The success of my fellowship ultimately boils down to how well I meet my two basic goals. I want to expand the scope of my leadership and, in order to do so, I need to develop my skills in multiple areas, including multicultural organizing, reframing narratives, movement building, and training others. I want to see my career expand in three ways: increasing the scope, scale, and impact of my organizing and movement building; expanding and improving my ability to train and mentor community leaders and organizers; and identifying and sharing the most effective ways to practice and teach organizing and movement building.
The pandemic pushed my original plans off track. I expected to start my fellowship with a lot of travel, trainings, and meetings. I identified training programs in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, and New Market, Tennessee offering not only the powerful trainings I needed but also taking me into very different communities all around the country. I expected to greatly expand and diversify my network and build many new relationships. I wasn’t able to do many these things but I did take part in several of my planned trainings, just in different ways.
Over the first year of my fellowship, I participated in an annual gathering of the Tennessee-based Highlander Research and Education Center that touched on important topics related to cultural organizing and language justice. I watched a series of social movement trainings from the Massachusetts-based Momentum, in addition to picking up their book This Is An Uprising. I participated in online trainings from the Illinois-based Midwest Academy covering both advanced organizing concepts and supervising community organizers. I participated in self-directed, introductory, and advanced trainings on the use of narratives in social change, from the California-based Center for Story-based Strategy.
I also met regularly with a leadership coach who provided exactly the insights I need. She has experience with organizing and social movements and taking this kind of work to a larger scale. She is also a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). She has provided advice on how to continue my development along the intercultural continuum from where I am now, acceptance, to where I want to get, adaptation. She has helped me overcome my kneejerk desire to stay busy and instead understand my need to engage in iterative rounds of divergent (exploring what to do) and convergent (deciding what to do) thinking related to my goals and how to purse them.
As part of this divergent thinking, the Bush Fellowship comes at a great time for me to think about my career’s “third act.” What do I want to do over the next 20 years? How do I want to cap off my career? Is working in manufactured housing my highest and best use? Or some other more broad-based organizing focus? Or perhaps training and teaching? Being an issue expert in manufactured housing has been a vehicle for me to build a network, gain experience, and develop skills, but what is the ultimate impact I want to have?
I see many opportunities in the second year of my fellowship to begin answering these questions as part of my convergent thinking. I look forward to the 2020 Mid-Fellowship Retreat in August. It’s a full-day convening of all 24 fellows in my cohort. It should be a good chance to connect with other fellows, reflect on my fellowship so far, and think about how to get the most out of the remainder of it. I have also registered for several trainer trainings with the Pennsylvania-based Training for Change. All of them are virtual and they all focus on developing and carrying out trainings and meetings online. I once saw virtual trainings only as a necessary compromise during the pandemic. Now, I see virtual sessions as part of how I want to provide training in the future.
In the next year, I do hope to travel and attend some trainings in person. As identified in my original fellowship plan, this will allow me to visit different communities all around the country, expand and diversify my network, and build many new relationships. In particular, I want to attend trainings with the Louisiana-based People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in-person. PISAB is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural organizers and educators building a movement for social transformation through their Undoing Racism Community Organizing Workshops. Their multiracial team of organizers/trainers includes more than 40 people with anti-racist organizing expertise and I think experiencing this training in-person would be particularly beneficial.
I also look forward to participating in the full sequence of trainings from Training for Change in-person. The trainings include: the Training for Social Action Trainers (fundamentals of experiential education and dynamic facilitation), Adventure-based Learning (the "group challenge" explores issues of leadership, decision making, communication and conflict), Creative Workshop Design (an approach to curriculum development that looks at how people take in information and work together, what gets in the way for groups, how do you set the right tone, and how to create space that allows healthy risk taking and self-reflection), and Advanced Training of Trainers (includes doing cross-cultural work, handling conflict and strong emotions, and modifying workshop designs on the fly). The entire sequence can be taken together as the “Super T,” which is a rigorous 17-day training for trainers.
I am applying concepts and skills gained from the training, coaching, and study and reflection I undertook during my first year and I will build on this during my second year. For example, the Momentum video series described the use of actions to escalate popular support, the establishment of systems to absorb the influx of new people, and the creation of a decentralized structure with mass trainings as a way to retain them. I am applying this to our work with a new organizing project in two manufactured home park communities recently purchased by a national chain often criticized for their management practices. So far, the approach seems to be working.
I am also applying my trainings in narrative power theory and analysis from the Center for Story-based Strategy to my broader approach to community organizing. The training underscored the strategic significance of what is put into and what is left out of public stories as they are told. I am using these tools to better understand the narratives I need to challenge, the assumptions supporting these narrative that I need to undercut, and how I can effectively establish a counter-narrative. In particular, I am developing ideas for a podcast that will highlight the stories of park residents for the inspiration they can provide and the lessons they can teach about becoming leaders, organizing communities, and building powerful movements for change.
Finally, I will publish what I learned about the practice and teaching of organizing and movement building during both my fellowship as well as the research from my doctoral dissertation, "Pedagogy of Community Organizing: Lessons Learned from and with Formal Educators, Professional Trainers, and Community Organizers,” which I completed as part of receiving my Doctor of Education in Leadership in 2020. My research included a meta-analysis of the literature related to the education and training of community organizers, a survey of organizers in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and interviews with formal educators, professional trainers, and veteran organizers. Each part of the research is a possible journal article, and there are also academic publishers that might publish the dissertation as a book.
As I pointed out in my last learning log, how I planned to utilize my fellowship has changed, but the experience has impacted me in many important and significant ways. I am using many new techniques, like those I described earlier, in my organizing and movement building. I am eager to pursue new opportunities I discovered once my plans had to change and could not have envisioned a year ago. The fellowship hasn’t gone as I expected, but it has been incredibly valuable and I’m excited for the rest of the journey.