Editor’s Note: The Nonprofit Quarterly’s editor-in-chief, Cyndi Suarez, continues her podcast series featuring women of color in leadership. Through candid, in-depth interviews, listeners will come to understand how these women embarked on their paths to leadership, how their leadership styles have evolved over the years, how they envision their work now, and what they hope to see for their fellow women of color leaders.

“We lead with all of these different parts of our identities connected to our worth, connected to our livelihood,” Luana Morales tells Suarez in her latest podcast. “So we’re facing these multiple dimensions of who we are, and our identities, in this way that we’ve never had to do before.”

Morales is a birth and bereavement doula and a death midwife, devoted to reclaiming Afro-Indigenous healing practices. Like so many of us, Morales has had to adapt her work to address myriad needs during the coronavirus pandemic so that she can “walk people through” what she describes as a “place of reckoning and deep grief.”

In the era of COVID, Morales has also been called on by philanthropic groups and nonprofits that acknowledge their staff are struggling with myriad personal challenges. She says that leaders understand that now, more than ever, they must create a space for staff to be able to grieve and heal, even at work. But before Morales begins working with these organizations, she makes one thing clear.

“Bringing me in to do this work, it means that we’re going to lead with our humanity,” Morales explains. She wants organizations to understand that their staff need this kind of support, which is too often overlooked in the nonprofit world “where the professional environment says that ‘I come in and do this work, and I don’t talk about feelings, and I don’t bring the personal into the professional world.’” But Morales explains that the pandemic has provided nonprofits with an opportunity to do things differently. “We’re experiencing the level of grief and loss [on] such a large scale, in so many dimensions of our lives, that you just can’t ignore it.”

In their conversation, Morales tells Suarez how her work with birth and death is connected to liberation, and how COVID-19 has made marking these sacred occasions more complex due to the need for physical distancing. Morales and Suarez share intimate memories of their experiences of death and how it has shaped their lives, and even given their work purpose. And Morales explains how her career has been fueled by her deep desire to reclaim indigenous practices and earth-based spirituality.

“My job is to create containers for safety for people’s wisdom, genius, magic, healings, their stories to emerge. I’m a space holder. My job is to be steady. My job is to understand that I don’t know anything, and to hold things with curiosity,” she explains. “This is not a thing that you push through, because you can cause harm. You have to have good boundaries around what you’re capable of holding.”


Photo provided by Luana Morales. Theme music by Ikebe Shakedown under Creative Commons 4.0 license.