As Election Day moves further in the past, and Inauguration Day moves ever closer, many questions about our country’s future arise. What policy shifts should we anticipate around education, immigration, economic and community development, global warming, and criminal justice? How do all of these issues intersect? And, how will these shifts impact local legislation, funding, and programming?
Election Day has changed all of us here at New Leaders Council (NLC) Rhode Island. We have spent the last month reflecting deeply about our organization’s role in the future of our state and country. We have been asking ourselves which direction we must take in order to preserve our state’s progressive values and how we will continue to move forward despite unimagined circumstances.
NLC Rhode Island works to recruit, train, and promote our state’s progressive leaders. We value inclusion, equity of opportunity, civil and human rights, and collective responsibility. We carry out these values by creating a collaborative community that reflects and celebrates Rhode Island’s diversity and empowers change agents and the next generation of leaders to create positive impact in their communities.
Each year, approximately 20 Fellows are selected to participate in our five month NLC Institute and mentorship program that culminates with a capstone project. The NLC Institute creates a space for Fellows to: question the current system; think of what is possible; discover their true potential; and create an action oriented network that works collaboratively towards turning ideas into action.
Last week, NLC Rhode Island hosted a panel at the Center by the Blackstone in Pawtucket to begin discussing how we can take on these issues and where we can best spend our energy and time. Panelists set the stage for what was a robust discussion. Panelists for the event included: Dr. Ramon Borges-Mendez from Clark University, Dr. Phitsamay Uy from University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Brad Brockmann from the Center for Human Rights and Prisoner Health. State Representative Aaron Regunberg moderated the panel.
During the discussion, the audience was reminded that politics is a long-term game; we were asked to prepare for a marathon and not a sprint and to be ready to take the streets when it becomes necessary. Dr. Borges-Mendez joked in a very serious way that he just purchased new sneakers for when those moments arise–because they will. He comforted the audience in highlighting that many of the daunting rhetoric from the president-elect simply cannot be done without litigation and because there would be tremendous resistance. He told us that we must truly understand the struggles of all people, that there are more good people than bad; he said that we must talk to the other side even if we might disagree with them we may be surprised to find that we have some common ground.
In her opening statement, Dr. Uy asked the audience to raise their hands if they had a bachelor’s degree, and most if not all of the audience members raised their hands. She reminded us that we were part of the 24% of Americans that had this privilege and that we were among an elite group of people. It was a reflective moment for our organization as we continue to learn and grow into a more inclusive organization. When asked how we can get out of our comfort zones and engage with others outside of our circle, Dr. Uy told audience members to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. She told us to hit the streets, to engage with churches, temples, social service organizations, to build broad coalitions, and to think deeper and more strategically about whom we are engaging with because being in an echo chamber cannot help us achieve our goals.
Brad Brockmann reminded the audience to dig deep and find the one or two issues that we are most passionate about. He said the best way to spend our energy is to become experts in the things we are most passionate about so that we can speak intelligently, thoughtfully, and powerfully about those issues while being allies with others who are experts in other issue areas. He said, too many of us want to solve all the problems, but we just burn ourselves out. He mentioned it has taken him 40 years to find that deep passion and it was visibly inspiring to the audience to see how much he loved his work and how much impact he has made to the communities he serves.
In what turned out to be an inspiring evening, many attendees left with a new sense of hope. We all realized that we are the leaders and the change-agents that we have been looking for. We have the privilege and the responsibility of leaving the world better than we found it. We learned that we must be resilient in these trying times, that we must be organized, and that we must take action. We left knowing what we have to do, and we enthusiastically will take on that challenge with grace and determination.
We look forward to many more engaging and action oriented events in the upcoming year. Additionally, we are happy to say that we saw record number of applications this year for our NLC Institute, and we look forward to announcing our incoming class of Fellows in the upcoming weeks!
The Team at New Leaders Council Rhode Island
Pictured Above: The 2016 NLC Rhode Island Class with Board Members and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
Pictured Above: Dr. Borges-Mendez, Dr. Phitsamay Uy, Brad Brockmann, and State Representative Aaron Regunberg
Pictured Above: NLC Rhode Island Co-Director Marcela Betancur during the discussion