these external conditions impacted their respective organizations, we also witnessed them expressing deep vulnerability as they interrogated their own positional and social power as managers—as bosses—and what that meant for their roles in building and strengthening resilience in their respective organizations. Directors grappled with what it means to hire structurally marginalized people and provide organizational support as they navigate (often compounded) oppression. Toward the end of the cohort, they asked questions like: “How might thinking about resilience impact our theory of change? Our budgets? Our capacity, labor, and the roles and responsibilities within our jobs?”

As Resilient Futures participants, directors and organizers alike expressed a desire to have clear(er) roles that would help them, and all staff across hierarchy levels, to contribute to building resilience collectively in their organizations.

While we agree with Mitchell’s assertion that we need to “spend the resources to coach, support, onboard, and train” less experienced staff, these cohorts highlighted for us the importance of also recognizing and valuing the variety of experiences and resilience practices new staff bring to their organizations. And that more experienced leaders want—and need—coaching, training, and support from all staff and the larger movement ecosystem to strengthen collective resilience in their organizations.


Beyond Our Organizations

Mitchell notes in his section “Unanchored Care” that movement organizations have limitations and cannot provide all the resources that movement leaders need to experience “emotional and spiritual healing.” Still, organizations need training for “managers and staff to identify and deal with trauma” that Mitchell discusses, support to identify and implement resilience practices within an organization, as well as resource lists to guide staff to support that exists outside an organization.

Resilient Futures was our experiment in offering support to organizations to figure out what they were going to offer to staff and how they were going to collectively implement resilience plans. We saw the value of having peer learning cohorts for people to question, share, test, and implement ideas. It was this container that helped organizers and directors to recognize their struggles around building emotional resilience in their organizations, identify strengths and tools to respond to these problems, and identify infrastructure and other investments needed to continue working through them.

In identifying the support needed, they help to direct us toward resources and gaps that exist for navigating trauma, (inter)organizational conflict, and competition with other organizations for funding resources—thereby informing the development of a more robust movement ecosystem that responds to the needs of all leaders and advances movement resilience.

We learned through our program how valuable it was to develop a resource guide—something that pointed to resources outside an organization that support staff in meeting their needs and provided clarity about what organizations will offer and what is outside their capacity. Useful resources for this guide include therapists, coaches, holistic wellness practitioners, management training, embodied and shared leadership training, conflict mediation training, funders who offer organizational wellness funds, and people across these areas of expertise who come from different cultural, radical traditions.

We look forward to identifying more of these resources before our six-month check-in with former organizational participants, when we will discuss implementation of the resilience plans and reflect on what went well, what was hard, what additional support they need for effective implementation, and where they might find it in the larger movement ecosystem.



Mitchell recognizes that leadership exists across levels. At the OC, we know that everyone—every leader at every level—has a responsibility to resist liberalism and practice resilience. We designed our Resilient Futures program to reflect that we all have a role to play in building emotionally resilient organizations.

Nevertheless, our roles will look different. Directors might want to rework organizational policies, practices, and budgets after thinking about resilience with peers. Organizers might want to think about how to use resilience tools to shape their campaigns and meetings with members. All roles are important. Still, as Mitchell mentioned, “we must not pretend that hierarchies do not exist.”

Positional leaders have a particular responsibility, and the power, to ensure that the learnings from both cohorts are implemented in the organization. And, given power relations, they must be open to learning from organizers’ visions for their organizations and disrupting the modeled pattern of exploitative work conditions that don’t attend to people’s need for rigor and joy, strategy and emotion, accountability and support. This is what anchored care looks like.

Positional leadership and staff cannot do this alone. They need support from radical therapists, facilitators, and training and capacity-building organizations who can support them as they rebuild, remodel, shift, and reshape to strengthen their organizations. And it is the work of people within the larger movement ecosystem to help build the networks of people necessary to sustain resilience in our organizations and movements.

When this happens, movement leaders can take ownership over organizational cultures to become more resilient in our fight for liberation.


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