New Relationships, Lifelong Friends and Love at the Core
This past March the first class of WKKF’s Community Leadership Fellowship completed the program. Fellows presented their third year projects, shared their reflections and spoke about the actions they will take to improve the daily lives of various groups, including: children in public schools, families from different racial, ethnic and economic spaces, women of color aspiring to advance their careers, men who wish to be fathers fully present in the lives of their children, emerging entrepreneurs in Indian Country, and immigrants seeking to participate in school activities and other civic efforts. Racial equity and healing was at the core of the 50-plus projects presented. Presentations were thoughtfully presented and provided a bird’s eye view of the work that is certain to unfold — and continue — in the coming years.
As a former fellow I have found myself thinking about the connections that were formed. More important to me, however, are the relationships that transcended the planned fellowship learning space, a given cohort, distance and geography. I witnessed as Class 1 members helped each other through emergencies and losses, and other unexpected life realities that took place throughout the three-year period. From raising funds to help a class member experiencing a horrific accident, to other forms of energetic and unconditional support, Class 1 was presente! (present).
This reminded me of my own fellowship and how my class has continued to stay connected to each other. Undoubtedly, the fellowship begins as a structured program bringing together individuals who are committed to their leadership development, and to work that advances social change and equity. None of this can happen unless deeply rooted, respectful and trusting relationships are the basis of any of this work.
Nearly two decades after my Kellogg Foundation fellowship experience (Let’s hear it for Class 16!), I still follow some basic patterns to remain connected to my class members. Many in my class have become friends who I love and respect. Several of them provided support during challenging times, such as when they learned of my father’s untimely death. So how do I stay connected? It’s not easy but with some effort, I do! For example:
- If I am contacted by a classmate, I respond within a 24–48 hour window. I’ll call or e-mail as soon as I can.
- If I’m traveling and learn that there is a Kellogg Foundation fellow in the vicinity, city or country I reach out prior to my travel to see if s/he is available for a quick visit, coffee or bite to eat. Failure to connect is not one of my options and there is a unspoken understanding of a common life journey.
- If I learn of a tool, conference or activity that could benefit a particular fellow or class member, I email or scribble a quick note and drop it in the mail.
Members of my class have organized gatherings. Our most recent was held in Minnesota, thanks to the organizing work of my classmates, Paul Gam and Ken Fox. Two years before, we met in Chicago. I recall that our first gathering took place in Philadelphia, hosted by Kimberly Camp, another member of my class. At this point in our lives, we are sharing tales of college graduations, marriages (or divorces) and yes, grandchildren (for some), personal and professional discoveries (for all), family transitions (the loss of loved ones), and some of our physical frailties. This, of course, from a class that had great Outward Bound hikers and amazing athletes!
Do we stay connected? Yes we do! Why? Because we traveled together for three years, we shared our work, we inspired each other, and now, we have a connectedness that transcends our fellowship experience.
This, I believe, is the Kellogg Foundation fellowship experience: the creation of communities supporting each other and staying the course to create the world we all envision.
And the values Kellogg Foundation Fellows (1700-plus strong!) embrace: helping people help themselves, improving the lives of future generations, respecting individuals and honoring their values and cultures, and staying on a leadership pathway with post signs that keep us grounded: justice, equity, integrity, purpose, action and above all, love for each other.
I cherish my Kellogg Foundation fellows — brothers and sisters — then, and now. Now if only one of my classmates could find me a ticket to Hamilton, I’d live happily ever after!
Originally published in Communities Linked by WKKF. Reprinted with permission.