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National Gathering Inspires Fellows

Gathering highlights the potential of youth-adult partnerships to create change, and the importance of respecting and learning from differences.

OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. – Roughly 175 KLCC fellows, coaches, evaluators, project leads, coordinating organization staff and national consultants from Sessions I and II joined several Kellogg Foundation staff at the Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center here last month for a conference themed “The Sound of Change.” The gathering, which took place March 23-26, marked the first national convening of fellows from Session II and was an opportunity for a select group of Session I participants to reconnect as well as share highlights from their KLCC experience with the new fellows.

Youth-adult partnerships is a core component of Session II and fellows who participated in the national gathering covered a wide span of ages, from teenagers to octogenarians.

In his remarks during the opening session-which began with Native American drumming, song and a Dance of the Maidens offered by members of the Lummi Cedar Project-Session I project leader/coach Harry Goldman of Montana challenged the new fellows to act upon their goodness. “As we act upon our goodness, that is how we can bring about change,” Goldman said.

Kellogg Foundation Program Director Frank Taylor welcomed attendees and said he and his peers are hoping the Session II fellows will assist them in learning more about “how collective leadership works when more of the community is involved.”

The participants, who came to the meeting from Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington state, Texas, New York, New Mexico, Montana, Minneapolis, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Colorado, spent the next couple of days engaged in trust-building exercises, learning about each other’s sites, exchanging ideas about collective leadership, and discussing what it takes to create youth-adult partnerships and just communities. They also heard from Session I participants and met in peer groups (coaches with coaches, fellows with fellows, etc.) to discuss what their respective KLCC roles would be in the coming year. Approximately two thirds of those who attended the gathering were under the age of 30.

Roughly 175 attended the KLCC National Gathering in Mississippi last month.

The distinct character of each Session II community came through during their creative site introductions, which included everything from PowerPoint presentations highlighting local history, scenery and culture; to spoken word performances; dance; music and song. A few of the presentations highlighted unpleasant circumstances that the fellows hope to change for their communities, such as racism and economic inequities. But mostly the presentations featured community elements that are a source of pride.

At various points throughout the gathering several fellows said they were struck by the similarities between the communities, even though they are very different on the surface. In response to an exercise that demonstrated the concept of gracious space-which urges fellows to listen to each other and respect their differences-Nadia Casperalta said, “I think of it as finding the relation to yourself in someone else’s story.” Casperalta is a Session I fellow, who attended the gathering as part of the digital storytelling team.

KLCC participants from sessions I and II exchanged ideas about just communities and youth adult partnerships during the gathering. Shown here: (l-r) Steve Stapleton of the Session II coordinating organization; Ceylane Meyers, project lead for the Buffalo site in Session I; and Carmen Bland and Henry James fellows from the Lummi Cedar Project.

During another exercise, intended to illustrate the benefits of youth-adult partnership, attendees were asked to arrange themselves in birth order, from the youngest to the oldest. They were then asked to state what they thought their peer group might contribute to their collective work. Not surprisingly, the elders and adults talked about wisdom and experience, while the youth talked about innovation, daring and energy. The group was encouraged to consider what they might accomplish by working together across age barriers.

Friday’s activities were capped by optional excursions to Graceland and the Memphis Rock “n” Soul museum.

During his formal remarks on the final night of the gathering, Kellogg Foundation Vice President Rick Foster shared the history of the Foundation’s investment in leadership development. KLCC is the most recent program in that legacy. Foster pointed out that the choice to focus on collective leadership development does not signal an abandonment of the foundation’s previous support for individual leadership development, but rather an attempt to build upon it.

During the sites introductions, fellows from West Virginia led the group in singing John Denver’s “Take me Home, Country Road.” The group wore T-shirts that had been died in WV coal dust.

“We expect you to be individual leaders in your community,” Foster told participants. Collective leadership, however, is only possible when individual leaders agree to work together and to put the community’s interests above their individual interests, he said. “You can’t have collective leadership without individual leaders committed to the collective.”

Foster noted KLCC deliberately aims to include leaders who have not typically been present at the leadership table. The dynamic demographic change that American communities have undergone in recent decades is what inspired the foundation to create the program so that it crosses traditional boundaries.

“We’re not a melting pot, we’re a tossed salad,” Foster said of the nation. “We [at the Foundation] believe nothing happens, of significance, in the middle of sameness.”

Near the end of his remarks, Foster challenged the fellows to commit to collective leadership for the long haul, not just for the life of their fellowships. “It is about living your life differently and bigger than yourself.”

During the three-day session, many fellows were surprised to discover the similarities between their communities, despite the number of obvious differences. Shown here are Derek Williams of Benton Harbor; and Maria Maldonado of Chelsea.

Following Foster’s presentation, participants were treated to a talent show featuring fellows and others who performed everything from poetry readings, comedy routines, Native American dances and raps, to folk songs, storytelling, Jujitsu demonstrations, and capoiera and salsa routines. The evening closed with a music set by the local blues band Don McMinn and Nightrain, featuring blues guitarist/singer Don McMinn and his sons Doug, a drummer, and Rome, a bassist. Many fellows continued to socialize into the early morning hours.

On the closing day, participants exchanged personal reflections about the gathering, exchanged gifts, and enjoyed a digital storytelling project that captured highlights from the experience. Fellows expressed thanks to the Foundation for allowing them the opportunity to become better acquainted with their hometown peers as well the participants from the other communities.

“I’m really glad I got to participate this time,” said Alsie Wolfback, a youth fellow with the Lummi Cedar Project, who was present during a KLCC coaches meeting held in Washington last summer, but at that time served in a support capacity. “It was fun,” she said, about the March meeting.

Saturday night’s talent show featured everything from Native American dancing, to folk singing, poetry readings and birping the ABCs. Shown here are Tami Chock (left) and Carmen Bland of the Lummi Cedar Project, performing a traditional Lummi dance.

“I learned that sometimes when you think a person is ignoring or disrespecting you, they just might not be,” said a youth fellow from Benton Harbor, reflecting on how he felt when a person in one of the small group discussions he participated in averted her eyes while he was speaking. Once she explained to him that in her culture, maintaining eye contact is considered disrespectful, it changed his reaction. “I learned you need to be open to understanding that [social norms] might be different in another culture.”

Elayne Dorsey, a member of the KLCC II Coordinating Organization, challenged the group take what they learned at the gathering and apply it to the work they will pursue in their communities. “When you go home, are you showing up in the world in the same way and in the same spirit that KLCC evokes here?” she asked.

Another comment, that captured how many participants felt by the end of the gathering, came from the West Virginia site evaluator Marsha Timpson who, during the closing session, invited the group to join her in shouting, “THAT’S AMAZING!”

The next national gathering for Session II fellows will be held sometime in 2007.


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