By Dr Kim Williams-Pulfer PhD
of One Eleuthera Foundation
IN this, our 50th year of independence, we have hopes for increased blessings, unity, and prosperity. We also sense that we have more work to do to build an inclusive nation that embodies equal opportunities, social cohesion, and full participation. While it is fitting to celebrate leaders who continue to safeguard and advance our national interests, it is also valuable to accept that humans build imperfect societal systems which can create local challenges. In this time of national reflection on our country’s triumphs and possibilities, we should all consider how we can work toward social impact to address these issues.
There is no better place for us to get to work than within civil society or what some may call the third sector. When we typically think of the third sector, formally organised local non-profit organisations come to mind. However, we should also consider how many of us participate in grassroots and informal ways to support our communities. If you are doing work that uplifts your community, seeking to make it better whether through full-time employment in a non-profit or as a volunteer, neighbourhood or student leader, board member, or donor — your efforts are needed in a world of increasing inequality, where the looming dangers of climate change, and other existential events also threaten our societal stability.
That said, in addition to a desire to help others, community leadership requires organisational and community development skills, a broad knowledge base, and emotional intelligence. Our striving foremothers and forefathers could not predict our current world, where we have rapid access to information. Today, we are responsible for taking advantage of the proliferation of knowledge and using it to grow our community leadership practices. Our access to rapid-fire technology can also make it challenging to assess fact from fiction or knowledge from entertainment. One of the ways in which we can wade through the cacophony of information is to slow down and value knowledge that requires us to identify our roots, understand nuance, enhance our awareness of global challenges, and learn from successful, inspirational leaders. Well-written and researched books of diverse genres can reveal new facts and perspectives in ways that social media cannot afford. If you see yourself as a community leader or changemaker, I recommend a few books to enhance your community leadership skills.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (Penguin Random House)
You may know of Bryan Stevenson’s story because of the recently released film of the same title with astounding performances by Jamie Foxx and Michael B Jordan. I also encourage you to read the book to understand Stevenson’s journey to becoming an inspirational leader.
Stevenson traces his early days in starting the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in 1989, headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama. As a thirty-year-old exact graduate from Harvard Law School, he was compelled to use his legal education to support people who had no or limited access to legal representation and were unjustly treated by the legal system. The book weaves US social and legal history, statistics, and personal stories to show us how he painstakingly built the organisation and developed programmes and practices addressing the injustices his clients experienced. It also covers how Stevenson’s tenacity allowed him to use his legal prowess and skills as a fundraiser and advocate to draw people to his cause.
Stevenson explains how he built a network of donors and supporters who recognized that social change is arduous, there are no quick fixes, and it requires immense sweat equity and robust financial support. His philosophy of life and leadership also challenges my views on mercy, especially for those that society deems undeserving of our care, even as I extol the virtues of forgiveness. Today the organisation has grown tremendously, and EJI offers prison re-entry and poverty alleviation programmes. Recently, it established two acclaimed museums that compel visitors to contemplate the troubling aspects of one’s national history.
This year, Stevenson was awarded the US National Humanities Medal presented by President Joe Biden, noting that he is “an advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned, [following] the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.” Just Mercy presents a story of third-sector leadership worthy of our attention.
Race and Class in the Colonial Bahamas 1880-1960, Dr Gail Saunders (University of Florida Press)
We must find new ways to celebrate the bevy of Bahamian writers, including scholars, poets, playwrights, journalists, and essayists. Queen among this esteemed group is historian and archivist Dr Gail Saunders, who reigns as one of the most prolific. I am honoured every time I cite Dr Saunders in my work. During my years writing my dissertation, her most recently published book substantially guided my thinking. The book explains how racial and class formations shaped our country and documents our challenges in becoming an increasingly equitable society.
While the US has the likes of Bryan Stevenson and others who have fought for fairness, Dr Saunders depicts the countless efforts of Bahamian individuals and organisations who, throughout history, notably embodied the principles of justice and liberation. The book recalls familiar and unfamiliar names like Sir Lynden Pindling, Sir Randol Fawkes, Dr Doris Johnson, and Dr Claudius. R Walker, The Citizens’ Committee, and The Mother’s Club.
If you want to know how Bahamians contested inequality both in the Bahamas and in the United States, discover when Marcus Garvey visited Nassau in 1928 or how leaders over subsequent years fought for greater inclusion in society, Dr Saunders’ book is critical. The saying, “You cannot know where you are going until you know where you have been,” is often quoted almost to the point of hollow rhetoric. Dr Saunders offers rich substance for that axiom. This book is fundamental in understanding the challenges and triumphs of nation-building and development. Even posthumously, Dr Saunders’ research and compelling writing continue to guide us. May she rest in peace and power.
The Chosen Place, The Timeless People by Paule Marshall (Penguin Random House)
Many magazine leadership studying lists recommend the single genre of management books. I recommend the value of fiction, which allows us to luxuriate in language, plot, and setting while promoting empathy and cultural and social awareness. Caribbean fiction writers have made substantial contributions to the canon of literary excellence. American-Barbadian writer Paule Marshall was one of those prolific writers documenting the Caribbean experience.
The Chosen Place, published in the 1960s, is set on the fictional Bourne Island and contains themes that are still relevant today. When a US-based philanthropic foundation comes to the island to manage a research project that aims to support the island’s residents, contested ideas about how to create social change are fiercely debated and challenged. The novel highlights how centering the histories and experiences of the communities we aim to serve is just as valuable as the resources we employ to develop programmes for those communities. Along with these challenging themes, Marshall presents a beautifully written story that should resonate with anyone who loves island life.
I hope these recommendations will spur leaders to think broadly about how books can help transform outmoded or ignorant assessments of our human experience. They provide us with compelling insights to address social problems armed with meaningful evidence, beauty, and truth-telling. Finally, studying does not have to be a solo practice. We can find innovative and collaborative ways to discuss books through clubs, lists, drives, and donations. In this season of promise, I wish you “happy reading” with literary works that I believe can lead to transformative leadership and greater personal impact.
• Dr Kim Williams Pulfer is a board director of One Eleuthera Foundation. Established in 2012, the One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) is a non-profit organisation located in Rock Sound, Eleuthera. For more information, visit www.oneeleuthera.org or email info@oneeleuthera. org. The Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) is the first and only postsecondary, non-profit education and training institution and social enterprise on Eleuthera. CTI operates a student training campus in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, with a 16-room training hotel, restaurant and farm. For more information about CTI’s programmes, email: info@ oneeleuthera.org.