“I didn’t really like going to school growing up,” states E.N. West (they/E), who goes by “E” to those that know them. “Here, I felt like what I was learning was all relevant.”
E is one of the Fellows of RVC’s Community Impact Fellowship Program and the Communications and Community Engagement Manager at Surge Reproductive Justice (SRJ), one of the host organizations in partnership with the fellowship program.
“I was just excited to learn every day. I started seeking out resources on my own to learn about these issues on a deeper level,” they explain.
E is referring to their initial experience with the Community Impact Fellowship Program, which places talented leaders of color in a two-year, full-time position at local grassroots organizations led by communities of color. In E’s case, they got placed at SRJ, an organization that fights to end reproductive oppression and ensuring access to reproductive health services and economic security for all people.
Originally from the East Coast, E graduated from William & Mary with degrees in American Studies and Government. They came to the Pacific Northwest through a service program of the United Church of Christ. E had the opportunity to organize communities in Seattle around housing justice.
“I was a community organizer for the Church Council of Greater Seattle. I worked mostly with white people, which was fine, but it made me want to work more with communities of color,” states E. “Working with the program and SRJ has been such a nice change. It’s felt nurturing to work here. It’s not so rigid in its policy and brain heavy. It’s a supportive atmosphere.”
RVC’s Community Impact Fellowship Program
Now in its third iteration, the Community Impact Fellowship Program is RVC’s staple and longest-running program, which provides Fellows with training, support, and mentorship to further develop their leadership skills and knowledge in nonprofit management, capacity-building, civic engagement, working with diverse and dynamic communities, and more.
The program starts with a group retreat with the cohort of Fellows participating in the program, which is then followed by a 5-week Leadership Institute, where the Fellows have opportunities to acquire some skills and knowledge in nonprofit work.
“I enjoyed the diversity of perspectives we were exposed to versus the traditional perspectives, and had the opportunity to listen to folks of diverse backgrounds speak,” states E.
The curriculum covers a broad range of topics that helps Fellows with foundational knowledge and know-how to navigate through the nonprofit sector as part of a grassroots organization and a leader. Their skills and knowledge will grow over the next two years, as well as giving the Fellows the chance to bond with one another, creating a supportive and empowering atmosphere.
“The retreat and Leadership Institute was a really positive experience for me. I felt that the precious time we had was used well,” explains E. “It doesn’t really feel like a program, and I was able to really connect and build relationships not only with other Fellows, but with the staff as well.”
After the retreat and Leadership Institute, these bright and energetic leaders are then placed in host organizations for the next two years. That’s when E’s work with SRJ began.
SRJ and partnering with RVC
According to Jackie Vaughn, Executive Director of Surge, SRJ is the only organization in the state of Washington that exclusively operates under the framework of reproductive justice.
“This gives SRJ the responsibility and honor to organize in our communities under a framework that was developed by Black women who created the path for us to build power and create a world where all communities have their human rights and self-determination and autonomy,” explains Jackie.
SRJ and RVC’s partnership began in 2019 as an Operations Support partner. RVC’s Operations Support Program provides capacity-building and back-office support for smaller, community-based organizations so that they can focus more of their resources on their mission.
With RVC’s partnership, Jackie states that they are able to focus on the community organizing program. “The partnership has allowed us to increase our presence and the reproductive justice framework in critical policy decisions.” She also appreciates that this program has allowed SRJ to invest in leadership development.
The partnership has since evolved and SRJ was happy to become a host organization for the fellowship program and continue their advocacy for future leaders of color.
“I really appreciate the fellowship and SRJ having the opportunity to partner with RVC as a host organization,” describes Jackie. “It was important for us at SRJ to find a Fellow that aligned with our principles and analysis as well as someone who could implement the work plan that we created.”
E’s work with SRJ
E is the Communications and Community Engagement Manager at SRJ. “My role involves building relationships, event planning, political work, attending meetings,” E states. “But on a more day-to-day basis, I work on building out our communications infrastructure.”
In addition, E is currently heading SRJ’s “Just Speak” open mic series. The quarterly event gives an opportunity for anyone in the community to tell and listen to stories about the different sides of reproductive justice.
From their previous work dealing with housing justice and studying government and diving deep into social justice issues, E brings a unique perspective and voice to the organization.
“Working with E has truly been a pleasure. They have a strong anti-racist and intersectional analysis that they consistently bring to their work,” explains Jackie. “E has been laying the foundations for our communications strategy and program at SRJ. It’s important work that is long overdue.”
E, in turn, has enjoyed their time working with Jackie. “Working with Jackie has been so great. This is the first time that I worked with an Executive Director from my generation. We have similar backgrounds when it comes to our political identity,” boasts E. “We’re able to have real conversations, and not have that weird barrier and hierarchical distinction.”
Advocating for future leaders of color and organizations led by people of color
It’s these win-win scenarios that RVC supports and envisions for Fellows and their respective host organizations. It’s about strengthening the power of communities of color in order to create a more equitable society, through capacity-building, leadership development, and operations support.
Through cultivating the skills and knowledge of Fellows, RVC’s fellowship program strives to amplify the strengths of these future leaders and putting them in positions to succeed.
“It was great to have the support of RVC staff through the hiring process who went above and beyond to ensure that we found a Fellow who would be the perfect fit for SRJ,” explains Jackie. “It will be exciting to see how E shapes our communications strategy and the way we speak about the work that SRJ does.”