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Building Community and Backing the Leadership of Younger People and People of Color

Ellie Brown

My Area (Wilmington I) has taken a unique approach to building Community and backing the leadership of younger people and people of color.

For several years we have brought together our Area’s younger people and people of color for Sunday classes. The classes all meet in the same house at the same time. I have been the primary teacher, assisted by other certified teachers, including Apryl Walker, my Alternate Area Reference Person, and Jessica Whitehead, a long-time supporter of our Area. John Irwin, also a certified teacher, experienced leader, and adult ally, attends and supports the classes well.

At first the classes consisted of twenty members. This cycle, there are fifty-five people. Not everyone comes every time. There are usually about forty people, almost all young adults. There are also a few young people, a few adults in their thirties who have done young adult work, and one or two older adult allies. About half of the people are people of color. Apryl, Jess, and I all have people who are important to us in the classes, including close friends and our primary partners outside of RC. John comes with his son Jamie, who grew up with us in RC. Several other leaders have brought their partners, family members, and friends.

The specifics of the classes have changed each year as we’ve thought about next steps for our Community. The basic format has remained the same. Apryl, Jess, and I have led fundamentals classes, ongoing classes, and leaders’ classes. We have backed upcoming leaders to lead smaller discharge groups within these classes.

A LEADERSHIP CLASS

This year we have a leadership class, which I teach. It meets on Sunday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:30 PM. It is made up of eleven young adults, one young person, and one adult. More than half are people of color.

The fundamentals and ongoing classes meet from 7:00 to 9:30 PM, following the leaders’ class. Those attending the leadership class stay after and play important roles in the fundamentals and ongoing classes.

The leadership class includes people who have agreed to discharge on issues key to becoming RC teachers. They also agree to attend the events that RC teachers are expected to attend. They understand that they will probably not be teaching classes in the next short period of time. Instead, most of them will be assistant teachers and leaders or they will support the classes and support groups in our Area in other important ways. During the leadership class we work on issues important to building a strong base with each other—for example, relationships, closeness, and ending racism. Other issues important for RC teachers to work on include policy, addictions, and attacks. Additionally, we think together about fundamentals and ongoing classes.

ROTATING AS PRIMARY TEACHER

Apryl, Jess, and I have rotated as primary teacher for each class. Previously, Apryl was the primary teacher for fundamentals, I was the primary teacher for an ongoing class, and Jess for a leaders’ class. This cycle, Jess has the ongoing class and I have the fundamentals class with Apryl as my primary assistant. Other leadership class members are either leading small discharge groups within the fundamentals and ongoing classes, or assisting with these groups.

MEETING TOGETHER

At the start of the evening the ongoing and fundamentals classes meet together for news and goods, a game, and perhaps workshop reports or a mini-session. Then we split up. Jess takes the ongoing class for theory and discharge and Apryl and I take the fundamentals class. In the fundamentals class, other leaders contribute to the theory by sharing information and examples of how they’ve worked in session on a particular issue. We do mini-sessions and/or demonstrations in front of the whole class and then split into smaller groups for discharge. The smaller groups remain the same over time. They include a primary leader and assistant from the leadership class, as well as a couple of new people. At the end of class, the ongoing and fundamentals classes meet together again—often for Co-Counseling reports, setting up Co-counseling sessions, and a closing circle or game.

GOOD CONTRADICTIONS TO DISTRESS

It has been a contradiction to ageism, racism, isolation, and discouragement to have large numbers of younger people and people of color meeting together on a regular basis. It is fun. We can tell that RC is ours, and we can tell we’re building something exciting together.

That Apryl, Jess, and I lead as a team has contradicted internalized young adult oppression, racism, isolation, and discouragement. It has also been fun to include other leaders. The work is exciting—we can tell that big things are possible when working as a team.

This setup has supported and encouraged the leadership of younger people and people of color. Upcoming leaders have a space in which to try out the various pieces of leadership—thinking about a class, sharing theory, counseling people, tracking people’s progress by keeping contact with them between classes, and so on. Younger people and people of color struggle with oppressions that tell them they’re not good enough or smart enough to be leaders. They have sometimes been pushed into leadership roles without good support. Having a space to try leading piece by piece, in close connection with one another and with good support from experienced leaders, has been particularly useful.

This setup makes it possible for me to see and lead a lot of our Area Co-Counselors quite frequently. I get a chance to notice which issues need to be prioritized for the group as a whole. We’ve moved forward as a group on several fronts. For example, one year we focused part of each class on ending racism. Last year we focused on ending sexism. When we’ve made an issue like this the focus, Area Co-Counselors have moved forward together on the issue.

SUPPORT FOR THE REGION

Our classes have functioned well in part because we have been well supported by Gwen Brown, our Regional Reference Person and my mom, and by others in the Region. They have been generous and smart. They’ve helped us think about our class members at Regional workshops. They’ve backed our group to be central to the Region as a whole. This has made it possible for a group of younger people to be closely connected to each other, connected to older adults, and very much a part of the bigger project.

CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS

There are challenges. The biggest ones relate to consistency and continuity. Because it is such a big group, who is participating can vary considerably from week-to-week. The group’s size can also make it harder for individuals to remember their importance to the group. The numbers and inconsistent attendance make it challenging to build safety.

If I am teaching fundamentals and others are leading discharge groups, I give theory week to week without seeing how the new people are using their discharge time. New people have a relationship with me as overall teacher and a different relationship with the person leading their discharge group. As the primary teacher it makes sense for me to track everyone. However, it’s a challenge to keep track of so many people. It could be important that I, as primary teacher, be in close contact with the new people each step of the way. If I did this I would be best positioned to not only give theory but also counsel people and keep contact between classes.

At the same time, if I were teaching alone I could only teach a few people at once. I would also not be backing the progress of other leaders in my Area as well as is possible under the present arrangement. As leaders went off to teach their own classes they’d be taking on a lot all at once without me being there. I wouldn’t be there to see how things were going and what support was needed for things to go even better. In each class there might be just a couple of younger people or just a couple of people of color. And only one teacher’s eyes would be on the group and only one mind would be wrapped around the next steps.

For all of the challenges, a lot has been great about what we’ve been doing. I love being a team with Apryl, Jess, and the other leaders. We’re staying flexible—each cycle we meet and talk and discharge and re-evaluate. I love how clear it is that we’re building a Community together. I can tell that revolutionary things are happening. I’m excited about where things will go from here.


Last modified: 2016-12-20 14:43:20+00