This year’s class of Open Buffalo Emerging Leaders began last week with a four-day retreat at the Beaver Hollow Conference Center in Java, NY. The 30 leaders — our largest class to date — hail from a number of neighborhoods in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, and each one is committed to bringing about real change in our communities and breaking the cycles of oppression.
The retreat provided a unique curriculum in an intensive format, introducing the leaders to community organizing, leadership, campaign strategy, and movement building, in addition to the issue-based work that Open Buffalo does. The workshops and trainings covered a range of topics, laying down a solid foundation for the leaders to build upon over the next few months.
“A diverse group of social justice educators, activists, and community leaders worked together to build a stronger, more effective team of change makers,” said Nicole Ball, a teacher and advocate for her students, and a 2018 Emerging Leader. “Beaver Hollow set the stage for new beginnings rooted in community and shared purpose.”
A major part of the weekend involved learning how to use an individual’s “story of self” to create a public narrative that might spur people to action and strengthen a group’s purpose. A number of activities allowed the leaders to reflect on their journeys and be mindful of their purpose. Ball described one such activity: “We stood together through a mindfulness activity that had us looking into a partner’s eyes with intention. The activity was uncomfortable and left us all feeling vulnerable, but it was this vulnerability that bonded us together in our work towards equity and social justice.”
The leaders participated in team-building exercises to build trust and find ways to be authentic with each other — important steps toward self-reflection and purposeful storytelling. Emerging Leader Duncan Kirkwood noted that the interpersonal relationships built during the retreat were among its most meaningful aspects: “We learned about different fights for social justice from great presentations, of course, but what was more important was the connections we made with one another. I met some of the most incredible people ever, and we connected in a way that was so deep and so genuine.”
Kirkwood added, “Our class of leaders is going to make a huge impact in this city, get ready. But more importantly, I feel like these are the people I have been looking for.”