A Lesson in Listening

by Kaamila Mohamed, Community Activities Coordinator for The Theatre Offensive

The Mentorship and Leadership Initiative (MLI) award gave me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with my mentor, Trina Jackson, and to deepen the work that I do at The Theater Offensive (TTO). The award came at a moment of internal restructuring within TTO. Trina was moving to a position coordinating the Pride Youth Theater Alliance, shifting her focus towards international arts organizing. At the same time, I was becoming part-time programs administrator, filling the role that Trina had served.

The Theater Offensive’s work focuses on the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, South End, and Jamaica Plain. We are rooted in these communities and the wealth of history, culture, and resilience found here. I had been living in the Boston area for two years at that point, excluding the years spent ensconced within my undergraduate bubble. I was already developing relationships and leading community building activities, particularly with queer people of color, a community with which TTO works to highlight and serve. Through our mentorship relationship, Trina participated in those spaces and gave me feedback that allowed me to grow as a community leader and facilitator.

Trina’s decades of work as an organizer of communities of color and as a staff member of several community organizations have given her a large amount of experience and connections. She was generous in passing along her relationships and resources. She also invited me to be an active participant in the work that she remained heavily involved in, such as the Network of Immigrant and African American Solidarity.

The Theater Offensive

A Story Circle around the table at TTO, photo by Nicki Morris

My increased connections have served me immensely as I moved into the role of TTO’s community activities coordinator. Beyond that, I gained valuable insights about what it means to work in community and with community. Trina emphasized a mentor-mentee relationship built upon a foundation of trust, naming our similar and different experiences around identity as black queer women, mutual sharing and learning. She did not shy away from investigating the challenging and bountiful places where the personal, political, professional, and artistic meet. As a part of our MLI activities we led story circles, a model that has its roots as a form of cultural organizing used during the Civil Rights movement. In connection with the artists and art TTO was working with, we listened to the stories of the people who work tirelessly for the well-being of their neighborhoods. What a wellspring of wisdom poured forth! The core lesson learned threaded itself throughout my work with Trina as part of the MLI – a lesson in listening.

photo of Kaamila Mohammed by Joel Benjamin

June 20143

The Mentorship and Leadership Initiative, as part of the Community Fund, is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), the MetLife Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and American Express.

 




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