Lessons Learned from #AGoL2014

Recently, in Oakland, California, A Gathering of Leaders (AGoL) brought together more than 400 leaders from across the country to continue building a movement where success for boys and men of color is not the exception, but the norm. I was honored to attend with several colleagues and join some of Fenton’s clients, including The California Endowment, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Youth Radio.

The Gathering fostered a space for continued growth in the movement around young men of color and gave everyone involved a chance to recognize, reflect and build upon the progress made thus far. From informal conversations over breakfast to facilitated discussions during workshop sessions, the Gathering expanded my understanding of the unique roles each of us have in transforming systems at large. Participating also reaffirmed my already strong commitment to Fenton’s growing portfolio of work on issues related to boys and young men of color.

Though I gained so much from participating in the Gathering, here are the three biggest things I’m taking away:

Stories build interconnectedness.  At Fenton, we believe deeply in the power of stories and use them in our work every day. The Gathering reminded me just how transformative the stories we share can be for movement building and social change.

For example, Maisha Simmons of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shared a personal story at the opening plenary session. She talked about Isaiah, a young man close to her heart whose life continues to propel her innovative work with Forward Promise and beyond – work that doesn’t simply end at  five o’clock.  Her story allowed each of us in the room to individually reflect on the young men whose lives shaped the spectrum of reasons as to why we were there. For me, my two younger brothers fuel the work that I do. I want them to blossom in a community where they feel safe, where their lives are valued and where they are given an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. Sharing their stories during the Gathering and beyond is crucial to movement building and awareness raising.

Inclusion is essential. Raymond Foxworth of First Nations Development Institute opened up a dialogue on the particular need for tribal nations “to have a seat at the table, not just be invited to dinner.” This means we have to be intentional about allowing the space to hear all voices and to create even greater opportunities for young men of color to succeed, especially in light of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. For example, at this year’s Gathering I was part of discussions about the importance of including Asian American, Native American and queer youth, who can be too often excluded from the conversation, as well as the recognition of the crucial and unique contributions of women and girls in the movement. I also got to witness the value of elevating the voices of young leaders for whom this movement exists.

As we continue to organize, we must build an even more connected web of inclusion and solidarity. To honor this learning moving forward, I will make an even stronger effort toward expanding the circle to be inclusive of all young people of color. I recognize that we have a shared responsibility to one another, and that a unified community will have an even larger impact than a divided one. Even more, when advocating for social change, I encourage you to ask yourself “who’s sitting at my table?” and “whose voice is missing from this conversation?”

Acknowledge history and celebrate resiliency. At the Gathering, I learned that we must embrace the barriers that face us individually and collectively, and in turn, use them to strengthen ourselves and the movement. The barriers that young men of Selma, Alabama and Oahu, Hawaii face are both similar to and different from those that young men in Olympia, Washington and South Los Angeles face.

Because of the myriad of cultures that live side by side, it is just as important to build an understanding of each other’s history as it is to be proactive about where we are going together, collectively. For example, the discussions that I was a part of allowed me to listen to stories of how imperialism in Southeast Asia has shaped the lives of young Cambodian men and how deportations are tearing immigrant families apart in California. I was able hear about how colonialism, land theft and treaty violations have affected the lives of American Indian boys by listening to the honest experiences of American Indian men themselves.  In turn, I was able to share stories on how implicit bias plagued generations of African American men in North Carolina, my home community. As social change-makers let’s continue to learn from each other’s histories, especially from cultures that differ from our own, and in turn uplift and empower our communities to achieve broader goals.

For a full listing of videos from the live-streamed sessions of AGoL 2014, visit the Frontline Solutions YouTube page.