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Check Out Mali Woods-Drake’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mali Woods-Drake.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
Encinitas4Equality (E4E) was established in late May 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd. I was one of five Encinitas women who came together to create an art installation presenting the names of hundreds of Black persons whose lives were ended at the hands of police. We did this as a testament to the realities of persistent racism in America and as a memorial for George Floyd. That act spurred a week-long community protest and vigil demanding justice for George Floyd while moving those involved to reflect on how America as a society might begin to redress hundreds of years of injustices faced by its Black citizens.

We view the birth of Encinitas4Equality as a largely organic phenomenon, driven by the energy for change loosed nationally and globally, and primed by the desire among dozens of Encinitas residents and others in the region to engage seriously with abiding racism and to drive significant and meaningful change. As E4E coalesced as an organization, its participants worked to define its nature and focus. A consensus evolved that, whatever else E4E was going to be, it would prioritize listening to and learning from Black voices and would dedicate itself to learning and teaching and to making Encinitas an actively anti-racist community with greater diversity and enhanced equity for Black, Indigenous and other Persons of Color (BIPOC), LGTBQ+ folk, and others who face particular hardship and/or discrimination.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Encinitas4Equality is both more than a non-profit or a community space: it represents the living development a community within a community, a place that is creating brave, safe, racially integrated spaces for humans to connect and build loving relationships. We understand that E4E was created for BIPOC and LGBTQI communities: E4E exists as a community, both geographically and metaphorically, dedicated to healing, connection, and creation. With that said, some of our road bumps have been how do we operate as both an activism hub, a community center and a mutual aid space all at the same time and not lose site of our mission. Anti-racism and disassembling systemic inequities is so multi-faceted and imbedded in society that we constantly are responding to incidents, being reactive and then trying to return to a place of proactive operating and intention.

The other hurdle is of course being 100% volunteer-led. Running a nonprofit, a multicultural collective, a community center that hosts tutoring, art workshops, concerts and a community garden is ten full-time jobs in itself, yet we do this all with dedicated volunteers. So burnout and exhaustion is definitely real.

Lastly, while I would Like to believe that all residents of Encinitas and globally would believe in the mission of dismantling systemic racism and inequities, we have received a fair amount of pushback, outright bullying and hate, and unkindness in our community. I am A firm believer in the adage, If people aren’t uncomfortable, you’re not doing enough. However, sometimes the disparagement of our nonprofit can be hard to ignore and not become overwhelmed by how much work remains to be done.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am the President of Encinitas4Equality and one of the co-founders, however this is my full-time volunteer role. I also have a full-time career as a labor organizer and coordinator with service employees international union. The beauty of my career is that it has equipped me over the years in the art of organizing- identifying leaders, recruiting, and inspiring others. This has been instrumental in building a grassroots nonprofit in that Encinitas4Equality would be nothing without the incredible talent and passion of our working group team of leaders and the way they inspire others.

I am most proud of making a life out of what I love most, service and activism. I know how rare it is to find a career that is also your life’s cause, and I always said if I could, I’d do this work for free….

Apparently, I manifested a free full-time side job, as Encinitas4Equality is truly a manifestation of all that I love. Community connection, activism and organizing, and changing a structural system that oppresses millions. To get to do this work beside my partner and my neighbors is a true gift.

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
I always say that the success of Encinitas4Equality has been incredibly surprising and divinely orchestrated in how organically it has happened. However, I think that I’d be more inclined to acknowledge that this more privilege than luck.

Encinitas is an extremely White affluent community that in many ways embodies the definition of White privilege. While I am Latina, I am White passing and know that this privileged combined with my economic and educational privilege of being born into a middle-class family has offered me opportunities that many others may not have. One of these privileges is the ability to stand in public spaces with a bullhorn, protest signs, and chant with little hate or anger directed my way. Keyword “little”.

Starting a nonprofit is hard work, especially with zero background in doing so or start-up feed money. However living in a community where we have both access to financial resources in generous neighbors, as well as extremely educated, passionate and skilled neighbors, has made Encinitas4Equality successful quickly in a way I’m not sure most nonprofits excel. We have been fortunate to have pro Bono attorneys, web designers, IT specialists, grant writers, business-minded strategists, small and large donations and all-around incredibly intelligent and driven volunteers with time to commit to the cause.

So are we lucky? Undoubtedly. But privileged, more so. I’m simply grateful that we can acknowledge our privilege and use it for a just cause.

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