Racial Equity and the Power of Voice at the Core of the Inaugural Institute for Community Change Leaders

January 1, 2019

People from all backgrounds and geographic areas, nonprofits, government agencies, community based organizations and educational institutions – came together for a week to explore what it means to be a leader in the 21st Century. Everyday Democracy’s first Institute for Community Change Leaders was held in December 2018, in Southbury, Connecticut.  Forty-seven community leaders were selected from 15 states through a competitive application process.

The purpose of the Institute was to build on their community engagement and dialogue-based expertise toward achieving positive outcomes in their communities. The Institute provided a unique experience to deepen their leadership in engaging community, in using a racial equity lens, and in leveraging the power of voice and participation as a pathway to equitable change on the issues each community is facing.

“The energy and eagerness for community change each brought into the Institute created a dynamic foundation for reaching the Institute’s goals. 
Each change leader walked away with enthusiasm to carry forward their individual plans for the continued work happening in their respective communities,”
stated Gwen Whiting, Director of Training and Leadership Development.   

Day One of the Institute focused on answering the question “Why Now?” Why focus on developing and connecting emerging and seasoned change leaders?  How do we lead in ways that promote equity and inclusiveness it the 21st Century? Day one also began the process of building relationships across age, gender, geography, and perspectives.

Day Two concentrated on leadership in the 21st Century and challenged participants to think differently about what it means to be a leader. How do we lead from a place of courage? A place of service?  A place of advocacy? Or how do we experience leadership as a journey?

Day Three allowed participants to dive into racial and intergenerational equity and outlined the structural barriers in place that need to be overcome. Participants explored what it means to lead multigenerational groups where issues of power, decision making and equity are central to collaborative work.

Day Four provided an opportunity for participants to share their work through both their successes and challenges. They shared different ways of engaging the community with emphasis on issue framing, organizing and facilitation, as well as planning for “what’s next?”

Day Five was spent celebrating connections, defining personal commitments, discussing Phase Two of the Institute and identifying a series of actions the attendees will take toward progressive change in their communities.

Among the diverse group of young and emerging, older and experienced men and women in attendance, there were activists, neighborhood development professionals, government and non-profit leaders, those who work with the criminal justice sector, and representatives from the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters.

“Participants really appreciated the design of this inaugural Institute,” said Carolyne Abdullah, Senior Director of the Strengthening Democratic Capacity team at Everyday Democracy. “The Institute allowed for connecting, exploration, skill building and self-care.” 

97% rated the Institute either good or excellent but participants also offered suggestions to make subsequent learning opportunities even better. This cohort of Community Change Leaders will continue their experience by participating in a series of webinars to go deeper in their understanding of community engagement work with a racial and intergenerational equity lens (Phase 2); mentoring with seasoned practitioners in the field of community change work (Phase 3); and a participating in an evaluation and assessment process to strengthen the Institute going forward (Phase 4).

A word from participants and facilitators:
"They came from all corners of the US (and Haiti), as parts of teams and as individuals, representing the spectrum of community engagement and social justice work that Everyday Democracy stands for.  They brought enthusiasm, a readiness to be part of something bigger, and an array of skills that they shared with each other throughout the week.”

"The learning pods are critical in a group this large. They allowed you to go much deeper into topics and build an even "safer space" within the group. The facilitated dialogues were also very important. And, the discussion about leadership and power."

"Out of all the people who attended, I identified only one person who I did not get a chance to speak to. That's pretty amazing!"

More to come

This Institute was not a one-time event.  More information about the actions these participants are taking in their communities, and upcoming learning opportunities will be shared on an ongoing basis, so please visit to stay connected.


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Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.