"Be the change." Those are three such simple words, yet so powerful. Gandhi's call for each of us to just go become the change we want to see around us is truly the first step to creating stronger communities and bridging the division we've recently seen come out of the woodwork, and scream at us from Facebook and Twitter.
It's also key to spend time around, or "fellowship" as we like to use in these parts as a verb, with positive people who don't live inside their own heads all the time, talking about people instead of ideas. If we want a better world, we have to step outside our heads and go create it. Right now, I'm in love with a simple phrase that one-half of a dynamic BOOM power couple, Yoknyam Dabale, said to us: "There's much more to life than one's self."
I've been blessed this past year to enter into a fellowship of people, the Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network, who believe exactly that and are working together to face our weaknesses, accentuate our strengths and try to become the types of community leaders who can share the tools we're collecting through this three-year fellowship. Our focus is that of the foundation: helping vulnerable children and their families overcome societal and systemic challenges.
My immediate circle of influence among the 120 fellows—who are from Michigan, New Mexico, New Orleans and Mississippi, as well as a race equity cohort from around the country—are the 24 fellows from Mississippi and our four coaches. We are laughing, crying, learning and growing together.
Allow me to introduce them to you. I've asked each to share his or her wish for 2015 (and added my own). Please go to jfp.ms/wkkffellows to add your wishes or ideas for making ours, and yours, come true. We're here to connect all of you to the needs of Mississippi's vulnerable children; please come dream big with us, and then help those wishes become reality. We can do it.
Leslie-Burl McLemore (Mentor)
Director, Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizens and Democracy
2015 Wish: "That we could organize a state-wide lobby group for the poor and unrepresented people."
Shelia R. Nabors
Community Partnership Coordinator, Mississippi Department of Human Services
2015 Wish: "That all people are treated with dignity and respect in that my intervention with them will empower them to reach their fullest potential."
Roberta Avila (Mentor)
Executive Director, Steps Coalition
2015 Wish: "To contribute to and grow the network of racial healing practitioners and racial equity advocates (Ending Racism Within Our Lifetime Network, withinourlifetime.net) to raise awareness about implicit bias and to encourage action to combat its impact."
Tiffany M. Graves
Ridgeland (from Winchester, Va.)
Executive Director, Mississippi Access to Justice Commission
2015 Wish: "Additional federal and state funding for civil legal services to the poor."
Diann M. Payne
Executive Director, Jackson County Civic Action
2015 Wish: "My desire is to leave whoever I encounter and wherever I go better than I found them."
Jackson (from Raymond)
Director, hers: a leadership community
2015 Wish: "I wish that every young woman in Mississippi gets the resources and opportunities to create the life she envisions for herself, her family and her community."
Ya-Sin A. Shabazz
Director of Programs & Development, Hijra House
2015 Wish: "Improve outcomes for Mississippi's young males of color while expanding opportunities in 'green' fields."
Adrian L. Brown
Chairman, Brown & Associates Inc.
2015 Wish: "Through our practice, the ultimate goal is to improve or contribute to the overall quality of life for all communities that we serve."
Director, Mississippi Economic Policy Center
2015 Wish: "That we will spend more time focused on implementing solutions rather than just talking about the problems."
Jackson (from Philadelphia, Miss.)
Editor-in-chief and CEO, BOOM Jackson and Jackson Free Press
2015 Wish: "That I can help more young people find their voices, tell their own stories and find a willing audience to listen and respond to what they need."
Policy Advocacy Director, Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative
2015 Wish: "To dismantle structural and racial inequities and exclusions so historically disadvantaged individuals and communities can have full participation, without fear in the political, social and economic processes. Furthermore, placing them at the policy table to be part of the formation and implementation of public policy."
Kenisha Potter Stevenson
EPSDT Coordinator, UnitedHealthcare
2015 Wish: "To be able to impact positive behaviors in Mississippi's youth specifically related to preventive health measures."
Executive Director, Neshoba Youth Coalition
2015 Wish: "To create a state-wide youth organization that will be the leading catalyst for positive and sustainable change in Mississippi."
Margaret Carey McCray (Mentor)
Circuit Judge, Fourth Judicial District of Mississippi
2015 Wish: "That the worth of each human being is valued, respected and celebrated. Justice, so there is a realistic chance for peace.""
LeKesha L. Perry
CEO and Principal Associate, Key Concepts, LLC
2015 Wish: "To be a giant shoulder that others can stand on, as I stand on the shoulders of giants myself."
Jackson (from Madison)
Executive Director, Springboard to Opportunities
2015 Wish: "That all families will have access to their basic human rights: safe, affordable housing; high-quality education; and the opportunity to develop the skills and talents needed to provide a self-sustaining wage for their family."
Ashley N. McKay
Executive Director, Tunica Teens in Action
2015 Wish: "To make public education a primary issue and fund it to the highest level in the country with the proper reforms bringing all stakeholders to the table with a shared vision."
Kimberly Jones Merchant
Director of Educational Opportunities and the Managing Attorney, Mississippi Center for Justice, Delta office
2015 Wish: "That the education-funding ballot initiative makes the ballot with no alternate or competing language."
Jennifer A. Riley-Collins
Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi
2015 Wish: "That all will remember to measure success in one's life by the significant impact in another's life."
Columbus Arts Council
2015 Wish: "To be a catalyst for change in my community and my state."
Constance Olivia Harvey-Burwell
President, The OLIVIA Group and Senior Community Organizer and Board Member, Legacy Education and Community Empowerment Foundation
2015 Wish: "That all young girls would appreciate their differences and not settle for anything less than the best."
Starkville (from Grenada)
Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, Mississippi State University 2015 Wish: "Increase understanding and collaboration in a polarized society."
MSU/ Excel By 5-Delta Sites Coordinator
2015 Wish: "My hope is to continue creating a culture of possibilities in the Delta!"
Derek F. Greenfield
New Orleans, La.
Higher Education/Diversity Consultant
2015 Wish: "For a world of inclusion, peace, empowerment and justice—and I pledge to do all that I can to be part of the movement to make it all happen."
Reginald M. Buckley
Pastor, Cade Chapel M. B. Church
2015 Wish: "That Mississippians will move forward together through the formation of authentic relationships and alliances that cross cultural and social walls that have for too long held our state's progress captive."
Jackson (from Charleston, Miss.)
Executive Director, K.I.N.G.S. Leadership Institute Inc.
2015 Wish: "Develop programs to assist black males to become socially responsible for their families, communities, and state by understanding and embracing leadership, academic success, and personal responsibility."
Justin Archer Burch
Associate, Foundation for the Mid South
2015 Wish: "To employ Mississippians!"
Add yours: jfp.ms/wkkffellows.