By Erica Boniface, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Staff
The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation’s Livingston Fellowship Program has seen some of Colorado’s best leaders over the years. Each Fellow follows their own unique path to leadership and creates positive impacts and changes within their organizations and community.
Jami Duffy, executive director at Youth on Record, embodies helping at-risk youth – from the second she wakes up in the morning, to her last thought as she falls asleep in the evening. Youth on Record believes all young people, including those who are at-risk, have the ability to turn their lives around. And they use the power of music to help.
Since 2009, Jami Duffy has been a part of Youth on Record’s vision and success. She led the organization’s successful $2 million capital campaign to build the nation’s first state-of-the-art Youth Media Studio, which is now open six days per week to youth throughout metro Denver.
The Livingston Fellowship Program helps Colorado’s leaders push past their boundaries and comfort levels. The mission of the program is to help nonprofit executives move from success to significance and take leadership to the next level. How has Jami Duffy used the program to help her personally and professionally?
Get to know Jami Duffy:
BSF: How has the Livingston Fellowship Program changed your leadership abilities since you first started the program in 2016?
JD: Much of my fellowship exploration has been centered around how a spiritual practice – whatever that means to you – can enhance your ability to do good, and sometimes difficult work. There is no doubt that we are living in changing times. It’s so easy for me to lose hope, and to feel powerless in the face of policy and rhetoric that seems to discount the necessity and value of my social justice work. Now, more than ever, I must dedicate to a spiritual practice to keep me sane, and keep me in the fight.
For me, that practice has included creating a prayer and meditation room where I begin each morning, committing to acupuncture twice a month, and embarking on my own creative journey via painting.
Meditation is both the hardest and easiest thing you’ll ever do. Just sit. Sit on your pillow, light some candles at your altar and pray. Pray long and hard, even if you don’t want to at that moment. Meditate, even if you think being at a meeting, or being “active” in your personal fight for justice will be more effective. You must resist the temptation to act, and embrace the chance to be still and silent; to be alone without your thoughts – those little monsters of self-doubt, angst, sadness and fear.
Those feelings are actual energy, and need to be acknowledged so that you know what to do with them when it’s time for you to be active.
I see those feelings as little pieces of myself. I talk to my anxiety now. I say to her, “Hey there, friend. I know you’re feeling like the world is upside down. It’s okay for you to feel that way, but we can’t carry that into our meetings today. So, get it out. Right here. Release it in prayer. Leave it in this room.” Acupuncture is another way I release that energy.
As for painting, I’m working on a new watercolor technique. I put a lot of color on the canvas, then use a squirt bottle to remove, or suck up the paint. Like a black hole in the cosmos. Does that make sense? Anyway, it’s relaxing (and we all know how important it is for nonprofit folks to find healthy ways to relax). Painting gives me something to focus on that isn’t work or injustice, or e-mail, or Twitter – which has become the epicenter of madness – so that when it comes time for me to engage at work, I am fully present.
I’ve discovered that I want to paint the way I imagine God created the Universe – with intention and love, knowing that there are no mistakes, chaos gives way to grace, and understanding that there is beauty in everything.
BSF: You’ve been incredibly impactful helping at-risk youth in your career. Tell us: What has been the most profound story that has stuck with you over the years?
JD: Recently, one of our students was sharing a rap song he had written in class. He pulled me aside and said, “Miss, can I share this with you?” I was thrilled because he doesn’t know me as well as he knows our instructors, and I love any opportunity to connect with our kids. His lyrics were rough, both in style and content. He spoke about drug use, his lack of hope about the future, gang life, and a general sense of loneliness. Then, the lyrics became quite profound – the phoenix rising from the ashes of a life that once was, to one that now stood a chance of greatness. I was moved, and so was his buddy, who gently patted him on the back and told him, “That’s deep, homie.”
I asked him if he would mind sharing the back story. He said, quite casually I should add, that when he got shot five times, he died and saw his life flash before his eyes. He saw himself as a rapper, and he saw himself achieving greatness, so he knew he had to come back to life.
Then, he found Youth on Record.
BSF: What’s one motivational quote that you live by?
JD: “Perfection is the enemy of inspiration.”
I can’t worry about things being perfect – not my art, not our outcomes at Youth on Record, or anything else for that matter. If we wait until things are perfect, nothing ever gets started. I say this to my colleagues and our students all the time. Give it a shot – NOW! It will never be perfect. There’s no such thing. So, take the risk. Release some bad music. Do things differently. Take a bold leap. And do it as soon as you possibly can.
BSF: What aspect of your professional/growth development are you most excited about?
JD: Currently I am most excited about my first art show, which will explore the intersections of art, spirituality and social justice. I’m excited, because I am absolutely terrified to put myself out there like that. And that’s a good thing. If you don’t push, you can’t grow.
BSF: Tell us: What are you looking forward to in 2017?
JD: I’m looking forward to watching Americans rise in the face of injustice, and to seeing many people get active for the first time in local and national politics.
I’m looking forward to starting my podcast – “A Seekers Guide to the Universe” which will explore life’s big questions, with some levity, humor and candor.
I’m looking forward to possibly doing an artist residency. I’m applying to several now, and fingers crossed, I will have some dedicated time to paint and sculpt in the fall.
I look forward to not knowing exactly what’s in store. I love the mystery of being here on Earth – even if it’s a little scary at times.