By Tanvier Peart
In mid-August, 25 individuals journeyed to Java Center, N.Y., for a weekend that would unite them for time to come. The 2017 Emerging Leaders opening weekend was a 4-day/3-night kickoff retreat centered around education, team-building, and providing the blueprint to effect change throughout the city of Buffalo — an experience that many from this third-year Emerging Leaders cohort will never forget.
“The retreat brought together 25 emerging leaders from different walks of life,” said Steven Salcedo. “Through our conversations and other interactions, we helped one another gain fuller understandings of justice and injustice in Buffalo.”
“For many years, I considered myself an advocate,” added Mariana Cole-Rivera. “I learned I needed — we needed — to organize [and] to change the system, from the top down. Advocacy is good, but not enough.”
The weekend kicked off with intense sessions that challenged our concept of power systems and what it means to organize. As Mike Graham, a longtime union organizer and Emerging Leaders workshop instructor, pointed out, an organizer isn’t just an activist, but one who works to inspire others to get involved.
We learned the power of the story of self, and how our past challenges help shape our convictions and values that will make us effective community leaders. We learned the foundations of building teams and the importance of translating vision into effective strategies.
“When occupying a space with the present and up-and-coming generation of leaders, you cannot help but to feel empowered and a sense of renewal,” Antonio Regulier reflected. “Opening weekend was a stamp in my life's book to mark the beginning of how I hope to affect change. Learning that I am a part of the equation and that my story is equally important as the work I aspire to do, I have become enthusiastic about leading my future.”
“My goal in life is not to just live, but to cultivate purpose, to impact others and to leave a great legacy for my children’s children and beyond,” noted Leah Daniel.
Guest speaker and American activist Jarvis Tyner imparted endless first-person accounts of past movements and their relevance in present day. “It was so inspiring to not only get to hear Jarvis give his speeches, but also to have the opportunity for him to weigh in on the activities and topics we discussed in the sessions,” mentioned Gabby Carr. “He has so much invaluable experience, and it was awesome to be able to hear about it and to get to know him over those four days.”
The Emerging Leaders opening weekend was not only a time to bond with fellow participants, but also an opportunity to reflect and meditate on the reasons why we feel called to fight for the betterment of Buffalo (and beyond). We also explored how to create shared strategies that will transform our vision into an unstoppable reality.
“I feel like the connections we made throughout the weekend will be life-long and life-changing,” Orlando Dickson reflected. “We now all have a support group to confide in and to help succeed. We have a group of people who can act as one and who will make Buffalo a better place to live. We learned at this retreat we are not alone. We are strong, and we are many.”
No matter our backgrounds, affiliations, or our differences, the 2017 Open Buffalo Emerging Leaders have a shared purpose: To become the consciousness and guardians of our communities on a mission to create a Buffalo that’s inclusive and accessible to all.
“The emerging leaders retreat reaffirmed that my purpose is to serve,” Jillian Hanesworth proclaimed. “[Open Buffalo] gave us tools and momentum to get out here and change our communities. I've never been so excited and ready to stand for something.”
Peart is a member of the 2017 Class of Open Buffalo Emerging Leaders.