Photo credit: David P. Ball
Alejandra has been part of LEVEL since the very beginning as a manager and then acting director. Her commitment to racial justice; her passion for community building; and her vibrant energy helped create an initiative that could centre the voices, experiences, and aspirations of young BIPOC leaders. Now as Alejandra moves on to another amazing opportunity, we’re sad to see her go but excited to see what the future has in store for her. As we say farewell, we put her in the hot seat to reflect on her time at Vancouver Foundation and what she learned from the relationships she built through LEVEL.
LEVEL: How would you describe yourself?
Alejandra: I describe myself as a Mexican migrant woman. I’m a migrant justice organizer and also, a sister, daughter, auntie, and someone that really gets inspired by the resilience, resistance, and strength of women (mostly Indigenous, Black, and women of colour). I describe myself as someone that gets moved by people and is inspired by being in relationship with people. In my learning journey here in unceded Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ Territories through the leadership, organizing and mentorship of Indigenous, Black and racialized women, aunties and grandmas, I strengthened my understanding and awareness about the importance of sharing power and re-imagining collective leadership.
LEVEL: What’s been your role at LEVEL?
A: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to be part of LEVEL that was built on previous initiatives. My role is currently acting director but throughout my time, I’ve been the manager. It’s the best role ever because I get to just be in relationship and support the leadership of young people; be in the background cheering for them doing amazing things. I’m the one that’s benefited from learning with and from their leadership.
My role with LEVEL was built from what we’ve heard from other racialized immigrant and Indigenous youth throughout the years. We heard that the Vancouver Foundation needed to make an explicit commitment to racial justice by investing in the leadership of Indigenous and racialized migrant youth and BIPOC communities. We wanted to centre the voices of young people in decision making, creating spaces for them to be at the front of the issues affecting them and their communities. Throughout the many years of doing this work, creating this platform at Vancouver Foundation to centre these voices has been a transformative experience for me.
LEVEL: What are your most memorable moments in LEVEL?
A: I have so many memories of being in a room, hosting the Youth Policy Program and having so many ah-ha moments of solidarity and connection; of witnessing a space that brings together Indigenous and racialized youth. From my own experience moving to Canada, I’ve rarely witnessed these types of spaces of intentional learning about different struggles, finding solutions collectively for our own communities, and being in solidarity with each other. The young people often felt like they didn’t have anything to add to policy making tables and then throughout the journey, I get to see how they begin to feel confident and feel stronger in their voice. Bringing faculty that reflects their communities, the issues that affect them and showing them how the work of making and influencing policy doesn’t happen just in academic spaces or in predominantly white male dominated spaces was a powerful way to strengthen their own knowledge and that they not only have something to contribute but that we need them at policy making tables. I’ve seen the power they hold of working together in solidarity. I feel a deep sense of hope that another world is possible where all worlds fit. I had an ongoing realization about how, when you can be open to different worldviews, the possibilities are endless in terms of what you’re able to create together.
LEVEL: What’s been the most surprising during your time with LEVEL?
A: The most surprising (but not in a bad way) is that young people aren’t afraid of calling us out, speaking truth to power. As a philanthropic organization, we talk about moving to trust-based philanthropy and centring relationships and we still put so many barriers for communities to access money based on an idea that we know better or they’re not going to use the money how communities need it. When I see young people in the last year organizing for mutual aid, fundraising and supporting their communities in small and big ways, and making decisions collectively and collaboratively, I’m always in awe. With such limited resources, they’re able to create so much support and solidarity and community care. The idea of calling us out and not being afraid of that is very refreshing to me. We get so stuck doing things a certain way and we need to listen to young people that are telling us: “If you’re not going to trust us or give us money, we’ll do it with or without you because that’s what our community needs.”
LEVEL: What’s been the most challenging?
A: The most challenging for me is that I wish we could support more young people. Because of capacity and how intentional we are with creating spaces and having an equity lens through who gets selected across BC, we can only invite 15 people for the policy program. There are so many more young BIPOC leaders out there struggling to find employment, continue their education, find housing, and experience discrimination as a result of ongoing colonization and white supremacy. Prioritizing BIPOC young people and communities should be across the philanthropic sector. My dream would be to hire all these young people because everyone would be lucky to have their voices and contributions in their work.
Another challenge is something common in the philanthropic sector: building a relationship based on reciprocity with young people. Historically, the sector doesn’t adequately fund BIPOC-led organizations or BIPOC leaders. When we create initiatives like LEVEL, we’re connected to BIPOC young people and we get to benefit from their skills, experience, and the work they do in their community. I would love to see the sector prioritize ongoing sustained commitment to support their work.
LEVEL: What has been your biggest learning?
A: The work isn’t about me. It’s much bigger than one initiative or even the sector. It’s about social movements towards justice and equity while at the same time, it’s about how individually we relate to each other. The beauty of this work—as painful as it is to see injustice, inequity, and lack of commitment from organizations with resources—it’s also such joy and reason to celebrate. This year was the first time that Vancouver Foundation through LEVEL had a granting cycle specifically prioritizing Indigenous, Black and People of Colour led organizations advancing racial justice work. Instead of written applications we hosted conversations with BIPOC leaders. Stories are a gift, being in conversation with these leaders and listening to their hopes and dreams for a better world for ALL of us where their existence is not at risk and their identities aren’t questioned will continue to make me accountable throughout my life. To be in relationship, in solidarity, brings me so much happiness, fulfillment, inspiration, and growth. Showing up for each other is how we build movement toward justice and equity. It starts with how we are open to listen to each other, treat each other, and show up for each other.
LEVEL: What will you miss the most?
A: I’ll miss the other women of colour we work with; their leadership and how they’ve opened paths for me to do this work. I’ll also miss the laughter and the pains that comes with working with young people (and I mean that with love). It’s all part of the deal! The laughter, the tears, the emotional roller coaster, the ability to continue to learn with and from young people. This work started before me, will continue in community after me, and these relationships will stay with me because I’ll stay in community with young leaders to witness what they’re doing. Even though the policy program was a learning opportunity for them, I also learned every day and I hope I get to continue to learn alongside young people.
LEVEL: Do you have any parting words for the LEVEL community?
A: The LEVEL community is beautiful, powerful, not homogenous, and intersectional. It’s part of a bigger movement. I can’t wait to continue to witness the care, the solidarity, and the joy.