I want to share again the gratitude I feel in being selected as a Bush Fellow. It’s an amazing opportunity. It has opened many doors for me. I’m already applying concepts and skills gained from the training, coaching, and study and reflection I undertook during my first year and I’m building on them during my second year. My fellowship goals include learning new techniques for organizing with diverse communities, re-framing narratives, building organizing campaigns into movements, and training others. In recent months, I found a many ways to apply what I’m learning, including:
• In the fall, I worked with a consultant to conclude a strategic planning process that in part identified better ways to engage and reflect the experience of the state’s growing population of Latinx manufactured home park residents. I was invited and submitted a full proposal to one of the organization’s primary funders for resources to implement the key action steps identified in the plan. I’m working on a proposal to a second funder.
• Using techniques I learned from the Center for Story-based Strategy, I reframed narratives around manufactured housing and the people who call it home in several settings. This included the Homes for All MN coalition, the U.S. HUD’s Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee, and both the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s Manufactured Housing Community Redevelopment program as a grant reviewer as well as the HomeHelpMN program as a community connector.
• Using techniques I learned from the Momentum training series, I approached movement building activities in new ways. As they recommend, I began to use a grand narrative and strategy, mass training, and a decentralized structure in how I coordinate the efforts of a very structured state organization with our very fluid local chapters.
• I joined the first organizing supervisor cohort set up by the Midwest Academy. It will be an opportunity to both learn and share knowledge, since each participant will co-create and lead a session focused on a particular skill, role, or dilemma. As part of the Humphrey School’s mentorship program at the University of Minnesota, I am also serving as a mentor for a graduate student interested in exploring community organizing and public policy.
The pandemic has, however, placed restrictions on activities in my fellowship plan that I am hoping to resolve with a one-year extension to my fellowship. I hope the additional time will allow me to take part in some key training programs. I believe this trainings will allow me want to expand my leadership in three ways: first, increasing the scope, scale, and impact of my organizing and movement building; second, expanding and improving my ability to train and mentor community leaders and organizers; and, third, identifying and sharing the most effective ways to practice and teach organizing and movement building.
In my first learning log, I observed I originally planned to launch my fellowship with a flurry of travel, trainings, and meetings, but instead, because of the pandemic, began with a period of deep reflection and refinement of my fellowship plans. My leadership coach helped me recognize my kneejerk desire to stay busy and encouraged me to instead engage in iterative cycles of divergent (exploring what to do) and convergent (deciding what to do) thinking, in order to explore questions and options more deeply. Ultimately though, as Thomas Edison observed, while “action without planning is fatal … planning without action is futile.”
As I mentioned earlier, the overall goal of my fellowship involves bringing all of my learning together in the exercise of powerful and effective leadership. I identified training programs offering me not only the powerful trainings I needed but also taking me into very different communities all around the country that will expand and diversify my network and building important new relationships. Both experiences are vital to developing my skills and expanding my leadership.
As I wrote in my second learning log, the success of my fellowship boils down to how well I meet my two basic goals: developing my skills; and expanding my leadership. I identified programs in Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, Philadelphia, and New Market, Tennessee offering not only the trainings I needed but also taking me into very different communities. I expected to greatly expand and diversify my network and build many new relationships. I have participated in some of the trainings, but only virtually, and some programs are providing few or none of their trainings online.
When I train without expanding my network or visiting new communities, I feel locked in my same patterns; perpetually planning rather than doing and seeing less personal growth and change. As the saying goes, “It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.” This axiom has been attributed to a number of different people, including Jerry Sternin (The Power of Positive Deviance) and Richard Pascale (Delivering Results). The limits imposed by the pandemic have felt like increasingly heavy limits on my ability to act and, as a result, see shifts and changes in my leadership. I need to dramatically shake up how I spend my days, where I spend them, and who I spend them with.
I hope to travel and attend the trainings I originally identified in my fellowship plan in person. 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 recognize the pandemic may still impact travel and training into 2023. However, I’m not alone in hoping that by then the pandemic will either no longer be with us or we will all have learned how to adapt to a “new normal.” If not, I will look at ways to make those community contacts – with precautions – but through paths not involving the training programs, such as broader organizational networks and conferences. I will also investigate receiving some kind of directly-contracted training with these programs rather than the usual group trainings.
After a lot of relentless activity this fall, the last month provided an excellent opportunity for self-care, reflection, and planning. My family took our first trip outside the state since the start of the pandemic. We returned to Puerto Rico for the first time in six years. Despite my busy schedule, I really needed the break. As pioneering community organizer Saul Alinsky once put it, “withdrawals from the arena of action” are necessary to reflect, synthesize, and philosophize. It was a chance to take stock and plan my fellowship going forward.
In recent months, I also had great conversations with my leadership coach about ways I can take stock of what I’ve been doing, learning, and still want to do. Given that I want to evolve my leadership in multiple directions, my coach encouraged me to be aware I am operating in and shifting between several different roles – as an organizer, a leader, a trainer, and a facilitator. She encourage me to regularly ask myself the “goal, role, and soul questions.” In each situation, what is my goal, what is my role, and what do I do not to lose my soul?
I will look for ways to connect my activities to an overall narrative. Part of this narrative work will involve reviewing some resources my coach shared with me about collective identities and attachment to groups. I will reach out to the organizing and social movement training centers I identified in my fellowship plan about both upcoming trainings as well as contracting with them for some specific consulting services.
Finally, I will continue to work on a podcast I can use it to highlight both the stories of park residents and the expertise of organizing training programs. The stories of park residents can provide inspiration and lessons about becoming leaders, organizing communities, and building powerful movements for change. I want to somehow also incorporate into this plan discussions with experienced organizing educators, trainers, and mentors to gain the benefit of their experience and