Siegel to step down leading Peace & Justice Center

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Siegel to step down leading Peace & Justice Center

Mon, 01/13/2020 - 1:38pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Rachel Siegel, Executive Director of Peace & Justice Center in Burlington, Vermont will step down in June after seven years leading the organization, the board announced today.

“We are sad to announce Rachel’s departure after all that she has done to strengthen the organization and take action on multiple causes. When she arrived at the helm in 2013, the center was just emerging from several years of instability, financial challenges, and an absence in the role of Executive Director. Rachel led us through that recovery and expanded the relevance of PJC and its work to many, many more Vermonters.” Said Nathan Suter, Board treasurer, who was on the board at the time.

Lam Phan, Chair of the Board, says, “We are grateful for Rachel's commitment, passion, and talent. Rachel's leadership has helped to solidify the PJC's status as a leader in social justice and racial justice work within the state of Vermont. Rachel is leaving the organization on more solid ground than the one she inherited and she is committed to ensuring a smooth transition, and for that, we are thankful.

Out-going Executive Director, Rachel Siegel, says, “I can’t imagine a job that would have been better for me. I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with and learn from so many inspiring people. The people here in-house -- our Racial Justice Advisory Committee, Board of Directors, volunteers, interns, and staff -- as well as our members, program participants, partner groups, and peer organizations have all taught me so much. With the number of strong and committed people currently connected to PJC, this is a good time to make a transition. We are on solid ground and are ready to grow beyond what I am able to do.”

The Peace & Justice Center, located on the waterfront in Burlington, where it operates a fair trade store, has the support of 884 members. In the past year, PJC has worked with over 100 volunteers and interns and offered hundreds of programs throughout the state. PJC is focused on issues of peace; human rights; and economic, social, and racial justice. In recent years the organization has increased its work on anti-racism education. All of this is done with the awareness that we need to address all the intersecting -isms if we are to avoid further climate catastrophe and ecological collapse.

In 2014, Siegel led PJC to adopt a policy through a by-law amendment to maintain a minimum of 50% people of color on the board of directors. This initiative was based on the belief that an organization that does all of its work through an anti-racism lens should be informed and led by those most affected by racism. PJC achieved this goal within months of the decision and has maintained it since. 

At the same time that the organization committed to changing the board composition, they also formed a paid Racial Justice Advisory Committee made up entirely of POC. These two initiatives were offered to Siegel as suggestions from now-deceased board member Paij Wadley-Bailey. Siegel says, “Paij was a mentor of mine. The things I learned from her continue to be revealed to me. I took her suggestions to heart and acted on them but it was Paij’s wisdom and experience that brought us where we are today.”

As the organization has become more deeply involved in this internal anti-oppression work, Siegel has been clear that her own racial and class experience limit her ability to be the leader that the organization deserves. She says, “The people who benefit materially from systems of oppression — people who have class and/or race privilege — we‘re the least likely to be able to see the solutions to these systems. There is a role for us, for me — I’m not going to disappear! — but it no longer makes sense to me to continue as ED. Someone with more relevant lived experience should be up front.”

Hal Colston, PJC member and workshop facilitator, says, “When I think about Rachel, I think about courage, from the heart. She will speak loudly to call out white supremacy yet walks humbly to call in her need to be directed by people of color. If leadership is about coping with change, Rachel is a leader who will be missed by the Peace & Justice Center.”

Board member Beverly Little Thunder reflects, “While we will miss Rachel, we will continue forging forward, standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, to end oppression in all of its forms.”

Siegel and the board have set a timeline for leadership transition in May and June. The board is organizing a search committee and expects to launch the search in January. 

Source: Peace & Justice Center. Burlington. 1.13.2020