Movement Strategy Center’s Staff Convened in MSC’s Oakland Office for Norm-Setting, Culture-Building, and Community

Twenty three people wearing blue shirts smile for a group photo in three separate rows. A wall full of framed posters and activist art is behind them.
MSC staff from left, back, Taj James, Marcus Cunningham, Yasmine Laurent, Kathy Moore, David Malinowski, Tiffany Harris, Lauren Wheat, Dejah Williams, Sally Miller, Sandra Bass, Frank Gargione, from left, middle, Bridgette Bell, Jamillah Renard, Mohini Tadikonda, Daniel Parada, Alejandra García Lezama, Marie Joseph, Lidia Alvarez, from left, front, Sophie Hou, Andrea Granda, Karmella Green, Carla Dartis, Aileen Hermoso. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning in the Bay Area as MSC staffers made their way to MSC’s new, sun-filled downtown Oakland office. Tired from their travels the day before, they hugged, shared breakfast, and enjoyed each other’s company face to face — a first for some. For this first all staff experience, folks traveled from other parts of California, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas to join Bay Area locals to cultivate organizational culture, establish MSC’s strategic goals, and form strong relationships.

A blue couch and two yellow arm chairs surround a coffee table with bookshelves and a large open floor plan behind.
MSC’s downtown Oakland office space. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

Among packed bookshelves, staff mingled, exchanged stories, and shared in their common vision of a Just Transition. They continued with productive conversations about building MSC’s culture: from icebreakers to setting group norms. After a long day spent culture-building, the team enjoyed an evening of bowling and snacks in Jack London Square.

5 people sit on a couch and chairs next to a book shelf and large windows. They are leaning in to the conversation.
MSC staff discuss culture. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

Individual departments took the second day to reflect on the previous day’s discussion, prepare for activities to come, and have some fun. MSC’s Advancement team strategized over shared meals while the Operations team held space in the MSC office. Karmella Green, a Project Advisor on the Movement Infrastructure and Innovation Center (MIIC) team, visited EARTHseed Farm, a fiscally sponsored project of MSC, with the rest of the team. She noted “visiting EARTHseed and learning about the environmental practices of the farm as well as sampling the delicious pears, apples, and other fruits grown there really culminated in a unique experience for [us].”

Two people both wearing blue shirts lean in together while smiling at the camera
MSC staffers Daniel Parada and Karmella Green. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

As is common with all human interaction, staff encountered healthy conflict stemming from diverse perspectives and expectations. To address this conflict, the initial intentions of strategic planning for the third day were altered in favor of a continued focus on MSC’s culture with a conversation lead by Taj James, MSC’s co-founder. James spoke of MSC’s history, the staff’s shared vision of the future, and each person’s unique talents that aid in the journey to that vision. He reminded staff that not everyone you bring into a room will agree with each other; and that this isn’t a sign of the process not working but rather an anticipated experience to be overcome by open communication and honest facilitation. Staff left the conversation with a shared commitment to resolving the conflicts that had arisen and improving communication with one another.

Two people sit in separate chairs as they listen to people talk out of frame.
MSC co-founder Taj James speaks to staff alongside Sandra Bass, MSC Board Secretary. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

In the final hours of the retreat, friends from within the MSC Ecosystem were invited to the office for an open house. MSC staff, board members, directors of fiscally sponsored projects, and Movement Strategy Network members mingled while sharing stories, drinks, and snacks. MSC staff left with stronger relationships, a better understanding of MSC’s culture, and an encouraging roadmap for further culture-building and strategic planning yet to be done.

Nine people pose for a group photo while wearing blue shirts. Most are standing and one is kneeling in front. They are in front of a wall full of framed posters and art.
MSC staffers, from left, Marie Joseph, Jamillah Renard, Karmella Green, Lidia Alvarez, Lauren Wheat, David Malinowski, Alejandra García Lezama, Frank Gargione, Marcus Cunningham. Photos by Hewitt Photography.
Six people wearing blue shirts pose for a photo in MSC's open concept office.
From left, Kim Tercero of MSC FSP Alliance for Felix Cove with MSC staffers Alejandra García Lezama, Dejah Williams, Bridgette Bell, Tiffany Harris, Andrea Granda. Photos by Hewitt Photography.
Two people lean on each other while looking off frame and laughing
MSC Chief Operating Officer Yasmine Laurent with Bridgette Bell, MSC’s Director of People & Culture. Photos by Hewitt Photography.
Two people talk, one is wearing a mask as she talks. There are groups of other people talking with a pride flag hanging in the background.
MSC staffers Sophie Hou and Sally Miller. Photos by Hewitt Photography.
MSC's staffers sit in front of a brick wall with large windows and a pride flag hanging on it
MSC staffers from left, Frank Gargione, Alejandra García Lezama, Kathy Moore, Lidia Alvarez. Photos by Hewitt Photography.

All photos by Hewitt Photography.