Social Justice Transformation - All Minds, All Hearts, All Hands on Deck

February 23, 2021

By Camila Beiner

Creating a Village

A blog series profiling the work of community leaders across the country working to address the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice in their local communities. The series amplifies diverse leadership and the impact on communities, partnerships and members.

Latoya Gayle, a long-time leader with Vital Village Networks (VVN), has been an advocate for marginalized communities in Boston for many years. Gayle was first drawn to VVN when she participated in the Social Justice Mediation Program (SJMP), an effort that aims to train community members in conflict resolution skills that can be used to help build capacity in various settings. When she first participated in the program, Gayle explained it really changed her perspective on conflict resolution because she learned an abundance of information during the 40-hour training. “It really has created a network of conscious conflict resolution advocates, and it really resonates with people who are doing such amazing community-based work already in the city… so this program is just something that they can add to their tool belt when working in their communities.” For Gayle, Vital Village is a unique organization because they focus their efforts on doing meaningful work that really connects and resonates with people. Many times, when organizations work in marginalized neighborhoods, Gayle said members of the communities feel they have been taken advantage of because they are left with no tools to really lift themselves up. Vital Village does the opposite of that, which motivated Gayle to become a co-director of Vital Village’s Social Justice Mediation Program. People in the program share their life experience and give perspective on specific conflicts their community is facing. The goal of the program is to provide the leaders with the necessary skills to solve the problems they are facing. Being a co-director of the program has given Gayle the opportunity to meet over 100 community leaders that focus on many different issues. “Vital Village really is my village. I am there for Vital Village but I know Vital Village is there for me, and that is so comforting and empowering. I know that if I need a resource or connection, there is someone in that village there for me, and I try to be that for others in the village as well.” From teachers to parents to social workers, Gayle has been able to support people through their journey and build a vast network of people.

Mothers Standing Together

In addition to her work with Vital Village Networks, Gayle has started her own organization. After attending various districtwide public school meetings in the Greater Boston Area, she realized they were not welcoming to parents of color, and the only voices heard were usually those of white parents. “They were not really talking about issues that were resonating or important to Black and Latino families that made up a majority of the school district… so a group of moms and I decided to create an alternative space where those voices led not just financially, but also led in recognizing issues that are in forefront for these communities.”

Gayle became the co-founder and co-director of Phenomenal Moms, a parent-led and parent-driven organization with a focus on increasing parents’ engagement and involvement in communities of color. For Gayle, community leadership is about distributed leadership where no one’s voice is more important or more powerful than another. This is what prompted her be part of Phenomenal Moms because it created an inclusive space where every parents voice mattered. The main goal of the organization is to reduce the educational, social and economic opportunity and achievement gaps by working in collaboration with schools, districts and community partners. Over the years, Phenomenal Moms has provided parents with workshops and trainings, group and individual support, and self-care opportunities to help parents recognize their strengths and overcome challenges. One of the biggest challenges came this summer when the racial tensions escalated during the coronavirus pandemic.

In light of racial tensions that occurred this summer, Latoya Gayle and Sarah Iddrissu, another local leader who is now working in Congress as chief of staff for Rep. Jamal Bowman, organized a movement, March Like a Mother for Black Lives, seeking to create a village of mothers who work collectively to celebrate and cherish Black lives, and to defend and protect Black bodies. Gayle, along with other Black mothers, were frustrated and saddened to witness the killing of George Floyd where he uttered his last word, “mama.” One of the major concerns for these mothers was raising their children in such a volatile political clima