The backdrop of my life has been a consistent feeling of inadequacy… A constant worry that I wasn’t doing enough, or wasn’t doing things correctly. Because of this, it is often only possible for me to appreciate my accomplishments in retrospect. For better or worse, this held true for my fellowship. As I reflect on the last two years, the most clear and present feeling is questioning my worthiness…and wondering if I was doing enough to make the most of the opportunity afforded to me. I remember regularly comparing myself to other fellows and wondering if my plan was enough. It’s only now with my bush fellowship firmly behind me can I see that I did truly achieve some amazing things over these last two years.
As a bush fellow, I picked the brains of some AMAZING community leaders and policy makers working to transform juvenile justice in some of the most difficult cities across the country, including Atlanta, GA, Oakland, CA, Detroit, MI, Chicago, IL, Milwaukee, WI, and Washington, DC. I just about finished my dissertation/obtained my doctorate. I completed a certificate in public leadership from Harvard University. I attended the Rockwood Leadership Institute and Independent Sector Conference. I had the opportunity to speak into the lives of several amazing graduate and law students. And, thanks to the bush fellowship, I was able to develop some semblance of a self-care routine while doing all of it.
And, what’s even more amazing than the things I’ve accomplished over the last two years are the people who I have met and the lessons that I have learned. From transformative lessons learned from community leaders to techniques for ascending leadership, every lesson learned throughout my fellowship will shape who I am as a person and help me to ascend to higher heights of influence on behalf of my community. From lessons about selecting your purpose such as, “If you believe that your community needs something…BUILD IT…even if no one will pay you for doing so” from my travels collecting data for my dissertation; to lessons about owning the origin of your purpose and embracing the fact that I do the work that I do because I am Cortez, Cameron, Cornell and Charles’ mother and I want to make the world a better place for them from the Rockwood Leadership Institute, to lessons about carrying out that vision such as, “be slow to hire and quick to fire” from Women and Power; and “Your informal leadership is every bit as real and valuable as others degree as a means of validating you” from Emerging Leaders, every lesson has shaped the woman that I am today. But, the lesson that was most impactful, and that it would have been most helpful to have learned prior to starting the fellowship was that it does not matter how much you learn if you do not put any of it into practice.
While my journey as a bush fellow will end this month, my journey to transform my community will continue on forever and it is up to my how the former shapes the latter. Just like a tree planted too near the water, all of the great transformative experiencing I have had and incredible knowledge that I have gained could be washed away if I am not a good steward over it. Because of this, I move on to the next phase of my life, I feel a heavy responsibility. Not many people from my community will ever receive an opportunity to spend two years developing their leadership, and as such I must carry forward the fruit of this opportunity for us all. I do so with the old self-doubting voices ringing in my ear. But, rather than allow them to distract me and cause me to focus away from my goal, I will use them as motivation to ensure that I am moving in excellence. No one knows what the future will bring, but with the tools that I have gained, I am confident that it is bright!