This post is by Carlos Moreno, the Co-Executive Director of Big Picture Learning, and Randy Moore, Vice President for Postsecondary Partnerships & Innovation at HERE to HERE.
Leaders of color often devote ourselves to working to dismantle the systems of oppression that block young people who follow in our footsteps from achieving success. Yet though we work in environments that actively challenge the historic and systemic structures that continue to impact society today, we are rarely afforded the space to discuss how these same complex issues affect our lives, our professional development, and our goals. To better serve our colleagues and communities, leaders of color must find opportunities to come together to focus on our own development.
One of the most unique and transformative leadership experiences of our careers was the Executive Men’s Leadership Summit held by New York University Steinhardt in Florence, Italy. The summit brought together an intimate group of 10 senior male leaders of color from philanthropic, non-profit, education, real estate, media, and financial services backgrounds to discuss leadership, management, diversity, and new ways to think about creating opportunities for all individuals to succeed. The retreat was specifically for men of color, but there was a refreshing range of diversity in the group, from professional title and work history to sexual orientation, geographic location, age, religion, and personal backgrounds and experiences.
Each participant shared a strong commitment to service, social justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, which was a common thread uniting the group’s focus on leadership. The summit was an opportunity to escape our normal environment, add context to our perspectives, and reflect deeply on our leadership and service to the community.
During the summit, we engaged in rigorous self-reflection and assessment intended to highlight how we could develop our leadership skills and support the strengths of those around us. We took part in conversations with industry leaders of color about the values and tensions that exist in leadership. In a discussion with Kaya Henderson, the former Chancellor of DC Public Schools, we spoke about the unique challenges and successes men and women of color face as leaders. She emphasized that when we accept the role of representing young people in our work, we must also authentically involve the entire community. This, and all, of the workshops led to the same conclusion: by coming together as a community, we can better address the oppressive conditions and policies that exist in the industries in which we work.
In our own careers working to enhance work-based learning opportunities and career pathways exploration for young people in the Bronx and elsewhere at Big Picture Learning and HERE to HERE, we often speak about the importance of building a professional network that can provide the support needed to succeed in both education and career. We emphasize that mentorship and personal and professional development are crucial to that success. However, as leaders, we are often focused solely on our team members’ success, because we are taught that is what good managers do. Since returning from Florence, we have focused on incorporating self-reflection and the professional development tools we learned during the convening into our work back home. Committing time and effort to our own growth ultimately enhances the way we manage and serve our team members.
The convening also spurred our renewed focus on providing space and time to build community within our own teams, organizations, and initiatives. The convening showed us that, as leaders of color, we have an opportunity to create spaces to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces. While we have been conducting programs with this intention, like the Deeper Learning Equity Fellows, the summit provided a focused purpose and toolkit for holding these conversations in our work every day. In doing so, we improve how our teams function and build the trust needed to tackle challenges collaboratively.
What’s more, the summit has given us a model to build upon for our own convenings. At this year’s International Conference on Student-Centered Learning, held annually by Big Picture Learning, we established a track specifically for men of color, allowing them to engage in the work of building their own relationships and networks of support moving forward.
At the culmination of the convening, our group was given the moniker “The Florence 10.” Members took pride in this name, as it resembled other groups in American history uniting to build camaraderie and collaborate to resolve challenges--and it kickstarted a professional network of our own. Setting aside time to come together as leaders provides the opportunity to step back, reflect, explore culture and history in real-world ways and build rich, authentic communities with our peers. These communities are critical to supporting leaders of color and catalyzing the systemic change we pursue in our work. In order to lead effectively, we must seize opportunities to connect with other leaders to learn, grow, and develop a multifaceted network to tackle the challenges we all face.
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