Our journey begins on December 28th in our nation’s capital. A dozen young Solutionaries from all ends of the country are convening at the Steinbruck Center in downtown DC. From Arleta, California and Reno, Nevada in the west to West Virginia in the east, these intrepid travelers join up with hosts from the new Washington DC Summer of Solutions program to learn the skills they will need to empower other young people through their programs and produce real green economy solutions. It is the beginning of the first of the 2013 January Gathering trainings (yes, even in late December), where we will work together to transform our minds and get prepared to run incredible programs this summer.
The DC January Gathering was a cozy kick-off to the trainings marathon that we run every January. With eight program leaders, six of them new leaders at new programs, we built close relationships as we gained skills in community organizing, working with the media, and training our participants. Particularly notable was our Anti-Oppression conversation, where we examined past examples of difficult injustices that programs had worked to rectify and dug into improved approaches. We each brainstormed what we knew and didn’t know about the histories of our own communities and planned action steps for learning more.
There was fun and games as well. We forwent the usual no-talent show, which is like a talent show where you don’t have to be good, in favor of collaboratively finishing a 500 piece puzzle in under 50 minutes. At the DC program’s New Year’s Eve fundraiser, many of us found ourselves locked in a two hour long Scrabble battle, which was ultimately won by one point. Jenny from the West Virginia program stunned us all with delicious brownies with the primary ingredient of black beans.
At the close of the week, the newly equipped program leaders set off with feelings of empowerment, connection, and preparedness.
The solutionary wave got started again at the Hapeville Gathering on January 9. Hapeville is a small city just south of Atlanta, and it was the perfect site for our Southeast-centered Gathering. Program leaders David and Shriradha welcomed leaders of the Raleigh, NC; Little Rock, AR; and Johnson City, TN programs into their home for a snug five days together. Thanks to the beautiful weather, we were able to do a number of our trainings outside.
The Hapeville Gathering brought together folks from very different points in the planning process. The Little Rock program is just in the starting stages of their program, but is already engaging directly with their participants for the summer who they recruited through a local application process. At the same time, the Raleigh program is entering their 3rd summer program and beginning to build a more stable, long-term organization, including the establishment of a regional steering council for both (and in the future, all) Full Circles Foundation programs. It was great to hear different program leaders bringing in their diverse experience to help each other problem solve.
On the third day of the Gathering, we were able to visit the Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, and speak with Jesse Clark, the executive director of the Historical District Development Corporation (HDDC) that manages property on the surrounding block. Visiting the Dr King Center was an opportunity to ground ourselves in a long history of organizing for justice and to orient ourselves by an effective, community-based movement. Talking to Jesse about the modern-day challenges his organization works to address in the neighborhood was illuminating and got me thinking about the long term impacts of our work.
After the close of the Hapeville Gathering, it was on to Chicago! Joe Gorman and Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, the other two trainers who attended all three Gatherings, enjoyed the break by attending a different conference with the Energy Action Coalition back in DC, then rejoined the team at the United Church of Rogers Park, a long-standing ally of the Chicago Summer of Solutions program. This was the biggest Gathering yet, with leaders from the Hartford, CT; Middleton, WI; Iowa City, IA; and Twin Cities, MN program joining the host team.
The Chicago Gathering had the most program leaders overall, with 22 leaders, and the most returning leaders of any Gathering. To accomodate the large group, we split up for many sessions. For the first time, we had advanced versions of our Training the Trainers and Business Modeling workshops. We were able to have three simultaneous Anti-Oppression workshops: one on a deep review of the concept, one on building justice through our green economy project work, and one on facilitating liberating relationships within the program itself.
We were lucky to be able to feature a guest workshop from Circles and Ciphers, a leadership development program for prison, court, and gang involved youth that uses hip hop and restorative justice principles. Two representatives from Circles and Ciphers, one of whom is also a program leader with Chicago Summer of Solutions, led an overview and demonstration of some restorative justice principles, using listening circles and movement activities. The workshop offered a different perspective and was a great window into the work that Circles and Ciphers does.
In many ways, the Chicago Gathering represented a step forward for our training events. With more offerings and more returning programs, this Gathering provided a window into the future of the organization as we move through founding and into established programs, working for the long term in our communities. I am excited to see how our January Gatherings in 2014 reflect the growth of our organization. For now, I’m just happy to be back home in Minneapolis.
Ruby Levine is the National Gatherings Coordinator for Grand Aspirations.