An Inside Perspective on the Empower Fellowship

The Empower Fellowship is a track within the Jewish Organizing Fellowship for Jews who self-identify as people with disabilities, disabled, or differently-abled. Empower Fellows are part of the Jewish Organizing Fellowship, engaging in all of the training, community, and mentorship that come with being a Jewish Organizing Fellow. They also participate in additional trainings to support their leadership as Jewish organizers with disabilities.

Below is testimony from one of our current 2019-20 Empower Fellows about their experience applying and being in the inaugural Empower cohort. (They have chosen to remain anonymous.)

Fellows in a semi-circle, seated, facing presenter and flip chart.

All Fellows in a training session during their opening retreat.

How did you decide to apply to the Empower Fellowship?

When I was trying to decide if I wanted to apply for Empower, if I was “disabled enough” for Empower, if I “deserved” to be part of Empower, my partner told me something really helpful that I have told several other people since then. Everyone needs support –  to do their work, to learn new things, to continue to do hard things. That’s the point of doing JOIN in general – to get support learning how to be an effective organizer. And if you would benefit from the support that Empower provides, why not try to get it? You deserve to have the support you need (and the support that would help you even if you don’t *need* it).

How has Empower supported you this year?

Through Empower, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my disability, and how my disability and my organizing overlap. Empower has prompted me to think and explore how the way I organize is impacted by my disability and the ways that it improves my work rather than only paying attention to the ways it makes doing organizing the “normal way” difficult. I’ve been pushed by my cohort, trainers, my supervisor, and the people I work with to consider more carefully what nourishes me rather than just what doesn’t burn me out. It’s made me a more holistic, more connected, and more effective leader.

What have you gotten out of the Empower Fellowship?

A large part of what I have gotten from Empower has been being in community with other disabled organizers through the Empower cohort, and through the trainers that teach us during Empower sessions. They are (mostly) all activists or organizers with disabilities, and part of our sessions is almost always just talking about how disability has shaped their advocacy, and what kinds of things have helped them. The opportunity to learn from people who have been organizing while disabled is in and of itself really rich. Specifically, meeting other organizers with the same kinds of disabilities I have has been really nourishing too – people like me can and do this every day.

What would you say to something considering applying?

 I’ve heard several people express concern that they’re not “disabled enough”, or that because their disabilities/conditions aren’t the ones that a lot of the disability rights/justice movement historically centered, or are not as directly affected as another person they know, they shouldn’t apply and “take someone else’s spot.” My response to those people has been trust that the people who are reading the applications also have keen sense of disability justice, and that there is no harm in saying you would benefit from being within the Empower fellowship. It’s better to be considered than to take yourself out of the running because you don’t think you deserve it.

The presence of the Empower cohort has made a perceptible difference in how the whole Fellowship addresses disability. We are all learning more about ableism and its role in our own lives as well as oppressive structures. I’m looking forward to seeing the ways that this starts to ripple out into the other spaces we all organize.

Learn more about the Empower Fellowship here!


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