The Women’s National Book Association was established in New York City in 1917 to give women a voice in the book industry. What has propelled their success into the future is their commitment to the culture of inclusion. The WNBA created a mandate to inspire with four components; Learn. Think. Empathize. Act. Unfortunately, the Chapter in South Florida under the direction of President Andrea Baron and Vice-President Linda Rosen are not moving that mandate forward in any meaningful way. Instead, they defend the status quo – a self-serving world of corporate-speak and excuse mongering.
It is true that both women worked tirelessly to form a chapter of the WNBA and have grown the organization into something special. Baron is committed and conscientious while Rosen is a hurricane of self-promotion. But on June 17th they made a conscious executive decision NOT to move the mandate forward. There was no attempt to learn, think, empathize. act. In fact, it was quite the opposite, their actions were unashamedly exclusionary and silent. And so during this climate of demanding change in institutional structures, I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and take the time to call out the South Florida Chapter of the WNBA in hopes that they educate themselves on what transparency, inclusion and communication look like and understand those goals are non-negotiable.
Here’s what went down.
On Wed, June 17th, 2020, our chapter Zoomed a Mic Night from 6:30 to 7:30. It's an event I and many members look forward to. Not only because writing is isolating but particularly now, during the menacing days of COVID. To share and listen to other authors was a white light in so much darkness and pain.
Enter my niece, a young black writer 21 years old who very much wanted to test the waters and meet other writers. And since she was not yet a member of the WNBA I figured I'd read a bit of her poem and finish off with mine in the time allotted. A TOTAL of 5 minutes. Two for her. Three for me.
I sent an email to Linda Rosen to request a spot but was informed there were no spots left and that I would be second on a waiting list. It didn't past the smell test to me. Eyebrow arc. Sounded lawyerly. Refusing one looks exclusionary but two? Not so much. Honestly, I was shocked and surprised at her lack of empathy. I sent another email to Rosen asking, “How could TEN more-minutes matter? I was ignored. Me… a lonely flea to be pushed away crushed if necessary and put in “my place.” End of discussion.
My niece kept bugging me and I told her it wasn't possible, and no one understood why it wasn't possible. Me, my husband her mother, father any rational person. And my ah ha moment. Something was simmering in the boards "power struggle pot". It was inconceivable that an organization that nurtures women writers was making a ten-minute restriction an issue. “Oh”, I thought to myself. And the mantra repeated in my head; “rule of law, rule of law says not 5 MINUTES MORE.
Where had I heard that before?”
And I was ashamed of the board that represented me. Even behind a backdrop COVID, of black men being executed in the street, the horror on my nieces face, our fear for her brother my nephew, and the tragedy of her giddiness with the possibility that her work might be read in front of some solid professional women writers. The “rule of law” the hour restriction was summarily enforced without a smidgen of learning, thinking empathizing, or acting. Well, "acting" not so much. They "acted" by THEIR Rule of Law. And to add insult to injury Baron arbitrarily extended the meeting by 10 minutes to make announcements.
And I thought, maybe it was because I said I wanted to run for president maybe I wasn't the right religion or have a similar cultural background or maybe the WNBA of South Florida was suddenly following "a rule of law" culture and I just clued in. I thought back to the task I was assigned last year. I was to book a dinner for 30 members which seems easy enough except the restaurant didn’t take reservations and so if we got there and there were no tables it would be on me. And Baron knew that before I was assigned the task. I crazy called-the restaurant every day frantic with the possibility that there would be no tables left! Didn’t happen but could of. Mean or mistake? Humm. Unnecessarily stressful? Yes.
But this wasn't about me. It was about my niece and the white woman who made the rules and a white Aunt who informed her of them. So we sat on the sidelines while wonderful writers read their wonderful words. The meeting ended at 7:40 instead of 7:30 with President Andrea Baron quickly explaining that adhering to the hour time frame was of utmost importance. So my niece and I both recoiled disappointed and hurt and she turned to me and said, "Aunti Kay, don't be sad they're just mean girls. I'll read to you and you read to me," and we did.
Because of the lack of kindness and tolerance that trickled down from the top too long from those in a position of power a kind group of women writers has become blemished as intolerant exclusionary, and unkind.
What happened to: Learn. Think. Empathize. Act?
And guess what? Ms. Rosen was first up to read, promote her book. Eyeroll.
In the new climate of organizational change here's how that could have been handled. First, no question in my mind that the 10 MINUTE extension should have happened.
Baron who shamelessly broke her own “rule of law” and added 10 minutes for announcements could have sent an email with that info and given the 10 to members.
Maybe with an announcement that those Zoomers who could not take more than an hour without having a nervous breakdown could exit the meeting at their leisure.
Vice-President Rosen should have given her spot to a member (having another reading the next day).
How about a simple apology an acknowledgment of an error or judgment to myself and the members. It could have gone something like this; The board apologizes for refusing to extend the meeting 10 minutes. We didn’t have a valid reason. It came across as petty , mean, and flew in the face of the mandate of the WNBA. So we would like to reschedule another mic night on July 15th. Thoughts?
You guest it. Not even an effort was made.
Maybe it's time to require board members of all the chapters to get some training on what it means to: Learn. Think. Empathize. Act. Because the South Florida Chapter not only missed the boat they kicked it away from shore.
And it gets better. The excuse they gave? Enter corporate-speak world. Baron stated that in her experience conducting a Zoom meeting over an hour was tiring.”
Ok…which made me wonder how Baron come to that conclusion? How many meetings had Baron attended and asked that question? Ouch! Smack on my nose. Then came the blame mongering. Pointing the finger. It was my fault. I should have signed up sooner. And finally, the most abusive corporate technique of all. Make a wall of silence, identify an upstart and shut her down.
And then came the snub. What? End of discussion? My emails were not answered my request ignored. I was politely afforded an insulting placating promise to let me read at an undetermined time at an undetermined date. But I am a determined writer, “ends of discussions” never sit well with me because it’s a way of keeping people “in their place”. That creates a culture of “power struggle.” In this case, Baron and Rosen have the power and I have the struggle to fight to be respected and heard. As a paying member, I have the right to influence change, be open and transparent engage in discussion, and point out flaws (including my own) with the optic of creating a better environment a nurturing and positive and inspiring environment as a women writer who practices a lonely craft. In other words: Learn. Think. Empathize. Act.
Power struggle. This is a prime example of what the “systemic” part of racism means how it functions within board structures purposely ignoring mandates put in place to avoid this. And although I am not black or brown, I was excluded and could be explained away as a, “troublemaker me” or better yet, “if you don’t like it leave.” But my niece is black and this affected her and affects me and I want her to know her aunt has her back as well as the back of the uber-talented and powerhouse women writers who make up this organization.
Although the South Florida chapter of the WNBA is a microcosm of where power struggle exists, Baron and Rosen have shown a concerted commitment to propagate and preserve a cultural mentality which promotes exclusion and isolation. This subtle yet effective method is what the Black Lives Matter Movement is railing against. It is systemic whether that be racism or sexism or anything else that excludes others subtly through archaic institutional structures and there are catchphrases and buzz words and clues dressed up as future promises, no open dialogue, no apologies and the effective “end of discussion.” To live in this historic moment means that it is all of our responsibility to root it out, cut it to the quick whenever we see it, in whatever minor form because systemic communication that is left unchecked will overflow into the wonderful new world that so many of us are striving to reinvent.
Out with the old in with the new. This unstoppable tsunami terrifies many organizations and exhilarates others. Diversity and inclusion is the first thing that the South Florida Chapter must commit to. The average age is 60 ish and all the members (that I have seen) are white with a cultural majority. This is NOT a reflection of the members this comes from the top. The Members are a group of women who could be extraordinary mentors and teachers to writers in our community, and the fact that Delray Beaches sister-city is Haiti there is ample opportunity for them to impact the future of women writers in an awesome way. There is more than enough money to sponsor young women with scholarships. As it stands the board is not identifying encouraging or opening any dialogue with its members on outreach strategies. That occurs because Baron and Rosen have secured themselves on board positions as entitlements or steppingstones to promote their personal books and agendas rather than tend to the “minor” needs of minor paying members like myself.
Here’s my take:
Writers are a group that will claw their way to the top (no shame in that) and for which Rosen has a particular talent. It’s a conflict of interest for her to be Vice- President and use that platform for self-promotion and to sell books at a local bookstore using her status instead of promoting members. Furthermore, she is also Secretary of the National Association where she was recently a guest on a writer’s panel promoted nationally. Ethical questions swirl. Favoritism, nepotism? Appearances matter. The fact that Rosen holds two positions on two boards within the same organization should not be tolerated (there must be some by-law about this). She should resign immediately from at least one and commit to promoting members' needs over her own.
And Ms. Baron? She should reexamine her role, engage in training and education on how to act in tandem with the national mandate. Is she capable of pushing the organization forward?
Before I published this article, I made a point of trying to "learn" about the reasons that Ms. Baron And Ms. Rosen made their decision. I thought about why they chose that route and I empathized with them. It may be an educational issue that requires internal training and a weekend workshop. And I've acted by not only publishing this article but reaching out to Baron and Rosen only to be dismissed. I’ve also acted with suggestions on how moving forward the south Florida Chapter of the WNBA can be an example of fortitude, courage inclusiveness, and love for young writers.
Learn. Think. Empathize. Act.
Please see the pic below. That's my niece Miriam On Governors Island during my Outdoor art Instattlion show, "Trees of Life Sculptural Installation Series" which has traveled to parks in Boston. Philadelphia, Geelong Australia, St. Marks Place New York City, and Carl Schurz