My fellowship journey has been an experience of evolution and transcendence. The definition of evolving is to develop gradually especially from a simple to a complex form and the definition of transcendence is to go beyond the range of limits of a conceptual division. I began my fellowship journey the moment I wrote my first application essay. This was an intentional decision, I had decided if I wasn't selected at least I would learn through the short experience of applying. As I considered the questions and prompts I challenged myself to reflect honestly about my understanding of leadership, my relationship with it, and my desires towards it. Much of what I understood leadership to be were intrinsic qualities I had inherited from my genetics and familial upbringing. However, the concept of leadership I saw lifted in the world was something different. Leadership was structured, methodical and earned. When I considered leaders whom I admired I saw their position, their resume, their career trajectory, and their power. The formula I saw practiced by most of the leaders included the same ingredients: a collection of behavior disciplines, a collection of mentors, a collection of essential books, and a collection of goals. The applications and particulars varied but the outcome seemed to be the same. The leaders I admired used this formula to wedge themselves between a need and a resource or a problem and a solution as one, only or best vehicle towards merging the two. There were elements of this kind of leadership that perplexed me. For most of these leaders their driving force was to simply meet their basic needs, needs that could be fulfilled in much less demanding or grueling environments than the pedestal of leadership. Once more, leaders would often place themselves in environments that were not familiar or even slightly meaningful to them. In the end, the appeal towards leadership laid in the power of celebrity, access and control, none of which were enticing for me.
For me, leadership was personal. The needs and resources I sought were justice and freedom, the problem and solution was state-sanctioned killing of black people and economic power. These were not detached issues, these were intimate deeply personal issues. I did not approach leadership for personal access, power or control, I pursued under the most grueling circumstances to gain access, power and control for our entire community. I don't think I am unique in this approach, however, most leaders I knew were nothing like me and I thought the Bush fellowship would help to change that. My goal was to see the fellowship as a way to polish me as one of those leaders I admired, I clenched my hands with hopeful prayer I could press myself into the mold of leadership that seemed to be able to achieve their goals with finesse, powered by the guidance of tried and true literature and mentors flush with the resources to move mountains. I would need it all to achieve my goal of serving my community and spreading the message of economic power through cooperativism.
In the end, hilarity ensued, and I am farther from that polished leader than I ever was. The fellowship experience changed my relationship with leadership and the concept became inverted for me. I was less and less concerned about being a vehicle and more concerned with being human. Less concerned with reading leadership books and more concerned with learning how to learn again. I became less fixated on mentors and proper guidance, and the facade that I had lifted in front of every professional hero fell, leaving an image of another person, doing the best they can with what they have. Some fighting even still for the power, control, fame and access they so desperately sought when they began. Challenges and barriers that once intimidated me became the same mountain from a different perspective. The weight I carried was no longer the weight of the momentous goal I decided to pursue, it was the weight of all the people I needed to carry towards it. People who couldnt not see the path or could not believe it to be possible and some who simple preferred their current reality had to carried, some drug, kicking and screaming, all upon the shoulders of my belief in what I knew was possible. Although I did not seek it, along the way came celebrity, power, access and control all of which I diverted towards others. The truth was they needed it more than I did. What I needed came to me in waves of conviction, knowing that our arrival would still only be a mirage for so many who had not made the journey on their own feet, economic power was not found just in the institution we were trying to build but the institution needed to embody our collective belief that we can live prosperously. And the concept of abundance was one only I had the privilege to experience and the audacity to believe we were worthy of.
Over the last two years, I transformed and evolved in ways that enraged people around me. I was accused of going too far, wanting too much, being too ambitious. I was hailed for being a visionary, being bold, being a leader of a generation. I was accused of being a fraud, a thief, a fake and a sellout. I wrestled with each accusation, both positive and negative- I pressed against them, held them up beside me and looked for the truth in them.
In the end and in the quiet of the dust settling once all was said and done and over with, rummaging through the wreckage, I found the most devastating truth left unscathed among all the rubble was myself. The evolution and transcendence I experienced was not in my identity as a leader but in the way I saw, loved and appreciated myself as a person. I was applauded and hated for nothing more than attempting to embody everything I believed. I was exhausted, striving to carry others towards a vision instead of enjoying the journey in paving a way towards it.
The experience of the fellowship caused me to be less of a leader and more of myself. It is the personal journey of self-discovery driven by love that I lead best and the footprints I leave along that path must only be mine. I look towards the future and am less motivated by what I can accomplish for others and more in how I can prove something can be accomplished by achieving it myself. Self-awareness and appreciation was not only a critical element I took for granted, but it is also a critical element of cooperative economics. Putting ourselves, our wants and needs first is the guiding motivation for cooperation, not a collective aim but a personal one through collective means. When I started I knew and was focused on what I wanted to accomplish for others, today I know and am focused on what I want to accomplish for myself.