We had the good fortune of connecting with Leanne Rubenstein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leanne, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
I used to describe myself as a workaholic. I had a hard time turning off my work and creating boundaries. In social services it is easy to fall into this norm. It is often expected of you. In our US culture, we are taught to work hard, work harder and climb the ladder. One day I wondered what climbing the ladder actually meant. Was it really the definition of success? I realized that success is as you define it for yourself. So my success is doing work that is meaningful to me and living with a work – life balance. I love my work. I make choices that allow me to feel rich while living on a smaller budget. I have managed to question the narrative of what success really means and create a healthier lifestyle with time for family, time for me and inspiring work focusing on community.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
As the Co-Director of Compassionate Atlanta, I am privileged to see so much good in the midst of a broken world. My work is supporting and inspiring that good. Compassionate Atlanta is based on The Charter for Compassion, an international movement to encourage compassion to be a viable first choice. It takes strength to be compassionate. We are here to work together to build that compassion muscle. At Compassionate Atlanta we create opportunities for education, we collaborate with over 150 partners and we encourage and inspire civic engagement. My road to Compassionate Atlanta started with a career in special education leading to a happenstance job that turned into a 20 year career working with refugees who have been displaced by war and persecution. I realized that my most comfortable place is with people from around the world. My heart flourishes in the richness of sharing one another’s cultures, life stories and our human experiences. I saw the most amazing resilience from people who had been through unimaginable circumstances. I saw the impact of a simple smile, a shared cup of tea, or learning a greeting in a different language. At the same time, I found my voice to work for equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Both sides of my world became tied together fighting for human rights. These years working on specific issues led me to my position at Compassionate Atlanta. Here we get to focus on it all because compassion is an umbrella. So, we ask questions like, what is it to be radically welcoming? Or how do we work together to dismantle systems of oppression? I do this work with my Co-Director, Iyabo Onipede. We practice a shared power of responsibility. We want to show how this can be done. I am woman who is a white, Jewish, gay, an educator, community organizer and nonprofit leader. Iyabo is a bi-racial, Christian, Nigerian, anti-racist facilitator, businesswoman and theologian. Together we are modeling how a new kind of leadership can work. We share this responsibility with an amazing diverse board and of directors and 2 other staff members. Our staff represent 4 countries of origin, recent college grads and seasoned professionals, different races, religions, genders, and abilities. Individually, we add to the strength of the whole. This really is possible. We show up as our authentic selves and model what success can look like. Compassionate Atlanta is driven by the voice of the community. We respond to the needs that arise and work on sustainable solutions to equity and inclusion. We take a grassroots approach to community building where everyone’s voices matter and we keep building a longer table to include those that have been left out of the conversation. When I took the position with Compassionate Atlanta almost 6 years ago, I had no idea how it would enrich my life. I am learning everyday. There is much work to be done to create more equitable and just communities for all. This is my life’s work and I understand the road is long. I know we each have the ability to create positive change. Right here. Right now.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When I travel, I like to go to the off the beaten path kind of places. Although, as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, Atlanta’s history is a must see. (This is all in non-Covid times or staying safely masked and distanced.) I would start on Auburn Avenue and visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum and memorial. Then visit the John Lewis mural, the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Auburn Market. We’d spend a day in Decatur near where I’ve lived for 20 years. I’m actually closer to Clarkston which would be next on my list. Clarkston is commonly known as the most diverse one square mile in the US. It’s my second home. So, I’d visit friends, eat at a local ethnic restaurant, hear the noon call to prayer from the local mosque, watch the beautiful array people from all corners of the world waking along the sidewalks, take photos by the beautiful murals and maybe see if the mayor was in for a quick hello. We’d also spend time with family. Friday night Shabbat dinner together. And then brunch at the Flying Biscuit! I’d introduce my guests to grits if they had not tried them. I’d take them to Buford Highway to see the richness of Asian and Latinx diversity that add to our city and then to downtown Chamblee for ice cream! We’d go to one of the local outdoor farmers markets – Grant Park is a favorite to support amazing local businesses. And then we’d walk and enjoy Atlanta’s tree-lined streets.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My parents took risks to give me the best life possible. As South African Immigrants to the US, they left their families to start a new life of opportunity. They taught and lived the values of community leadership, caring for others, and seeing our common humanity. They believed in me and have always been my biggest fans. The feeling is mutual. They inspired the values that I hold most dear and that influence my career and daily life. My second shout out is to the teachers that told me that I had the ability to succeed. 4th grade teacher Mrs. Pruit, 6th grade school counselor, Mr. Holland, 8th grade teacher Mrs. Modling, and homeroom teacher, Mrs. Tinsley, are a few of my shout outs. I still remember their names. Teachers have an incredible impact on their students. My wish is that that every student is told that they have the ability to succeed. The values that guide me have been nurtured and inspired by many. I was taught to stand strong, believe in myself and pursue my dreams.
Other: Compassionate Atlanta’s linked in. The above is my personal Linked in https://www.linkedin.com/company/compassionateatlanta