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Spotlight on Local Women Leaders
Carmen Duncan and Naomi Jaffe
In an effort to give Holding Our Own’s network members an opportunity to get to know each other just a little better, we will be spotlighting a couple of our members each month. We hope that this will help provide you with more opportunities to connect, collaborate and leverage your resources. Women in the spotlight will also be interviewed and videotaped (if willing and interested) by Mary Richmond for showing on local public access television (thanks, Mary).  You can also find these Spotlights on Holding Our Own’s “News” page.  Do you want to be next? We hope everyone will participate at some point. Email hoo@holdingourownonline.org and we will set up an interview.
Meet Carmen Duncan!
           Carmen Duncan has worked with at-risk youth for over a decade.  As a formerly homeless youth, Carmen “experienced many obstacles” but overcame them with the support of others around her.  Carmen has a positive outlook on her past – she states that “life leads you to great places; I don’t regret any of it.”  Her experiences in her youth have inspired her commitment to providing workshops and trainings for youth and young adults in the child welfare system.  Throughout her career, Carmen has “facilitated workshops on self expression, mentoring, college and career preparation and other life skills for youth at Northeast Parent and Child Society, Job Corps, the Eleanor Roosevelt Girls Leadership Worldwide summer program, the Black and Latino Achievers Program and local urban high schools.”  Carmen’s main passion is her business, Mission Accomplished Transition Services.  This organization is “committed to supporting youth through the transition process of middle to high school and high school to post-secondary options”, and “assist students with developing an academic transition plan that will direct them to their path of success.”  Carmen wants to challenge today’s youth to think critically about their future and help them take positive action towards becoming successful.  She fully believes that she would not have become the professional she is today without the help of positive male and female role models during her teenage years.
           Carmen has also been employed with Living Resources for over six years, a non-profit organization that provides support services for adults with developmental disabilities.  She also participated as a panelist in the annual “Youth Speak Out” event sponsored by the Professional Development Program of SUNY Albany.  This forum gave her the opportunity to “entourage young people in the foster care system to defeat their circumstances by staying in school and transition onto post-secondary education.”  Carmen is a firm believer in the saying that “knowledge is power!”  As an advocate for “ongoing professional development of child welfare professionals”, Carmen was also the key note speaker at the Train the Trainer of Endless Dreams with Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children.  As the keynote she “expressed gratitude for the support and mentorship of caring adults during her difficult teenage years.”  Carmen is also a professional mentor.  Her focus with her female mentees is “encouraging them to reach for the stars and do whatever it is that they dream for, to know that they can be an executive in the future, to know that they can voice their opinion,” and teaching them to always treat others with respect and “never allow someone else to take you out of your character.”  She seeks to inspire these young women to follow in her footsteps, and let them know that “you never have to stagnate anywhere.”
Her work is intrinsically linked to feminism in the sense that she views feminists as being strong-willed and determined to fight for their cause, and for what is right.  Carmen hopes that by being part of the Holding Our Own networkshe can offer assistance to its members, and continue to be supportive and supported in a shared mission.  Carmen states that young women are lacking positive role models, and the Holding Our Own network helps to rectify this problem.  She would love to see her mentees exposed to the work being done by Holding Our Own.  Carmen identifies an intergenerational gap among feminists and she would love to give her mentees “the opportunity to meet great people and know that they are there to support them as well.”  In coinciding with her business, Carmen is positive that Holding Our Own will be a partner in the work she does for our community.
Meet Naomi Jaffe!
           Naomi Jaffe is a multifaceted and fascinating feminist.  She has been an activist for social justice for over fifty years.  For fifteen years, she served as the Executive Director of Holding Our Own.  Naomi is currently an organizer with the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, a member of the Albany Social Justice Center Board, and a member of the Women’s Caucus of Occupy Albany.  Naomi believes that her current work in the prisoner justice movement is significant because “prisons are a leading form of racial oppression and political repression, in a system of injustice that depends upon racism and repression.”           Starting in her high school years, Naomi has participated in movements concerning such global issues as feminism, anti-war, racial justice, and more.  When asked how she got started in these fields, Naomi responded, “I think I was born this way!”  Being of Jewish descent and one generation removed from the devastation of the Holocaust also inspires her to keep going in her social justice movements, and her family’s suffering taught her that “if it can happen to anybody, it can happen to everybody.”  In the 1960s and 1970s, Naomi was a student activist who engaged in many forms of activism: she traveled to North Vietnam as part of a student peace delegation, and participated in the student uprising of 1968 and the beginning of the Second Wave Women’s Liberation Movement.  She also spent nearly ten years in a clandestine organization known as The Weather Underground, whose core belief was that “racism at home and U.S. imperialist aggression were the foundation of injustice in the world.”  Naomi believes that that “the rising up of people all over the world in that period gave us reason to believe that people’s power could overthrow the powerful global system of oppression.”      “Our leadership as women, and our potential for radical understanding of equality, is inherent in feminism,” Naomi states, “and is an essential ingredient in the possibility for social justice.”  The central work of her life has been connecting different pieces of social justice.  Naomi’s main goal has been to connect feminism with every other form of liberation: anti-war, anti-racism, class struggle, and anti-imperialism.  “We can only win with a feminist process of complete equality and participation,” she says, “and a feminist analysis that recognizes that no one is free until everyone is.” Naomi continues to be inspired by what she calls “wonderful overlapping communities of feminists and social justice advocates here in the Capital Region.”  By being a part of the Holding Our Own Network, Naomi hopes to establish connections with younger feminists and her feminist peers.  She hopes that these connections with each other will lead to some kind of common feminist action, and she would like to see positive feminist work come as a result of networking within the organization. Naomi hopes to bring to the network “an understanding of how to do local, community feminist justice work in a way that advances a larger vision and agenda of global justice, which is really the key to doing justice work – the connection between the big picture and the small picture.”  Looking towards the future, Naomi hopes to continue her commitment to building feminist social justice work within our community.