“Given the mismatch between what younger generations expect and what our existing institutions are selling, we should expect that the young will create new institutions rather than abandon their dreams. They will define new pillars of a thriving community.”

– Lucy Bernholz, Blueprint 2013 from Grantcraft

We all need to be a part of the social justice conversation! In her upcoming book, Sandra Barnhill engages new and compelling voices in the social justice conversation. These voices of leaders of color, of young leaders and those directly affected by the issues they are addressing provide a richness and a rawness to the conversation. Their work on the frontlines tackling tough issues and getting results provides important lessons for those who want to create change.

Through interviewing over thirty activists, examining their organizing styles and contrasting them with established organizing models, Barnhill has much to say about the need to embrace these new social justice leadership models and incorporate them into the “fabric of social justice organizing” so that three generations of justice workers can TOGETHER live out the African proverb:


When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.


Barnhill, through her Tough Mind & Tender Heart website and book, puts forth two main hypotheses:

  • By expanding the notion of who leads in the field to include more leaders of color, more young leaders and activists who have been directly affected by the issues the sector seeks to address, we will have a field that is more innovative and can provide new models that help create long lasting social change.
  • By combining the insights and experience of the above with recognized leaders in the field, cross-racialand intergenerational alliances will strengthen the work of closing the gaps that exist in all-important indicators of well-being.

Her research illuminates the work of activists in the above-mentioned categories, as well as, provides concrete suggestions about how the sector can incorporate and be informed by these activists and their unique leadership models. Equally as important, is the powerful synergy that can occur when we couple their offerings with the work of recognized leaders in the field. This is a “both-and” approach, not an “either-or.”

Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California  points out that, “One of the reasons for the dichotomy between services and organizing is because people realized you couldn’t service your way out of poverty, and so they leaned totally back on the organizing piece of it. It’s important to integrate the two pieces.”

Barnhill hopes her book will accomplish just that.