Leadership that builds or destroys

Considering the power we place on Black History Month in the United States, and how it has become a worldwide phenomenon, we tend to limit our deeper understanding to February. We forget that the issues of the day can best be seen in the light of history and how, when we study history, we can create a future that empowers all of us. Returning to two women who affected the world as we know it, we can find joy, inspiration, and, especially, power: Dr Stella Adadevoh and Ms. Henrietta Lacks.

Why these two women and why now? They represent two sides of a spectrum that we need to discuss across the Diaspora so we can be clearer about what is happening in our world today. We especially need them to dissect the self-inflicted wounds that plague Black people. Dr Adadevoh represents the selfless, intentional, conscious acts that leaders must perform to bring good and/or prevent harm to a society or nation. Her intervention directly ensured a nation remained relatively healthy. On the other side of the spectrum, Ms. Henrietta Lacks was not a volunteer. She did not make a decision. She went to the doctor for a problem that led to her death. While she was hospitalised, that very doctor decided, without her or her family’s consent, to take her cells. Those cells are the basis of hundreds of medical advances around the world. So, we have a witting, loving doctor who willingly faced death to protect her nation juxtaposed with a woman whose cells were stolen from her and are now the lifeblood of medical science today.

They are two sides of The Goddess, the part of humanity that seems to be lost in the current storm of war, natural and man-made disasters, and an ever-changing economic landscape. They represent what is possible when life demands a decision or when life triumphs despite one. The Goddess can no longer be denied and this article will help us see her more clearly, understand how embracing her can change our world, and perhaps, remind us that Black people across the Diaspora are not simply victims but a vibrant catalyst for positive change across the world.

Who has power? We all do. That’s the point of a play by Dr Gladys Akunna and Mr Emille Bryant. They found the story of these two women so fascinating; they wrote a work that embodies what is possible when we learn from them. These writers are the tip of an iceberg whose depth may never be fully understood. Because stories like Dr Adadevoh and Ms. Lacks’ show us what is possible when we dive into our history. The power isn’t just in the story but in the application of the lessons, the story teaches. And when you have a play, or a book, or a movie, that illustrates these lessons, they become real. They become accessible to people today, and these illustrations spark change.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, what power looks like in the hands of the people who do not have it. They typically want security–food security, physical security, emotional security, financial security–and they want a chance to express themselves freely. Those two elements of power, security and free expression, are, right now, best determined by governments and their leaders. Those leaders often place their security and expression ahead of their people’s. And the result is chaos. People want to know they can eat, can rest safely, can go to and from their work in relative peace, and, when they have time and inspiration, express their ideas in ways that may bless their families and their communities.

But those two things are denied to them because leaders do not understand what the least of us already know: security and free expression are not threats, they are simply human desires to be and do what they are able to be and do without artificial restraints. Improper use of abundant natural and cultural resources is to blame. And that improper use comes from leaders too myopic to see that their retardation of security and free expression creates the conditions that jeopardise their position as leaders.

Dr Adadevoh’s free expression was to intervene to prevent a potential epidemic in Nigeria. She used the power she was granted as a medical leader to change the nation. She did so quietly, and although we honour her today, her goal was health and safety. She knew that once she committed to this course of action, death was likely. Yet she confronted the diplomatic apparatus of two nations to ensure the people of Nigeria would never face the ravages of Ebola. She made that decision of her own conscience. How many of us would make such a decision? And how many of us are in positions, right now, to make a decision that places ourselves in between a problem and who it may affect? Power is relative and when we have it, we must be inspired by Dr Adadevoh to use it wisely.

Ms. Lacks never had the security she desired. She entered a hospital hoping to be cured of pain that persisted for months. She did not know she had cervical cancer. By the time the doctors saw her, they gave her only a few weeks to live, and true to their prediction, she died in their care. While there, they took samples of her cells to see what was wrong with her. And in so doing, violated the most sacred space an individual has, her body. And that eliminated any security she could have asked for. Their desire for scientific inquiry trumped her body’s autonomy. They never informed her family of their act either, further erasing any notion of security for them as well. Ms. Lacks’ genetic material floated through international scientific communities nearly at will, her DNA used for hundreds of patented discoveries, tests, and cures. A line of cells that is now called “immortal” yet stolen, the security of an individual violated for decades.

Return to humanity: Dr. Adadevoh and Ms. Lacks are our connection to the Goddess–and the joy of the maternal gaze and maternal holding, to our humanity, to a fundamental rebalancing of how we see each other and the world around us. They reflect that all human beings share a motivation to belong and participate in the formulation of identities; that the patterns of positive relationships matter in achieving balance and well-being, and that empathic, progressive social motives and social forces working together, ultimately shape and project the experience of enabling power. The type of power that builds human lives and communities.

Alas, our world is dominated by leaders using more masculine traits like strength, logic, and guile to establish, maintain, and increase their power. Within their own and between other nations, they seek to dominate affairs, set agendas, and prevent true challenges to their authority. This has often come at the expense of those least likely to have power or to misuse it if they have it. Far too frequently, women have borne the brunt of their machinations.

But these women, one by her activity, one by her passivity, show us that there’s more to our humanity than the inordinate quest for power, more to us than the maneuvers to prevent others from accessing power, even more to us than security and freedom of expression. They remind us to connect to what is sacred about us and be more human, more loving, empathic, more generous, and more…feminine. They show us that balance is healthy and that when we are not balanced, we are likely to injure one another. Sacrifice is not natural in the world we know, but to these women, whether forced or chosen, it has become a tether for the best of us.

So, we call for a return to the roots of authentic, enabling power, the important balance of masculinity and femininity. We call for men and women to see each other not as threats, but as part of a whole that has the greatest human achievements in its future. We call for all to see us as we are, in need of security and free expression. And we call on all leaders, formal and informal, to stop the endless oppression of dissenting voices and start embracing the power those voices have. Only when we begin working together will we see the connection from our Earth to ourselves, from one to another. Only then will we have returned fully to our humanity.

Dr Akunna and Mr Bryant sent this piece from the United States of America

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