When families come together in a social justice community of practice they have an infinite power to alter the fabric of their families and communities,” according to Angela Berkfield, a leader of social justice work for parents in Southeastern Vermont, throughout the state, and beyond. (Berkfield, 2016) She is the Founder and Director of ACT for Social Justice, co-founder of Equity Solutions and The Root Social Justice Center, co-author of the book (and blog) Parenting 4 Social Justice, and proud mom of two young kids. (Berkfield, 2016 & Who We Are, n.d.)
[Photograph of Angela Berkfield] (n.d.) ACT for Social Justice Website: Who We Are. Retrieved from http://www.act4socialjustice.com/who-we-are/
Angela has led workshops on a wide variety of subjects, including race and class (see the short video clip below of Angela discussing her work leading Cross-Class Dialogue Circles), and created curricula for parents and teachers on these same topics. Most importantly, she writes and facilitates discussions for parents around how to incorporate these critical social justice issues into their parenting. The first few years of a child’s life are formative and influential, so parents who are able to engage with young people around social justice topics at a young age have the potential to raise a generation who are more aware of oppression and less apt to continue such harmful cycles. As Issa Nyaphaga articulated, “[M]y mother was my hero, my mentor, my art teacher, my life coach.” (2018, January 30) Ideally, parents can coach their children into creating a better world.
(Shlasko, 2017, September 26)
There are many elements that make Angela an effective leader. In particular her leadership style stands out, which is participative (democratic) as well as transformational. According to Kendra Cherry in “Leadership Styles and Frameworks You Should Know,”
Participative leaders encourage group members to participate but retain the final say in the decision-making process. Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative. Democratic leaders tend to make followers feel like they are an important part of the team, which helps foster commitment to the goals of the group. (Cherry, 2019, May 20)
In nearly all of the organizations and situations in which Angela leads, she is either a co-leader, or she’s clear that she is learning from and following the group as well as leading them. In Derek Sivers’s TED Talk, “How to Start a Movement,” he explained, “If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow.” (Sivers, 2010, February) Angela does this beautifully. For example, she wrote about herself: “[Angela’s] life and work experience have taught her how much she still has to learn and she invites you to be a part of that learning process.” (Who We Are, n.d.) Angela has the “ability to motivate and inspire followers and to direct positive changes in groups,” one of the key aspects of Bernard M. Bass’s “Transformational” Leadership Style. (Cherry, 2019, May 20)
[Image of Angela leading and listening to a group of parents, embedded in a screenshot of the ACT for Social Justice website – Parenting for SJ Blog.] (2016, December 10). Retrieved from http://www.act4socialjustice.com/power-of-coming-together/
Angela is “committed to the collective process of ending all oppression and building a world where ALL people have what they need to thrive.” (Who We Are, n.d.) While a world without oppression may seem a long way off to some, Angela aims to do this in part through the power of “a community of parents who are coming together to share their struggles, their concerns, to practice hard conversations, and to support each other in shifting the ways we are engaging with our kids.” (Berkfield, 2016) She declared, “We are much more powerful when we are together. We are infinite.” (Berkfield, 2016, December 10)
Seth Godin speaks frequently about how ordinary people can become leaders, and Angela is a prime example of this. One of the things Godin said leaders need is “a tribe, a group of people, large or small, who’ve chosen to come together around a common interest or goal.” (Raz, 2014, January 17) Parents who want to raise their children with a social justice lens are part of Angela’s “tribe,” and she certainly “challenge[s] the status quo,” another of Godin’s elements of leadership. (Raz, 2014, January 17) Godin went on to say that leaders “connect people to one another. …And finally, they commit. They commit to the cause. They commit to the tribe. They commit to the people who are there.” (Raz, 2014, January 17) Angela is one of the most committed people I know, both personally and professionally.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” [Image] Retrieved from https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/3666-alone-we-can-do-so-little-together-we-can-do
Angela leads and influences many different groups, from communities of local parents and small grassroots organizations (including those she founded), to students at local colleges, workshop participants, and large non-profits. She has “nearly two decades of community social work and food justice organizing experience focused mainly in Minnesota, Puerto Rico, Thailand, and Vermont.” (Who We Are, n.d.) Angela is definitely striving for what the Women’s Theological Center (WTC) would call “spiritual justice.” In fact, Angela’s work is often connected to economic justice, which is exactly what WTC uses as a comparison. While economic justice “rests in a belief that no one should suffer from material need in a world that has the capacity to feed, shelter, and clothe everyone on the planet,” spiritual justice is the belief that “no one has the right to crush the human spirit… Spiritual justice is a human right.” (Women’s Theological Center, n.d.) The WTC stated that “oppression of any kind is ultimately an attempt to crush the spirit.” (Women’s Theological Center, n.d.) Since Angela’s work directly opposes all forms of oppression and aims to liberate the human spirit, I would say she leads with a form of spiritual leadership. The WTC explained:
[S]piritual leadership is about tending relationships in four spheres – within ourselves (internal), between individuals (interpersonal), within structures (institutional), and among cultures (ideological). It is about creating and maintaining alignment among these spheres – so that what is best at every level can be drawn out for the good of everyone. …Spiritual leadership is not a place we get to once and for all. It is a lifelong process of growth and transformation. (Women’s Theological Center, n.d.)
Angela certainly tends relationships in all of the spheres mentioned above (internal, interpersonal, institutional, and ideological), and acknowledges that her work is a “lifelong process of growth and transformation.” This is part of what makes her such an effective and inspirational leader.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/3666-alone-we-can-do-so-little-together-we-can-do
Berkfield, A. (2016, December 10). The power of coming together in a community of practice. Retrieved from http://www.act4socialjustice.com/power-of-coming-together/
Cherry, K. (2019, May 20). Leadership styles and frameworks you should know. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/leadership-styles-279531
Nyaphaga, I. (2018, January 30). A lifelong struggle for freedom of expression [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/gr9aj_LV3I8
Raz, G. (Host). (2014, January 17). Seth Godin: Can ordinary people become leaders? [Radio broadcast]. In TED Radio Hour. Washington, DC: National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/01/17/261096538/can-ordinary-people-become-leaders
Shlasko, Davey. (2017, September 26). What’s next after Cross-Class Dialogue Circles? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI8zJmUAxgw
Sivers, D. (2010, February.). Derek Sivers: How to start a movement [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en
Who We Are. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.act4socialjustice.com/who-we-are/
Women’s Theological Center. (n.d.). What Is spiritual leadership? Retrieved from http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/womenstheologicalcenter.pdf
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APA cite in text as: (Koplinka-Loehr, 2020b)
APA cite in full References as: Koplinka-Loehr, A. (2020b). Parenting for social justice: Angela Berkfield. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from https://wp.me/p4elXk-D8
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Anne Koplinka-Loehr was born and raised in Ithaca, New York, and has spent summers in Vermont her whole life, on the shores of Lake Champlain. She has been living in Brattleboro, Vermont, since 2008, when she moved to the area to attend the SIT Graduate Institute (formerly known as the School for International Training).
At SIT she completed her M.A. in social justice education, and subsequently received a M.A.T. and her teaching certification through the Spark Teacher Education Institute. After working as a middle school social studies teacher for roughly 10 years, she had a son of her own (who is now two) and became more interested in Early Childhood Education. She now works at a local Head Start center.
When she’s not in the classroom, Anne is usually spending time with her husband, son, and other family and friends. She loves languages, and is fluent in French, proficient in Wolof, and has a basic level of American Sign Language (ASL). She also loves people, learning about new things, dancing, singing, writing, photography, good conversations, and working together towards social justice. Anne is passionate about using education as a tool to both humanize the world and eliminate oppression.
View Anne’s other article about the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Families in Windham County, Vermont.