Present by Sassy Outwater-Wright, MAB Community Services
“The leaders who effect the most transformative change are those who, by their example, support the work of those around them, encourage exploration, and invite in diverse voices and topics of inclusion before, not after, decisions are made.
I am a woman. I am a blind woman who is neurodivergent. I am an LGBTQ person. I grew up in an Arab-American household as a Muslim-American. I am a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. I wear all these labels concurrently and many others. I sit in a position of executive leadership at my organization. I am there because my board and my superiors believed in me and believed that lived experience and intersectionality are powerful leadership qualities for better serving our constituents. I got to my position because I watched and learned from another blind leader and drew strength and courage from watching his organization in action.
How often do we get to look up to the corner offices and see those like us, with all their identifiers, reflecting who we are and the barriers we face, living intersectionality alongside us every day? I spent a long time fearing that my lived experience as many intersecting things would keep me from leadership or wouldn’t make me into a good leader. I’d been through too much, I’d tell myself, intersectionality wasn’t a required skill on a cover letter or job application. Then I read about the programs and services at the lighthouse for the Blind of San Francisco, and I changed my mind, and saw myself as a leader, because someone far away who didn’t know me put in the work necessary to ensure people like me were included in their programs.
Bryan Bashin has led the Lighthouse for the blind of San Francisco California for the past nine years. Those VSA members who attended the New Orleans conference two years ago may remember pausing as a group to grieve with the absent Mr. Bashin as he led his organization through a tragic time: Enchanted Hills Camp, an iconic place in the blind community, burned in the California wildfires. The Lighthouse, under Bryan’s leadership, has since begun to rebuild Enchanted Hills, ensuring that the new camp buildings are accessible to and inclusive of as many people as possible who need a beautiful, natural place to learn and retreat. In addition to this, Bryan has worked to ensure inclusion at every level of the lighthouse:
- ind leadership at lighthouse over his tenure has increased measurably. Not only half the Board of Directors, but half of the c-suite are blind. There are blind people working in nontraditional jobs, such as HR, janitor, and Development.
- Largest-ever contingent of more than 100 in San Francisco’s Pride Parade
- Camp counselors went from 17 sighted and 3 blind to 17 blind and 3 sighted.
- No NIB employee earns less than $16.50 per hour to start.
- Lighthouse serves undocumented blind people with no questions asked.
- The Holman Prize has been awarded to blind people on four continents of all backgrounds.
In the past 25 years, it is safe to say that if you are a blind person on this planet, you have been affected by Bryan’s work, commitment to this community, and leadership within it. Bryan’s is a quiet leadership committed to the civil and human rights of blind and visually impaired people all over the globe. He works most often behind the scenes in a style of leadership that supports those working alongside him; he brings people forward who do not otherwise have a voice in public policy, and brings organizations and people together to break down barriers and confront stigmas that have kept minority groups within the blindness community away from services they need.
I did not know Bryan personally when I interviewed to become the executive director of my organization. I only knew that Bryan’s org was one of the few–if not the only organization at that time in our community–creating programs and services to include sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ+ individuals, and many others. I didn’t receive services from the Lighthouse, but knowing the work was being done was enough to give me hope. The Lighthouse’s programming gave me the courage to believe I had a place and a voice in the blindness community, that I had value and intrinsic worth to this community, and that I could do a lot to change things, and build the inclusive world I want to be a part of in my daily life as a director and as a person with disabilities. Knowing an organization had committed to serving people like me was enough to push me to step forward, say loudly to my company that I was qualified and could do this job, and they chose me to lead.
A good leader inspires by example and nothing else. Bryan’s commitment to letting his programs and the services of his organization speak for themselves sets a loud and clear directive to all of us leaders: we need to commit to this community as a whole, see more lived experience and intersectionality in leadership, and see more inclusive programming and services wherever we look. My hope is that Bryan’s work reminds all of us to ask who is not at our table and may that goad us each into building the programs and policies necessary to put them there and let them lead.”