05/01/2017

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“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lord

From the time I arrived at the 2017 Gathering of Leaders, I felt there was an incredible energy amongst the social impact professionals that had joined in Braselton, Georgia for New Profit’s 13th annual conference.

I had the opportunity to attend the Gathering this year as a 2017 Millennial Impact Fellow. I was thrilled to have been chosen and looked forward to learning more about the work New Profit was doing to invest in the ideas and the leaders that are changing the game. I was even more excited that New Profit recognized the need for millennial voices to be present and engaged – particularly following an election cycle when largely our generation was told to fall in line.

I have to admit: I had concerns that even this effort to invite us in to a space often time filled with experienced, senior level non-profit professionals, our presence might only be for show. Outreach to young people has proven to be useful when companies and organizations want to appear contemporary and are upping their “cool factor”. I had high hopes this invitation to have a seat at the table would not turn out to be empty one. In my mind, so much was at stake and leaving behind my work for this conference was about far more than a three day fancy getaway and free meals. Accompanying me to Braselton were the voices of my team back at home still working on behalf of children across Montgomery and the state of Alabama. I thought of the members of the community I have the pleasure of engaging with day to day, week to week. I was carrying their fears, their passion for our community, and their hopes as they strive for the best outcomes for their families. This was ultimately my motivation for attending – I wanted to represent the voices of the people that gave my work purpose.

From the time I met the other fellows that would join me on this adventure, I knew this experience would provide me with a network of support, but more importantly, friends, that understand exactly what it means to be a young person frustrated with the conditions people this in our country face today. They carried with them a love for their community, as well. As organizers, social strategists, fundraisers, entrepreneurs and foremost, engaged citizens, we quickly united around the experiences that bonded us in our work no matter the title. The fellows were not just the “leaders of tomorrow”, in fact, we are determined to be the leaders of today.

“You can’t empower young people; you can only give us an opportunity.” – Christian Beauvoir

New Profit packed the day with informative sessions that challenged the audience to not only discuss but to seek solutions to some of the most post pressing challenges in the social entrepreneurial landscape. How has our work shifted in lieu of Trump’s election? How do we address our own bias and blind spots? How do we reach back for those we’re leaving behind?

“The country is less broken if we can recognize the issues that bind us.” – Maria Teresa Kumar

Session by session we would fill the room and listen as presenters would take the stage to try to bring a sense of clarity to what is undoubtedly a hazy path. But, as the program progressed, what emerged was a nuanced commentary that expanded beyond the stage. In the intermediate “bubbling up” sessions, audience members continuously refocused our discussions, always steering us back to the realities of citizens from Oakland to Appalachia. Millennial voices impacted the conversation by calling for transparency, realistic and equitable pipelines, and intersectional practice across the field of social professionals. The exchanges that carried over to lunch and dinner (even at times the bathroom) spoke to how fired up each of us were feeling. For many, this was an opportunity to reenergize after months of doubts and uncertainty. For some, The Gathering was a refreshing and restorative moment where we had the chance to simply connect. For just a few days, we were with our people. It was a gathering of those who dared to disrupt the status quo.

We are practitioners of social impact and service, at a time when people are increasingly losing faith in the institutions that are the backbones for our democracy. The Gathering motivated us to evaluate our proximity to the unique and different challenges people around the country are facing in their daily lives – and then come at them full steam with the ideas, research, strategies, and solutions to move the needle. As our MC Tulaine Montgomery remarked, “we were made for these times.” The calling is urgent – now more than ever. My journey ended with a tour of the Center for Civil and Human Rights and as I circled the museum, I reflected on the words of our presenters and considered the history we are writing today. I saw the faces of the leaders that never backed down, even when they were carved out by their own. I asked myself: what stories of our time do we want history to tell? I’ve never been more convinced –it’s up to us to write the chapters.

Read more from our other Millennial Impact Fellows here!