Leading with Love: Rise Honors Co-Executive Director Bianca Shaw

As Bianca Shaw moves on from her role as Rise Co-Executive Director, we celebrate and honor her enormous impact and many contributions to our organization and the movement for family justice over the past five years.

By Tracy Serdjenian, Rise Communications Director

Bianca Shaw joined Rise in 2018, bringing with her experience in building community, using restorative justice practices and creating alternatives to punitive, carceral systems—expertise that she readily applied to envisioning a world without family policing and to creating a culture of community care within Rise. Bianca was drawn to Rise’s focus on storytelling and commitment to supporting and developing the leadership of people impacted by harmful systems. This focus resonated with her, given her experiences of feeling misunderstood, finding her own voice and being impacted by multiple systems—and she was excited to be working alongside mostly Black and brown impacted women. Bianca described herself as having “walked around the world silently” and she was reminded by Audre Lorde that silence will not protect us. At Rise, she wanted to contribute her voice and support people impacted by family policing in sharing theirs.

Bianca grew her love of facilitation at Rise, holding space for our team to bring their whole selves to the work and to generate ideas together. Her favorite part of her early role as Public Speaking Director was developing the Public Speaking Program, which was incorporated into the Rise & Shine Parent Leadership Program in 2020. She also enjoyed training Rise staff and contributors to facilitate in ways that are healing centered, draw on restorative justice practices and build community and trust.

In 2019, Rise grew tremendously—and with that came growing pains, as the organization sought to be more truly parent led and parent centered, and to be a place where parents feel seen and invested in. Rise was eager to make shifts so that parents would hold more decision-making power and lead programs—to more fully embody our slogan as an organization “by and for parents.” Bianca has always been dedicated to creating spaces for our staff and contributors to develop their skills; additionally, she was interested in exploring the practices needed to create an organizational culture that supports people’s development. This was a great opportunity for her to dive into implementing the ideas she was passionate about.

Bianca led Rise through the process of developing organizational values, beginning by gathering information about what was needed and important to the Rise team by interviewing all staff, conducting a trust assessment and doing research on trauma-informed management.  Building on this foundation, Bianca established the supervision model that Rise uses now, which centers coaching and mentoring—focusing not only on tasks, but also on building skills, taking care of ourselves and each other, negotiating, managing expectations, and constructively providing and receiving feedback. Bianca considers mentoring especially important for Black and brown and marginalized folks, because opportunities to connect to resources and to people in positions of power are often more accessible to people privileged by our society. Rise deepened our learning around restorative justice and trauma-informed practices and drew on positive youth development practices as the organization focused on matching people with roles that fit their interests and talents, supporting incremental skills development, and building positive, connected relationships. Bianca developed supervision tools and trained all Rise supervisors and staff around implementing effective, values-driven supervision practices.

In 2020, Bianca was promoted to Assistant Director of Programs and Culture—a new and very intentional role that fit the work she had already taken on. Her role involved overseeing the development and ongoing work of all Rise programs, including supporting our planning and visioning processes. By this time, Rise had expanded our programs to include Rise & Shine, Parent Advocate training, communications, community organizing and building a community-based peer support network.

As someone impacted by systems of oppression, but not directly impacted by family policing, Bianca believed that her greatest contribution could be supporting our team. Rise’s work comes from our staff, from parents impacted by the family policing system, and she saw her role as supporting our team with visioning, planning and problem solving by providing supervision and professional opportunities and by being a sounding board as we figured out how to move forward with our goals. Bianca recognized Rise as a collaborative, community environment and she created space for other people to be heard, to be decision makers—and to shine. Bianca’s priority was creating an organizational culture that centers safety, joy, learning and investment in staff. She was very aware of the harms of the nonprofit industrial complex and that many workplaces prioritize outcomes without accounting for or focusing on how people feel about being in the space or coming to work. It was important to her to create a space where people’s personal and lived experiences were valued and where people weren’t forced to adopt a “professional demeanor” that would mean conforming to oppressive norms.

In 2020, all the ways we were working to practice our values together were tested, and it was a challenging time to be in leadership. Rise went into the year hiring new staff, creating new programs and scaling and growing the work we were putting out into the world—and soon we found ourselves navigating the ongoing pandemic as well as ongoing racist police violence and racial justice uprisings. Our team and community of parents faced isolation and all the hardships of our world being on fire, including deep personal loss and grief of many different kinds. It was essential to have ways to take care of people—to take care of each other.

In supervising our staff and overseeing our organizational culture, Bianca was able to continue to do what she does best, even through this difficult time. She held space for our team, offering grace and flexibility and affirming that we are all more than the work that we produce. The Rise leadership at the time, Bianca, Jeanette Vega and Rise founder Nora McCarthy, were conscious about fighting the tendency to keep going and push through at all costs, which is what white supremacist and capitalist norms often demand. Instead, there were many times that we paused and held space for each other through those moments, recognizing what Bianca has described as “the power in the pause.” The Rise staff strengthened our relationships and cared for and supported each other in ways that were transformative. Through that process, we saw a deeper commitment to the work and were able to accomplish so much together, without feeling our livelihood was on the line when we had tough days that impacted how we could show up.

In 2020 and 2021, Rise started expanding our work to develop our own theories and practices around abolition. Bianca led us through not only envisioning our world without family policing, but also taking steps together to build community and trust, implement self- and community care processes, and call for and begin to create communities that are loving and joyful. Bianca and Rise Development Director Genevieve Saavedra Dalton Parker created and led a Rise abolition retreat for all of our staff and contributors. The retreat created space and processes for us to take time to dive deeply into understanding our intersectional identities; the ways in which white supremacy lives not just in our society, but within us; and how restorative, transformative and healing justice practices can help us move toward our larger vision. The retreat laid a foundation for Rise to organize, begin to build a Peer Care Network to prevent system involvement, and incorporate abolitionist practices into our Rise & Shine Parent Leadership Program. The learning we did together shifted the way we worked and propelled us into revising our mission and vision statements

In 2021, Bianca and Jeanette Vega became the Co-Executive Directors of Rise. Bianca’s focus, role and responsibilities did not change dramatically, as she continued to oversee programs and work closely with our community to build and strengthen Rise’s work. She brought in consultants and partners such as Krystal Portalatin, who facilitated training on navigating conflict, and Ashley Ellis from the B.R.E.A.T.H.E Collective, who provided training on restorative justice circle keeping. Bianca was responsible for leading Rise in our strategic vision and ensuring our program plans aligned with our vision and mission, keeping us moving us toward our north star throughout 2021 and 2022. Bianca supported leadership development and made decisions in partnership with the people most impacted by those decisions. She was always available to provide guidance and support, offer a listening ear or facilitate a circle, and she supported Rise staff in identifying what we care about, provided resources, and cheered us on. 

Bianca is proud of her personal journey over the past five years and of what she accomplished at Rise—and we are grateful for all the ways she contributed and brought herself to the work. Bianca was able to live out her values and commitment to Rise, and to fulfill her personal mission of speaking up, making an impact and offering a more radical perspective for how we could move forward together. Bianca brought to Rise Black feminist teachings and shared that in the book All About Love, bell hooks talks about love being an action—an investment in someone else’s best self that is not possessive. Bianca led with this kind of transformative love—supporting Rise in blossoming into a different kind of space and our team in growing, individually and collectively.

Bianca is excited for the next phase of her life journey—and although we will miss her, we are excited for her and look forward to hearing about her adventures! She will be taking a year to travel and plans to do a lot of pausing, reflecting, wondering, just living and being with herself and her community. It will be a time for her to center joy, healing and community in her life—just as she has done for all of us at Rise.

As we begin the new year, Rise will share more about our plans for 2023 and leadership transitions. 

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