Black Leaders on the Frontlines:
Martha Foster, Emerging Young Leader
With over 25 years of experience in community-based service, especially in the area of healthcare and work with the many African and African American communities, Martha Foster is a leader who is bridging the cultural and generational differences. Front and Centered is moved by Martha’s leadership story, as she shared what brought her to this work with our coalition and her current work co-leading the Washington State Coalition of African Community Leaders (WSCACL).
This past year has put life in perspective for Martha, as she has taken the time to reflect on her father’s passing and how she can integrate the different parts of her cultural identity and family legacy of service and support right here in Washington State. Reflecting on her late father’s leadership and community stewardship in Ethiopia, where he founded health clinics and schools, her personal mourning opened Martha’s eyes to the need to prevent the loss of culture and sense of community when an older generation is gone and all the imprints of the traditions, stories, and wisdom they carried risks being lost as well. Martha shares, “I came to the United States as a toddler and grew up here, and so what my father’s passing made me really think about how he was from the Silent generation that represented a time when community and family took care of each other as part of the circle of life, and this especially hit home living through this pandemic today.”
“…my father’s passing made me really think about how he was from the Silent generation that represented a time when community and family took care of each other as part of the circle of life….”
Martha did some soul searching and reflected on how she might play a role in honoring her father’s memory and how to make use of her unique ability to bridge her African, African American, and Northwest identities. During the pandemic and movement for racial justice, so many things have influenced her decision to step up and serve as WSCACL co-chair. The organization is different from other community organizations she has been involved with in that its focus is on building “One Voice,” and providing a platform and resources to be inclusive of all African decent community organizations, especially smaller African communities who often have limited access to resources. Through organizing, information, resources, and education, WSCACL is a growing network of organizational and individual members.
When asked about what leadership means to her, she laughs with humility and excitement,
“I believe in service leadership, as a servant leader. It goes back to my faith. I believe that the most powerful tool of a leader is their ability to influence others through their actions and attitude. I try to have a positive spirit, see the glass as half-full, and I believe in collaboration, listening, recognizing individual talents, empowering team members, and striking a balance between addressing the short- and long-term organizational goals.”
To think of the future as much as the present and to balance the different cultural and generational perspectives, Martha points out that the way in which she can introduce an environmental justice lens is very much about practical and actionable communication and not just theory. Her organization’s two strategic focus areas are economic empowerment and civic engagement. Martha recalls that her organizational participation in Front and Centered’s transportation listening session and community engagement around the HEAL Act is an example of how she tried to get community members to think about intersectionality in a practical way – how issues of environmental health are affecting not only their families, but also their children and future. Our parents are very much focused on providing their children with the educational opportunities for their children to achieve the American dream.
Martha explains that her unique role as someone who was raised in America but understands and ties to her Ethiopian background, positions her as a bridge between cultures and generations. In this regard, Martha is able to balance the respect for cultural norms and the insights and strengths of empowering individual talents. As a leader, Martha is able to recognize and make space for the balanced approach of respecting cultural traditions and individual voices to speak up and uplift our communities by leveraging the best of our multicultural society to create a brighter future for the next generation.
Front and Centered is inspired by Martha’s leadership reflection and the growing network of community leaders she supports, and we look forward to collaborating with WSCACL.
This is part of a series of blog posts highlighting Black Leaders on the Frontlines in our state who are working at the intersection of environmental, racial, and economic justice.