BUFFALO — On Saturday, December 12, a diverse group of Buffalo community-builders graduated from a first-of-its-kind grassroots leadership development program. The 25-member inaugural class of Open Buffalo Emerging Leaders was recognized and celebrated for completing a rigorous three-month curriculum combining classroom training with hands-on field experiences. Buffalo State College, a close partner in the Emerging Leaders program, hosted the commencement event.
Emerging Leaders participants represent a diverse range of identities and places of origin, however, they are united by a desire to create a healthier, fairer, and more prosperous Buffalo. The Emerging Leaders program equipped them with skills and inspiration to be effective agents of change in the Queen City.
“Open Buffalo has truly opened my eyes to how I can make real change in my community and empowered me by surrounding me with other passionate, change-making people,” said Samantha Nephew, who graduated from the program Saturday. “I will forever be grateful for the tools I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, and the experiences they shared that have led me to this place where I’m confident that I am, ultimately, part of the change.”
Local and national experts combined forces to instruct Emerging Leaders in community organizing, coalition building, media and communications, and cutting-edge research and policy.
“It is amazing to see the culmination of our efforts come to fruition like this,” said Jonathan Rivera, Chair of the Open Buffalo Advisory Board. “We set out early on create pathways for future leaders that represent the entire city, to reach those who may not normally have access to this sort of curriculum and opportunity, and I think we achieved that.”
Hosting the graduation in its Campbell Student Union was one of many contributions Buffalo State College has made to this Open Buffalo initiative. Kevin Railey, dean of the Graduate School at Buffalo State College, helps to advise Open Buffalo’s leadership development efforts. “Open Buffalo’s goal is to promote economic equality and justice, a goal that is certainly in line with Buffalo State’s values,” said Railey. “During the applicant vetting process, we looked for people who not only have a desire for social justice concerns but who also demonstrated a strong commitment to their community. The students come from all over the city — North and South Buffalo as well as the East and West Sides.”
Answering the looming question of “What’s next?” Open Buffalo Executive Director Franchelle Hart detailed multiple on-ramps into Buffalo’s community justice movement through her organization. “We have a High Road Economic Development Table, which is working to make sure that all of Buffalo’s residents and neighborhoods are boosted by this city’s storied economic renaissance. We have a Justice and Opportunity Table, which is working to heal the relationship between neighborhoods and law enforcement.” Hart challenged the Emerging Leaders to not wait long to apply their new skills and learning. “We can all be a part of the change we want to see — right now,” she said.
For more information, visit our Emerging Leaders page.
Graduation Day Photo Gallery