This pandemic has dictated so much of my life and challenged my ability to operate on a day-to-day basis, from showering the kids to unexpected covid tests as a pre-measurement of “just in case.” This global health crisis has become a political circus that attempts against the lives of my children. In the midst of all this chaos, I sit weighing the pros and cons of continuing to serve in the various capacities I hold. As a working mother and full-time doctorate student, life has been anything but smooth.
In the last five years, I have been summoned to start an organization, serve in an appointed position, finish a master’s, and recently started working on my doctorate. This is in addition to my role as a partner, mother, sister, and friend. This is by no means a bragging rant because I choose to live my life with a purpose; to serve others, and this is the way it has manifested itself.
Lately, these tasks combined with the global pandemic have felt impossible to maintain. A few weeks ago, my mother had a doctor’s appointment, and I had to make a tough decision to stay home to watch the kids and miss a virtual board meeting. This resulted in calls from staff and a formal letter informing me that if I missed one more meeting, I would forfeit my board position. Part of me wanted to turn back time and log in to the call to check a box, even though it meant not participating. Just for the purpose of checking the attendance. The consequential email read:
“Dallas City Code-Chapter 8 Boards and Commissions-Section 8-20-Attendance states (attached):
(b) A member of the board that meets weekly or semi-monthly, who is absent from more than 25 percent of the regular meetings in any six-month period, whether excused or not, shall result in a forfeiture.
Section 8-21 also states: (b) If a member is absent from more than 50 percent of a regular meeting, the member will be deemed absent and the absence will count against the member, unless the board, by rule, provides otherwise. (Ord. Nos. 14180; 14326; 20488; 30555)”
I have the true honor to serve my community in different ways. I started this journey with so much imposter syndrome and have managed to arrive at a place of feeling pride to serve. Yet, this has come with so many questions to the broken system I’m a part of. After reading the email above, I couldn’t help but think to myself, who are board members positions meant for?
I started to question if I was not in my current position if I would genuinely be able to even participate in something like a city board. The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT. In fact, a Harvard Business review article titled “Why Do Boards Have So Few Black Directors?” highlights the disparities amongst black people to serve on boards. According to the article the barriers range from recruitment, networking, onboarding, and so on.
Reading this article validated so much of my BIPOC board experience from feeling overshadowed, unheard, and not being considered in leadership positions within the board. It went from an ‘ah-ha moment’ to feeling rage and disappointment. I had to sit with the discomfort of being the ONLY Latina board member in the City of Dallas Park and Recreation in a city with 41.8% Hispanic/Latino population according to the 2010 census. Yet, if I miss one more meeting, there will be NO Latinx representation. The next meeting will be conducted on the day my husband has surgery, so I must again defeat the odds and manage to “attend” or risk being forced to forfeit my responsibility. It does not matter the amount of time spent working with constituents, planning and executing events, my passion for serving – what matters is my ability to “attend” board meetings.
The fundamental question becomes- who is the board ultimately designed to have in those board positions? Is it the mom, the student, or the average resident?
There is a definite pattern of BIPOC board members being under-represented in corporate, public, or any board in this country. A 2018 National School Boards Association report showed only 3% of k-12 public board members are Latino(a). There has been a slow increase to the 82.5% of directors among Fortune 500 company boards are white. So again, boards are not made or structured to support BIPOC leaders.
Lorena Tule-Romain was born in Michoacán, Mexico and immigrated at the age of 9 and has been living in the United States for the last 23 years. Ms. Tule-Romain started her journey as an undocumented student activist in Dallas, Texas, back in 2006. She is the co-founder and chief people officer at ImmSchools, an immigrant-led nonprofit organization that partners with K-12 educators to transform schools into safe and welcoming spaces for undocumented students and families. Prior to ImmSchools, she led Teach For America DACA national work supporting over 240 DACAmented teachers in 25 cities across the country. Ms. Tule-Romains' passion for education equity and liberation comes from personal experience growing up as an undocumented student living in a low-income community in Texas. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctorate degree in Education Leadership at SMU and serves as the City of Dallas District 5 Park and Recreation Board Member.