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Learning to Speak Up

Reflections from Emerging Leaders Intern Juliana Mastro

My interview for the Emerging Leaders Internship was like no other. During the group dialogue, Isoke prompted us to speak openly and honestly about something we were passionate about. We were encouraged to express ourselves in any way we could, so I wrote a poem. No formal resumes were required. I was excited to share this side of myself.

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Juliana (center) with Lillian Marks (left) and Isoke Femi (right).

However, I was not used to being able to express myself in this way, especially in an interview setting. Our interviewers most wanted to see the applicants’ spirits, our willingness to work towards becoming more loving people. Isoke, just like many other people I have met in the GLIDE community, did not want to see the professional, polished and accommodating façade that I had tried so hard to present in other positions. She wanted to see the real version of myself that was still learning and growing—a person who is still in recovery, just like the clients who come in to receive services.

I continued this work throughout my time as an intern. Much of this work involved learning how to find my inner voice and learning to help amplify the voices of others. Lillian, the Community Safety and Training Manager, was my supervisor. She helped me create a survey project that would get staff’s opinion on the new programmatic and strategic initiatives GLIDE has been developing over the last year.

I went around the building to speak to staff members and have them respond to my survey, getting their ideas on paper. I was able to give them an opportunity to speak out about where they wanted to see GLIDE headed in terms of is priorities. This was extremely rewarding for me. I was able to learn from the personal experiences they spoke about, examine the ways GLIDE’s mission has manifested itself in the staff members’ lives, and hear their ideas about how they believed GLIDE should move forward as an organization. Passing other people the mic and giving them a chance to speak came easily for me.

During one of our meetings, Lillian told me to become a better leader, that I had to realize that my ideas were just as valid as I believed everyone else’s to be.

I would meet with Lillian a couple times a day to catch up on my progress and talk about my goals with the project. This is where I had a hard time. She would push me to talk about what I was planning to do, how I wanted to pursue my goals. Following directions was no problem, but when it came time to talk about my own ideas, I struggled. It was not that I didn’t have any ideas, it was that I did not trust my own internal process. I didn’t think that I could succeed without constant guidance and direction from somebody else.

juliana mastroDuring one of our meetings, Lillian told me to become a better leader, that I had to realize that my ideas were just as valid as I believed everyone else’s to be. During another meeting with Isoke, she told me, “You do know that when you speak, people listen, right?”

It meant a lot to receive this guidance from two women who command so much respect from their colleagues, two women who never hesitate to speak up. Somewhere in my life I had learned to suppress my voice, through the slow and steady conditioning that all of us have gone through, to some degree, since childhood. But Lillian and Isoke, along with the several other encouraging people I met at GLIDE, pushed something out of me that I didn’t even know still existed: confidence in my own voice.

My time as an Emerging Leader has helped me realize that to give people the help they need, we must first realize how we can grow within ourselves. We are all recovering from something. I am still learning to embrace the power of my own voice. This summer at GLIDE was a bright beginning in that process, and I am so grateful for that.