By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
During the Civil Rights Movement, leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and bell hooks, talked about creating a beloved community, a place based on justice and equity and where people seek understanding. Amidst the hurt and violence so often seen and depicted in the world, a beloved community can seem impossible, but it’s not out of reach.
Clintel Hasan wants to create a beloved community in Milwaukee, and she believes the way to do so is through partnership and collaboration.
Hasan is the strategic initiatives manger for Milwaukee Succeeds and the co-founder and president of LiberatED. Prior to that, she worked for Teach for America first as a corps member and later as the manager then director of teacher and leadership development.
She first got interested in education thanks to the educators in her life, including her mother. They believed in her, she said, and encouraged her to pass that belief onto others.
During her time in the educational field Hasan learned about the systemic issues in Milwaukee’s educational system. She noticed that Milwaukee was often used as an example of racial disparity, as a statistic.
“It’s been challenging,” she said, on the lack of growth in the education field. “I do see a lot of opportunities that make me hopeful and the ways in which both educators and students are feeling more empowered also gives me hope.”
Milwaukee is home and family, Hasan said, but neither is without its challenges. When she worked for Teach for America, Hasan often traveled around to other cities, which deepened her appreciation for Milwaukee.
Other cities might have unique things about them, but Milwaukee has a deep sense of community that continues to exist despite the segregation, Hasan noted.
“I see so much potential and opportunity in the city,” she said. “I think Milwaukee’s truly a place that if you want to make a difference, you can.”
She believes that it’s easier to network and get connected to the power players or influencers in Milwaukee compared to other cities. That sense of community and collaboration is one of the reasons she has remained here.
Relationships are everything, Hasan said. She explained that her mother was a prime example of the value that relationships bring to one’s work. She always saw someone’s humanity first, Hasan said. It’s a legacy she tries to fulfill in her own life.
Hasan’s own work has allowed her to create deep and meaningful relationships with various individuals from her students to teachers that she’s coached.
“For me, I’m still getting comfortable to this the term leader,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a partner in doing what is right. I think it’s important to be vocal and critical of your community, especially if you love it, because you want it to improve.”
Hasan continued, “What I’ve really wanted to do, is create spaces and opportunities for dialogue to challenge our leadership collectively as a city. If people are more willing to take risk, we will have a better community for everyone.”
Creating a beloved community requires effort on everyone’s parts. It’s about trying and not assuming, she said. Assumptions lead to barriers, she said, and can prevent partnerships or initiatives.
“I would love to see us truly come together as a community, despite our differences” Hasan said. “To really seek our own common good and goal and what we want to be true for every person in Milwaukee.”
She noted that bell hooks talked about the importance of embracing change and conflict and still building with people who you have differences with. For example, when it comes to addressing education, groups across sectors should collaborate because they care about children, specifically Black children, and want to see their needs met, she said.
One way Hasan is doing this is through LiberatED, a consulting group she co-founded with another Teach for America colleague in 2015 that helps schools and nonprofits adapt anti-racist practices and policies that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I think everyone truly does want to be a better person, be a better leader,” she said. “That’s really what we seek to do at LiberatED. Our tagline is conscious leaders make better leaders.”
If people take the time to have a good sense of their identity, they’ll be more aware of how their experiences impact the way that they lead and will lead to a more inclusive environment for all, she said.
When it comes to work with Milwaukee Succeeds, a majority of Hasan’s focus is shifting the power to the youth. Two years ago, Hasan started building the coalition, Youth Forward MKE, which works to have youth adult equity when it comes to decisions. It gives youth a seat at the table.
At first people challenged the notion, but now folks are excited, she said. It provides space for people to be heard while checking the adults and their decisions.
“If we truly want to solve the issues that plague our city, we cannot do it without those who are directly impacted being at the forefront of those conversations and those decisions that are made,” she said.
Her advice to Black women and women of color is to believe in themselves and to know that their voice does matter. Her second piece of advice is to focus on the things that give one energy. For her that’s relationships and seeing people’s growth, but each person has their own. Focus on the small wins, she said.
True liberation hasn’t been achieved yet, she said, Milwaukee is still rigid in its ways, but change is coming. There are new opportunities on the horizon, Hasan said, and maybe they seem risky, but they could have a positive impact on Milwaukee.
Liberating is about envisioning something new, Hasan said, and there’s an empowerment in that. The world doesn’t need to keep creating the same and operating within the same boundaries, it can redefine new opportunities and initiatives.
“Building that beloved community is about not operating in assumptions,” Hasan said. “It’s just trying new things and being innovative and looking at a new world.”