Apr 13, 2023
A Letter from Kendra: Seeing Ourselves in the Movement
This March marked five years since I accepted an offer to move from Arkansas and take the helm of Equality NC, the Equality NC Foundation and the Equality NC PAC. I made the decision to come to the Tarheel State because I witnessed a dramatic increase in vitriol directed toward minority communities as Trumpism began to rise and ultimately reach the White House. Amid the resurgence of mainstream racism, xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia, I knew I needed a bigger playing field to fight back, alongside strong allies working for undocumented immigrants, Black folks, women, differently abled people, the resource poor and the LGBTQ+ community. I found just that, with incredible partners working on issues from voting and reproductive rights to incarceration.
At the time, I knew I was joining an organization whose leadership had voted to adopt an explicit race equity lens. Equality NC was one of the few in the Equality Federation that embraced the truth – we cannot work for LGBTQ+ equality without grappling with the racist foundations of the United States and its legacy in our everyday lives. Early on in a casual conversation with a long time ENC member and supporter, I said that I wanted people to “see themselves in this movement.” What I meant as I was explaining my vision for our work was that I wanted people to feel connected to ENC, to feel empowered and to find their role in fighting for their own liberation. I knew that in order to be an organization for all people, the staff needed to look like the people we aspire to serve and we needed to be telling all our stories, so they could literally see themselves reflected in the movement we are all building. Another way I wanted people to see themselves was to find their unique gifts to the movement —whether as a spreadsheet wizard, public speaker, an envelope stuffer or an event planner—because I knew the work of liberation needs us all.
In these past few years, Equality NC’s staff has diversified and spread to more cities, from the Triangle to the Western edges. The Board has welcomed folks from varied races, ages, gender identities and life experiences. The Political Action Committee has grown to have statewide and regional members, offering local input while vetting candidates on races from Congress to school boards. And the organization has completed an incredible strategic plan rooted in building LGBTQ+ power in pursuit of racial and social justice to guide us for the next five years.
As my five year anniversary approaches in May, I feel proud to be at the helm of an organization that has worked with community members and other organizations to pass 22 ordinances protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination across the state. I find hope in the Rural Youth Empowerment program that began in my first year and is supporting the leaders of now and tomorrow to build lasting resources. I cherish the partnerships ENC has formed to mobilize voters, get progressive candidates elected, elevate the most pressing issues of our day and support mutual aid efforts. And I know that with your support, Equality NC is ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
As I look at where the movement is nationally, with more anti-LGBTQ+ bills than ever before and an open attack on our youth, I know that we need strong organizations like Equality NC to keep fighting. White supremacists and Christian nationalists have moved from the shadows of our society to the center stage of our government, taking aim at our rights and our very existence. Now more than ever, we need to be telling our stories differently, flanking and supporting organizations that serve as a container for organizing and working across identities to build a movement for us all.
And as I continue the work of seeing myself in this movement, I know the time has come for me to take on another role, that of building up infrastructure for our liberation. So I have made the bittersweet decision to leave Equality NC in late 2023 to continue my path of servant leadership to the scaffolding of this movement.
In the weeks and months to come, Equality NC’s boards, led by Milan Pham and Ivan Canada, will be looking to find its next leader. I will be working to support our phenomenal staff and invite you all into regional discussions about our new strategic plan. As I do so, I invite you to show up for this movement, work alongside me, and continue building a united front where y’all means all and we can ALL see ourselves in this movement.
Kendra R. Johnson (she/her/ella)
Executive Director, Equality NC