by Becca Krantz
CORE’s work these days is to mobilize our funding, knowledge, and relationships to spread and deepen core practices for healing and social transformation. As part of this work, I had the rare and enjoyable privilege of sitting down for an in-depth conversation with activist and movement leader Markasa Tucker. The conversation was inspiring. Here are some highlights of what I learned about Markasa and about the trainings she’s attended lately with CORE’s support. Markasa will be coming to Madison to lead a CORE Circle on Emergent Strategy, Thursday June 6th, 4-6 pm at Threshold, so you too will have a chance to connect with her and with some of the tools she’s been practicing.
Markasa Tucker was raised in suburban Milwaukee, in an environment she describes as “very, very privileged.” Her family was religious, but not very connected to social justice issues. “My mom and dad didn’t really allow us to go into the city. My father owned properties in the city, and he would take us over there, but it just felt like a world away, completely like a world away.” Markasa went to school for Mass Communications, with the ambition of becoming a sports reporter. She soon became disillusioned with this career path. “TV is a farce,” she tells me off-handedly. She went to run a daycare that a friend of hers owned. She had no idea at the time how it would fit in with any sort of life plan, but figured it would at least give her some management experience. “It was there where I really saw the disparities of mothers, black mothers and black children. And that’s where my eyes were really opened to those things that my parents had sheltered me from seeing.”
photo by Maria C. Maldonado
Markasa became the “mother hen” at the daycare, and still keeps in touch with some of the parents and workers. The experience made her want to work with the community in a different way, to make an impact in some way on the disparities. She applied for the Office Administrator position at Wisconsin Voices and started working there in January 2014.
“And then April 2014 is when Dontre Hamilton was murdered [by police]. And so I started working really, really closely with the family. Never participated in a march before, really never knew anything about social justice, even though I went to a Black college, that was something that we just really honestly didn’t talk about.” Markasa describes how, through her dedication to Dontre’s family, she became part of the core team of the Coalition for Justice, and gradually learned about organizing while doing it. Along the way she got promoted at Wisconsin Voices, though it was to the position of Office Manager, not an organizing role. “I had some of the skills, but not all of the skills.”
Eventually Wisconsin Voices took a risk and created a new position for Markasa as Director of the African American Civic Engagement Roundtable. “Slowly but surely, after a while the office desk just couldn’t hold me back anymore.” With this new role official, she could do the violence prevention and police accountability work she’d already been doing, but from a higher profile position. The work led to her being tapped to Chair the City of Milwaukee’s Collaborative Community Committee, which is facilitating public input into the Collaborative Reform Initiative for the Police Department and the Fire and Police Commission. She reflects on the fact that there are many activists in Milwaukee with decades more experience than she has who could have been selected for the position. “It’s really, really exciting work. It’s scary sometimes because I feel like I don’t always know what to do and how to do it, but I know that God has chosen me and helps me lead, and the training that I’ve been exposed to is what equips me to be able to lead so well.”
One of these trainings is The Management Center’s Managing to Change the World People of Color & Indigenous Cohort. Markasa says this training “was super on time….The skills that it gives me to manage people of color, to help to manage canvassers, or how I’m hiring, how I’m showing up, how I can manage [the relationship] with [my white Executive Director], has been just what I needed, right at the right time.”
Another very helpful and “on time” training has been BOLD, Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity, a national, multi-session somatics-based training program in transformative organizing, embodied leadership, and political education. Markasa had heard about BOLD and applied for it before, but had been passed over because she was an Office Manager. In her new Director’s position, she was accepted. She says the training has been important because “There are not spaces that I feel like black people can just pause and take time to learn. We are so busy and in a reactive state all the time because there’s so many things to respond to when you’re at home in the work. There’s not opportunities to pull out and actually go and even take in something and practice it, really, what you’ve learned. But when you go to the BOLD training, not only do they feed you information, you also practice in that space. So I don’t have to come home and just, like, practice on the fly.”
The practice includes things like taking a moment to center before knocking on each door while canvassing. Markasa says “I center all the time. Sometimes you can get really fearful talking about a new issue. But before I actually knock on each door, I stop and I center right at the doorstep. Just stop, really just like get into my comfortable place and centered. It takes so much anxiety away.”
At BOLD she also learned tips to keep herself and her canvassing team physically safe, something she wishes she’d known earlier. “One of my canvassers in Milwaukee got bit by a dog. She went up to a door and I think the screen door, like didn’t have like a clasp on it, and soon as the door opened, bam! dog came out. One very, very simple thing I learned just from being out in the field [at BOLD] was simply when you go to the door, put your foot down at the bottom of the screen door first, then knock on the door. So if someone or something comes out, your foot is actually holding and you have a chance to hold on before something happens.”
BOLD also includes practices for building relationships within a team, supporting each other, giving and receiving feedback, and holding each other accountable. There are practices for getting a team in sync, too, including a physical practice from Aikido using a wooden staff called a “jo.” Another powerful aspect is making personal commitments to goals for your own leadership style and presence. Markasa shares one of hers: “Being a leader and showing up with more joy.” She says “I can be super rigorous. But I need to also remember to do everything in joy. And that affects the team.”
BOLD has also been an important training ground for adrienne maree brown, activist, consultant, poet, doula, and author of Emergent Strategy. In a blog post called ‘entering the maroon space of BOLD’s national gathering,’ adrienne writes:
the way I need to love and be loved brings me home
and it is so black I can hide here, I can shine
it is so black we can breathe here, and all of us shine
Emergent Strategy is a call to reclaim a more ancient and humble approach to change that embraces complexity, rather than the dominant culture’s view of strategy as a way to control and predict linear outcomes. Markasa was able to attend an Emergent Strategy training with adrienne, and is practicing many of her transformational tools and perspectives for movement leadership. Markasa says adrienne “has so many amazing nuggets, but it’s also been really easy to adapt to what she’s saying because it’s stuff that’s already around us. We just have to open our eyes and see the stuff that she’s exposing us to …kind of like pulling back a layer [and seeing], ‘Oh that is right there!’” An example is watching and learning from the movement of birds. Markasa says, “Everybody doesn’t have to flap their wings at the same time. We can still get somewhere, taking turns moving.”
Markasa sums up her recent experiences as an emerging leader this way: “My faith truly grounds and keeps me through this work I lead. The tools, development, training, and practice deepen my generative experience as a whole.” Luckily, Markasa is also excited to share what she’s been learning and practicing on her journey. “I’m extremely blessed to be connected to the BOLD family and the Emergent Strategy facilitation team, and to have had the opportunity to go to these trainings. I know that other people can’t go, whether it be finances or capacity to leave their organization. I try to come back and recreate smaller spaces to do the sharing.”
At CORE we are looking forward to hosting one such opportunity soon to learn from and with Markasa. Please join us if you can:
Thursday, June 6, 4pm-6pm
Emergent Strategy: Jewels and tools to transform your work and life. With Markasa Tucker. If you have a chance to read Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown before you come, it will deepen your understanding of this work (and it’s not required for participation).
Location: Threshold, 2717 Atwood Ave.