BUFFALO – The wintry blast that paralyzed much of the Buffalo region last month brought bitterness and cabin fever to thousands. Less than a week after this historic “Snowvember” deluge, four dozen local social justice crusaders who managed to shrug off its effects for a weekend of coaching, self-reflection, and profound peer-to-peer connections left feeling “blessed,” “full-hearted,” “affirmed.”
As the first major installment in its Emerging Leaders program, Open Buffalo sponsored a visit by three trainers from the Leading Change Network (experts in the Marshall Ganz school of community organizing and personal narrative) to grow leadership capacity among eager Western New York activists.
Between Nov. 21 and Nov. 23, Leading Change’s Jacob Waxman, Art Reyes, and Abel Cano orchestrated 24 hours of intensive (and intense) workshops that challenged participants to conceive realistic campaign goals, strategies, and tactics as teams; and to patch together and share compelling individual monologues.
Trainees learned how to weave fearlessly honest personal experiences into “stories of self,” “stories of us,” and “stories of now” – words carefully chosen to inspire solidarity, to compel action. Very real, very raw emotions permeated their Olmsted Center for Sight meeting space – enduring lessons in the power of narrative.
Da Shaun Baldwin, a community health care navigator, came to this training hoping to expand her horizons and learn new elements of effective leadership. “I had no idea I would take away so much,” Baldwin said afterward.
In her volunteer work of expanding parental engagement at Buffalo’s School 74, Baldwin has already employed the powerful methods of narrative picked up in the Leading Change sessions. “We all have a story, and learning how to tell it could actually help people realize why they are here … ‘What am I trying to get out of this experience?’ ”
The Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, felt similarly moved by Ganz’s fundamentals of organizing for change, seen in action on nearly every continent. Equipped with new abilities to appeal to hearts and minds in the struggle for equality, Laubenstein was among the full-time organizers in attendance who left energized and empowered.
“I learned not to be afraid when I ask someone for a commitment,” said Laubenstein, whose organization partners with Open Buffalo.
“I am so pleased that Open Buffalo was able to offer this training. In order to know where you are going, you have to know where you have been,” said Franchelle Hart, Open Buffalo Executive Director. “The reflective process that the Leading Change Network takes participants through, on why they have chosen the work they are currently doing, serves to keep themselves motivated and also inspire others.”
Said Hart, “We now have an excited, new cohort of activists that are ready to work to change our communities.”
Open Buffalo is a civic initiative to make major, long-term improvements in justice and equity; it is an unprecedented collaboration among a diverse group of partners; and it is one of three projects in the nation chosen for the Open Places Initiative of the Open Society Foundations.