Angel Roberson Daniels' Commitment to Moral Courage and Transformational Leadership
SCG is excited to announce that Angel Roberson Daniels, Executive Director of the Angell Foundation, and Marshall Stowell, Vice President of Partnerships, Advocacy, and Communications at The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, have joined SCG’s Board of Directors effective February 23, 2021. Marshall and Angel follow Jennifer Price-Letscher, Raúl Bustillos, Shawn Kravich, Alex Johnson, and Joanna Jackson as the latest leaders to join SCG’s Board of Directors, currently chaired by James Alva and vice-chaired by Nike Irvin.
Angel Roberson Daniels has spent the last twenty years working in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, helping community partners achieve positive outcomes for underserved communities. Throughout her career, Angel has worked to tackle some of Los Angeles' most pressing issues, ranging from public health concerns to educational inequity, while always prioritizing the needs of young children and families. Today, Angel serves as the Executive Director of Angell Foundation, where she oversees the Foundation’s strategic direction and partnership efforts.
SCG connected with Angel to learn more about the events that propelled her career in the social impact sector, her commitment to transformational leadership, and her current book recommendations.
What drove you to start a career in the social impact sector?
I was introduced to the social impact sector through my family in the 1980s though honestly, we did not have a name for what we were doing at the time. We were simply trying to make a difference in the community, for our community. In the mid to late-1980s, crack cocaine surged throughout major cities with devastating consequences. During our weekly Sunday dinners, one of my aunts, who worked as a nurse at the time, would comment on the increasing number of newborns that were prenatally exposed to crack cocaine in her hospital. This problem was happening when the County had racialized policies that criminalized mothers with substance abuse problems and placed their babies in foster care. An even greater problem was that our child welfare system at the time lacked the infrastructure to adequately and safely care for the number of babies that they removed from their mothers and families. My aunt would often share heartbreaking stories of the hospital running out of space in the neonatal units or newborns staying in the hospital for extended periods while social workers searched for a suitable caregiver. After several weeks of this same story at our weekly family dinner, my grandmother warned that “If we don’t do something about this, you can no longer bring this up as a topic of conversation.”
We were doubtful about our ability to make a meaningful impact because the issue seemed insurmountable. We just couldn’t put our minds around how to tackle it. However, my witty grandmother, who had little capacity for complaints, made it clear that we were spending too much time creating convenient excuses for what we couldn’t do versus plans for what we should. Soon after that dinner, various family members became certified as foster parents. We then began to recruit people from church and our extended networks to foster and later become adoptive parents. After several years, we founded a nonprofit organization and hired a professional staff that, nearly 30 years later, still provides support services to current and former foster youth and their families.
I learned a great deal about the social impact sector through those early experiences and later as a public health evaluator. The social impact sector – nonprofit, public sector, philanthropy – with its combined power and resources, has a tremendous capacity to solve pressing social challenges. However, too frequently, our sector misses the mark because decision-makers and planners are often too far removed from the issues they are attempting to solve and the communities they intend to help. Our strategies often only address symptoms or teeter around the edges of a problem versus tackling deep structural roots or the sources of inequities. I was ecstatic when I had the opportunity to join the team at First 5 LA twenty years ago because I could use my experience and background to inform conversations around policy and strategy and be part of an organization that publicly prioritized conversations around systemic and structural change. I have been in love with philanthropy ever since and am honored to now lead a foundation.
How do you define and approach leadership?
Leadership is a topic for which I hold the most curiosity and passion, and being a transformational leader is the most extraordinary commitment that I have made to myself. I used to think leadership was simply a person’s ability to keep the train moving successfully. As I gain more experience and tenure in my career, my lens has sharpened to focus more on a person’s behavior and the consistency of their actions. Now, I define leadership as the ability to empathetically connect to and authentically develop relationships with other people to move toward a shared goal. Transformational leadership is about what a person does with their level of influence and how they leverage it. I define it as the ability to courageously use one’s power or influence to change the trajectory or improve the conditions of an organization, system, or individual’s life. I am constantly building my own capacity to show up as the kind of transformational leader I aspire to be – a leader brave enough to disrupt patterns that prevent us from living in a just and equitable society, empathetic enough to inspire people to show up as authentically as they can and compassionate enough to create environments for people to thrive.
In full transparency, I am still very much a work in progress. Self-development work can be challenging. Thinking about the impact of your leadership on other people can feel uncomfortable, whether as an ED of your foundation or as a parent. Taking accountability for your decisions or inaction can feel like defeat. Speaking truth to power can be terrifying. Learning and exercising new practices and behaviors can be exhausting. However, when I feel particularly challenged in my leadership, I think back to one of the most important lessons that my grandmother ever taught me, “there are no throwaway people.” While my leadership style has evolved over the last 20 years, I continually come back to that lesson of recognizing the humanity in all people and strive to lead from a place of empathy, integrity, compassion, and, most importantly, courage.
Working at Angell Foundation has been a gift because it provides access to opportunities for staff to strengthen our leadership practices and explore our personal development. In addition, we fund a national portfolio of organizations and fellowship programs under our Transformational Leadership portfolio that supports leaders in gaining the skills, moral courage, and resilience to create a more equitable world. Reflecting on the events of the last year, I think our world could benefit from more transformational leaders who embrace the belief that there are no throwaway people and are willing to use their platforms and power to confront injustice and work towards a broader movement for justice, equality, respect, and love for all people.
How can the philanthropic sector further its recent commitments to racial justice and equity?
Philanthropy has made progress in acknowledging that there are political, structural, and social drivers of inequity. For example, racial justice, equity, and systemic racism were not sector-wide conversation topics ten or twenty years ago. In fact, many racial disparities in outcome data were referenced through the lens of meritocracy, which attributes success or failure to individual abilities and merits and rarely acknowledges the other factors at play. During my career, our conversations have moved beyond that frame to look at some of the centuries’ old policies and practices that harmed communities, reinforced disparities, and led to the deprivation of vital resources that allow them to thrive. Let's acknowledge that we have done some excellent work and that there is room for us to do much more to advance our commitment.
Thinking about the future, I would suggest that: 1) we commit to the practice of courageous accountability by reflecting on past and current practices that we may have employed, intentionally or unintentionally, in our foundations to exclude historically marginalized communities from decision-making roles or grant opportunities as well our role in efforts that may have run counter to a racial justice or equity imperative; 2) we listen more intently to community voices and implement their recommendations as well as some of those coming out of the philanthropic serving institutions and affinity groups like Association for Black Foundation Executives, Justice Funders, and others who are calling on philanthropy to push structural change by supporting policy and systems reform and increasing investments in efforts that lead to substantive, not superficial change in BIPOC communities and lastly, 3) we should fund like we believe equity is truly possible, like we truly want to foster a world in which one’s race or identity does not determine their life outcomes.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned personally or professionally in the last year?
One lesson I’ve learned through the Angell Foundation’s transformational leadership work is the need for frequent self-reflection and contemplative practice. Pausing helps us observe what’s happening around us. It allows us to build empathy and understand our impact on others. When I think about the last year and how George Floyd’s murder took such a hold of our nation, I can’t help but think it was partly due to the collective pause brought on by the pandemic. We were all stuck in our homes and forced to witness — really witness — what has always been happening around us. Racism isn’t new; inequities and health disparities have always existed; state-sanctioned violence against Black people is centuries old. Folks just were not paying attention because they had their heads down or were always on the go to the next thing. I believe, now more than ever, that every person would benefit from including mindfulness or contemplative practices into their life. Pausing allows us to regularly pay attention to what is happening within us and external to us — and allows the space to process and make meaning of it all. Once you start to pay attention, you begin to ask the right questions, and then you begin to change or make changes.
What's a book or article you'd recommend to somebody interested in learning about systems change?
A few books that I recommend are Rhonda McGee’s, The Inner Work of Racial Justice, Isabel Wilkerson's Caste, and Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. All these wonderful women authors have been instrumental in helping to deepen my understanding of race, racial justice, leadership and offered strategies for building my stamina, awareness, and practices around vulnerability, courage, mindfulness, and resilience. How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer are also must-reads for those on the journey to living into their purpose as transformational leaders committed to advancing racial justice and equity.
What are you most excited about as a new member of SCG’s Board of Directors?
I admire that SCG curates space for philanthropists to think about their practices, expand their knowledge, understand the values that fuel their leadership, and forge community. I’m most excited about SCG’s evolve work that is helping leaders develop the skill sets needed to be more empathetic, compassionate, and courageous. I look forward to being part of the team and representing the voices of my colleagues in discussions about how we can amplify our collective impact.