Akaya Windwood | Cultivating Beloved Community

Prior to becoming president of Rockwood in January 2008, Akaya Windwood served as Rockwood’s director of leadership development for three years. An executive leadership coach and organizational consultant, Akaya has more than 30 years of experience working for social justice. She is known nationally for her commitment to social and economic justice, and for building a compelling vision for effectiveness and collaboration in the nonprofit and social benefit sectors.

Straightforward, warm, present, of substance, inspiring, clear, honest, comfortable in her own skin, in relationship with her power (personal and otherwise), bright, committed, reliable, articulate, responsive, passionate… These are some attributes and adjectives that describe this month’s featured Changemaker, Akaya Windwood, CEO & President of Rockwood Leadership Institute.

In 2005, Akaya joined Rockwood as a trainer, with the encouragement of her friend and colleague, Roberto Vargas. Before that she co-founded and worked with the Women’s National Leadership Project for 3 years, in addition to running a successful, multicultural consulting practice.

At 7, Akaya was one of two African-American children bussed into an all-white elementary school in San Bernadino. This was the school district’s gesture to integrate schools. For 3 months no one spoke with Akaya, and at the tender age of 7 she learned what it meant to feel deeply isolated, alone, and made “other.” This experience seeded Akaya’s lifelong commitment to social justice, connecting with others, especially across differences, and supporting leaders in making a difference in the world.

According to Akaya, Rockwood Leadership Institute is “committed to supporting the leadership of those who are doing the very heavy lifting of transforming our world, our institutions, our families.” She goes on to say, “That is our guiding principle; that is what we are committed to doing because we believe that every leader deserves support, feedback, [and] encouragement. We are committed to the idea that no leader should ever, ever lead in isolation again.”

It is clear from talking with Akaya that she highly values her staff and the work that they do together. This is reflected in the organizational culture that they co-create. There is a prevailing understanding that they all hold themselves accountable to what they teach in their leadership trainings. ‘Walking their talk’ is the organizational cultural norm.

When asked about her thoughts on this month’s theme of “renewal,” Akaya shared that it is something that she and her staff talk about all the time. She recognizes that self-care is a vital part of being a resilient and steady leader. A framework that they use at Rockwood is one of cultivating “beloved community,” similar to what Martin Luther King Jr. has spoken about. It is the idea that we are all interrelated, connected, that there is a vested interest in ensuring that all people live their fullest, most whole lives.

At Rockwood, staff are encouraged to put their “family first.” In addition, they have regular monthly staff potlucks and relationship-building retreats quarterly. Akaya says, “I want my staff to come to work rested and ready.” She is interested in providing the best conditions under which her staff can perform at their best.

Akaya demonstrates the best of radical responsibility, accountability and purpose. She is a role model for transformative leadership. She extends the notion of “beloved community,” not only within her own organization but also further outward, towards, and with other organizations dedicated to transformative social change. She has a commitment to good partnerships, and demonstrates this as she says, “The river lifts all boats. I want all boats to be lifted. It does not serve me well to have some other organization fail. I am committed to your success, as much as my own.”

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