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From Public Statistics to Personal Stories

Coming into Leadership St. Louis, I felt prepared to encounter issues I would be overwhelmed by. Friends who are alumni had described how powerful and difficult many of the topics were. That expectation has been realized and despite many moments of discomfort and frustration, I remain committed and inspired to confront more of them, hoping each session will force me to question how our society has arrived to where it is and my role in it. What I was not prepared for and has proved more difficult to navigate is how each topic seems to impact fellow cohort members. When hearing or feeling people relate to a topic, be it race or mental health, and how it has affected them, the room quickly transforms from academic discussion to real life. It reinforces to how much of my history with major issues has been viewed from the sidelines. Sure, I have volunteered in the community, served on boards and tutored children, but I am left questioning if I have gotten my hands dirty enough. Have I tolerated injustice and been a part of the silent majority?

I value the idea of a diverse neighborhood and yet I have not actively campaigned to make sure mine remains that way. How much of that is due to lack of initiative vs fear driven by cultural and news-driven stories? Have I sought to impose a lens of equity on my city while not working to implement it in my own neighborhood? Where has my voice and action been needed that I have chosen to ignore? But to linger in guilt or frustration would do me and the community a disservice. It serves as a reminder to get involved. Service and engagement are the first step.

As one person, the chances of me solving any one of these systemic issues is unlikely. But my ability to push the needle in the direction of equity, understanding and engagement is high. Telling the story I have seen does not take much work but it does require the resolve to stick with it. I must avoid inaction that can be driven by feeling I don't have permission to get involved or a feeling of "this is too big for me to tackle". If it feels too big, I need to make the issue at-hand smaller. Much like when it comes to global or national issues, I am weary of despairing at the macro issue and instead try to focus on the micro one in front of me.

I look to the words of a common inspiration of mine Seth Godin as to how I will move forward next. "Who conceptually is the next person I want to reach? What are his/her hopes, dreams, needs and wants? What is the story he/she has told themselves before I have met them? How do I encounter them in a way that they trust me and the story I want to share?"

As someone who considers himself a reasonable storyteller, perhaps a next step is to help others see and feel inspired to act on what I can no longer unsee? I also commit to you, my class, to openly share my struggles as I believe the best way to encourage more openness in the class is to share my own story.

Go Forth Boldly

"There is no weapon on Earth more powerful than the human soul on fire",

Ferdinand Foch

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