Leadership in Moments of Change

“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change…” – Octavia Butler

At The LP, a foundational principle we highly value is the cultivation of leadership. We are dedicated to fostering the leadership of individuals at every level and stage within The LP community. This commitment extends to supporting the leadership of our staff, the LP artist community, those in our local Bed-Stuy community, and our board.

Our board members play a pivotal role as valued partners in our pursuits. As collaborators aligned with our values, they not only oversee the financial aspects of The LP’s operations but also contribute invaluable guidance, offer insights to advance our mission, and provide unwavering moral support on our journey toward realizing a vision for a more just and equitable society powered by creativity. Recognizing their significance as essential collaborators, it is imperative that we consistently consider succession, transition, and change within our board ranks. Thoughtful planning ensures healthy growth and a seamless continuity of leadership, ultimately enhancing the impact of our work.

Last year, we celebrated the transition from our former Executive Director, Kemi Ilesanmi, to our current Executive Director, Ayesha Williams. In moments of change, we reflect on the legacies of Black critical thinkers such as Octavia Butler and Audre Lorde, who embraced change in their practices and pursued the same transformative work that guides us at The LP––supporting POC communities, rewriting narratives, and utilizing the transformative power of art to drive social change.

In this spirit, we are delighted to share the news of our board chair transition this year from George Suttles to Ashima Aggarwal! While George remains an integral part of our team and, as he humorously puts it, assumes the role of a “regular ol’ board member,” we are excited to witness the organization thrive under Ashima’s thoughtful and compassionate guidance. At The LP, we firmly believe that changes in leadership offer an opportunity to build upon the upward trajectory of the organization, propelling us to the next level of growth and expanding our capacity to delve even deeper into our mission, affirming our values and principles.

Ashima Aggarwal has served on The LP board since 2019 in the capacity of board secretary. As she takes on the role of Board Chair, she simultaneously bids farewell to a position she has held for over 17 years at the  200+ year old global publishing company, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, where she served as the general counsel for their Education Publishing business. 

George Suttles has been at the helm of The LP board, leading us through several significant growth periods––including the move to our permanent home at the Storefront and the transition from Kemi to Ayesha as Executive Director. George is the Executive Director of Commonfund Institute at Commonfund. He previously served as a Program Officer with The John A. Hartford Foundation, a private, nonpartisan, national philanthropy dedicated to improving the care of older adults. 

As we reflect on this time of change––and the ever-present and ever-constant condition of our lives––we’d like to take a moment to learn more about Ashima and George and their time with us at The LP as they move into their new roles this year. 

–– Words by Ayesha Williams, The LP Executive Director, and Folasade Ologundudu, The LP Media & Storytelling Manager  

Read our interview with Ashima and George below! 

As you both reflect on your time working with The LP in your respective capacities, what have been some moments, memories, and/or experiences that stand out to you as profoundly impactful and/or meaningful to you?

Ashima Aggarwal: When I went to my first GATHER in 2019, I was stunned by how many people I and the guests I had invited knew. The interconnectedness of The LP community is a beautiful thing. I’ve had many conversations about The LP during which someone tells me that their best friend’s mom was a Create Change Fellow 10 years ago or that they worked on a comms campaign for the organization. In one case, a friend of mine who is a high school teacher shared that her students raised $5K and donated it to The LP right before I joined the Board. Each of those conversations sticks with me and drives home the wide-ranging impact that The LP has. 

On a more personal level, our most recent board chair, George Suttles, had been saying to me for a while that I should be the board chair when he finished his term. I didn’t feel qualified or really understand why he thought I would be a good candidate for this role. This is the first time I’ve served on a board. I don’t work in the arts, and The LP has so many board members who are powerhouses. I will never forget the smiles and cheers of support, excitement, and encouragement that my fellow board members gave me when George shared his intention to nominate me as Board chair with them. I’ve felt so supported; that has been so incredibly affirming.  

George Suttles: There have been so many moments, memories, and experiences that stand out to me, both exhilarating and joyous and uncertain and turbulent. The fact that the organization was able to navigate the way it did at the height of the pandemic is something that I will always remember as a pivotal time for the organization. Like the entire world, The LP had to figure out ways to adapt to remote work, take care of staff, and ensure that we continued to show up for the community during COVID-19 and then after the murder of George Floyd. On top of that, we decided to move forward with the build-out of our new storefront space, moving from our Harlem office to our current space on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The LP has always leaned into its values, and 2020 was no different. I think that is why we were able to continue to support artists and the community and do all of the things we had set out to do. Of course, there were uncertainties and challenges, but I am proud of the way the LP leadership, staff, and board showed up. It was an amazing experience, even though those were scary times. 

Any advice for folks interested in joining boards or participating with non-profits in a meaningful way?  

George Suttles: If you are going to join a board, join the board of an organization that you care deeply about and is values-driven. There are so many nonprofits in the City; find an organization whose mission you care deeply about, whose leaders you trust and want to support, and whose values are aligned with yours. Everything that I just mentioned I have found with The LP. I have learned more than I have contributed and have gained tremendous insight, knowledge, experience, and friendships.

How did you come to work with the organization, and what were you doing professionally before being a part of The LP’s board? 

Ashima Aggarwal: I joined The LP’s board in 2019. I had been thinking about nonprofit board service for a few years at that point. I am a lawyer and had been working as an in-house counsel at a publishing company at the time. I was looking for a way to broaden my experience, give back, and, hopefully, build a bridge between what I was doing and the NYC arts community. I flailed around for a long time with no idea how to go about getting on a board. Then, I asked a friend who was on a nonprofit board how she got her role. She connected me with someone who was an ED at a nonprofit, who then connected me with Kemi, the ED at The LP at the time. It all came together from there. 

What are your hopes and dreams for The LP’s future, and what do you envision the organization can achieve? 

Ashima Aggarwal: I believe The LP can achieve anything it wants to achieve. My wish for the organization is that it continues to grow and build community––and that everyone involved feels supported in our mission.   

George Suttles: Under Ayesha’s leadership and with Ashima’s support, along with the rest of the board and staff, the organization’s future is bright and can achieve anything! I hope the organization can (and will) continue to show up for artists and the community, and I dream of a day when there is liberation, abundance, peace, and justice in this world. But, until then, The LP will continue to do its part to strive toward that dream!

Thank you to Ashima and George for their words. We look forward to sharing more reflections from our leadership on Spin Cycle in the coming months.