Ready For This Moment

“In this moment in time, these ‘life quakes’ have affected the entire world. We can’t go back to ‘normal.’ We have to create different conditions for children to thrive, for families to work and for there to be equitable communities … What I’ve learned is that we have to lead with the lens of racial equity.”
—Paul Martinez, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Joe Scantlebury, La June Montgomery Tabron, Paul Martinez, and Carla Thompson Payton discussed leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic at the WKKF Community Leadership Network virtual gathering.

During the WKKF Community Leadership Network virtual gathering in August, fellows joined together to explore the importance of leadership and connection in moments of crisis.

How we react and respond to compounding crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, reckoning with racial injustice and the impacts of climate change were the backdrop of a panel discussion with W.K. Kellogg Foundation staff, including La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO; Carla Thompson Payton, vice president of program strategy; Joe Scantlebury, vice president for place based programs; and moderated by Paul Martinez, chief leadership and human capital strategist.

“In this moment in time, these ‘life quakes’ have affected the entire world,” shared Paul. “We can’t go back to ‘normal.’ We have to create different conditions for children to thrive, for families to work and for there to be equitable communities … What I’ve learned is that we have to lead with the lens of racial equity.”

The panel reflected on their own leadership style and how the DNA of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation – racial equity, community engagement and leadership – has prepared them to rise to this moment. From leading through listening to investing in community building, the panelists shared examples of the foundation’s approach and encouraged the fellows that they are the right leaders for this moment.

What have you learned about your leadership style during these crises?

Carla: I need to listen to understand. It’s not a time or a place for me to come forward with hardcore strategies of what I think will work, but it’s really an opportunity to hear folks and their varying perspectives around what they’re experiencing, how they see the world, how they approach handling tough situations and then most imporatantly how we can work together collaboratively and collectively to address them.

Joe: I think the things that I take away for this period and have been most insightful for my leadership is really appreciating the benefit of having strong co-leaders … How do we be patient in this moment of urgency? How do we be disciplined and thoughtful in our response? Responding to this moment couldn’t have happened without co-leaders, working side by side, trusting one another, and sharing the same mission and sense of service. Understanding we didn’t have all of the answers, but we needed to get resources into the hands of partners on the ground quickly.

La June: I think this moment called for bold courageous leadership to step out of the mold to do things that had not been done before, to step into the challenge and the urgency of the time. This moment has also required a lot of truth telling. Naming the inequities and lack of opportunities, having conversations in places and circles where it wasn’t happening and inviting people to stand into a different place of leadership.

Did the W.K. Kellogg Foundation have a crisis response plan ready in the books?

Joe: We responded in real time to what we were learning from our grantees and partners on the ground, what they’re needs were and then we trusted our operations colleagues to shake every couch in the foundation to find the money… This wasn’t a plan we pulled off the shelf. This was a plan that evolved as the needs evolved.

Carla: We had a very strong strategic plan that talked about what are the issues that communities are facing and struggling with on a regular basis. What COVID-19 did, as well as the greater awareness of the racial inequities in this country, it just highlighted the work we’ve been doing over the 90 years of our existence. We knew because we spent so much time asking communities: what are they struggling with and what sort of supports do they need.

So that when this crisis happened, the three areas we focus our grantmaking on – employment equity, health equity and early childhood education – were the three areas that were most severely hit by COVID-19.

Because we had the relationships and knew the policies we were pushing, we were able to grant $100 million between March and June. We were able to really think through and prioritize [getting]resources to the folks who are doing the work on the ground. We relied heavily on our DNA – our community engagement, the leadership we knew existed within communities and the fact that could target the communities who had been the most disenfranchised by some of the systemic issues that this country faces.

How do you see the partnership between the foundation, fellows and alumni unfolding in the future?

Carla: The reason why you are fellows is because we believe in your leadership. We believe in what you’re doing in your local community. We see you as partners. You’re on the ground making the change happen.

What we want to do is figure out how we can support you to do this good work. Ways in which we can link you to new networks. Ways in which we can engage you so you’re using your voice to amplify the voice of your community at tables where significant change can happen.

We see this as a true and honorable partnership. We want to continue to walk hand-and-hand with you, as we do this really hard job of changing the lives of children for the better.

Joe: I would say that I have fellow envy. I’m an employee, I work at the foundation, and someday I won’t be at the foundation and folks might remember me, maybe not, I don’t know. You’ll always be fellows. The fellows that I’ve met, particularly alumni, continue to do great work everywhere. They continue to show up as leaders.

As more and more people of color demographically become the majority in America, are we ready to lead in all of America’s problems? Are we ready to lead in all the ways that are required to run a democratic, equitable society? … I think this is the fellowship that embeds the kinds of values that are holistic, that are real, that are transportable across borders, that recognize humanity first.

La June: I’m going to say it in the words of Will Keith Kellogg: “I’ll invest my money in people.” That comment is what guides us in our work. He knew and we know that it’s the people who make change happen. We want to invest, support, encourage, develop, align with and support the people.

We are committed to leadership, it’s part of our DNA. We are committed to our fellows – current, past and future. We thank you all for what you’re going to do to change the world for children and families.

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WKKF Community Leadership Network