Thursday, June 29, 2017

Elaine SummerfieldAfter five intensive modules, the newly graduated Fellows of the 2017 Community Trustbuilding Fellowship are taking their learning into their daily life and work. “This experience gave me courage to step into a new role,” says Elaine Summerfield, the new acting executive director of Richmond Opportunities Inc. which provides holistic support to all of Richmond’s public housing residents. As the city works across sectors to reduce poverty, ROI will be responsible for the coordination of services among nonprofits and government agencies, efficient allocation of resources and evaluation of short-term and long-term goals. Elaine, who was a pivotal leader at The Community Foundation for a decade, says of CTF, "I did not realize how much I would change personally...with what I have learned and the support of the cohort, I feel like I'm cracked open and ready for a new challenge."

Summerfield’s comments are echoed by many of the participants. Marlou Pieper, a former corporate executive assistant from West Des Moines, Iowa, who now focuses on racial healing, says: “For people to come together their hearts have to be changed and transformed by knowing the hearts of others. Only in this way can we do the work of reconciliation. I will continue this journey and trust I'll be led to the right places. I am not the same person I was in 2016.”

Albert WalkerWith a diverse class drawn from six US states as well as one participant from Rwanda, there were sometimes difficult and painful conversations. But in the words of one Fellow, “The container was strong enough to keep us all here.” Albert Walker, the healthy community liaison with Bon Secours Health System, told his classmates, “Thanks for allowing me to be vulnerable, confront, absorb and work out my stuff.” Walker and his colleagues at Bon Secours work with Richmond’s underserved neighborhoods with the vision that building healthier communities requires a “systemic, ecological, multi-sector approach that acknowledges all of the social determinants of health such as housing, education, employment, public safety and social justice.”

Osita Iroegbu is a first generation Nigerian-American, a doctoral student and community advocate. She calls the Fellowship “a life-altering experience in which I've reflected bountifully on the fact that it’s not just the end points that are important, but it's also the ways in which we relate to and interact with others along the journey that lead to transformation and healing. This includes how we grow as an individual and community within the process.” 

Matthew Freeman and Jeanne IslerThe faculty team is headed by Matthew Freeman of TMI Consulting, specialists in designing and implementing diversity and inclusion strategies for business, government, and community organizations. The program co-leader is Jeanné Isler who supports social justice nonprofit organizations with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) in Washington, DC. She was a Caux Scholar in 2006.

Matthew, who himself graduated from CTF in 2005, knows first-hand the life-changing effect of the program: “As a graduate of the Fellowship over a decade ago the impact of the class, for me, was because of the immersion into a rather diverse group of people from many walks of life, different backgrounds, different races, genders, and ages – all of whom share the goal of building bridges of trust across the world’s divides.

“On many days, it felt like the similarities ended there as we wrestled together with honest conversations about difficult topics. In the end, despite our many differences, strong bonds were formed that, for me, have lasted over a decade.

“In the current era of extreme political polarization, an uptick in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, and fraying civil discourse, CTF creates a much needed haven from that toxic environment during its five weekend retreats, and empowers trust builders to go back into the world to make a difference. Its relevance is only increasing as we seek to create peace in uncertain times.” 

Mike BerryEach graduate is committed to implementing the principles and tools taught in CTF through creative new practical projects or by supporting ongoing constructive efforts for change in their communities. Mike Berry, a pastor and community activist in Annapolis, Maryland,  is working with an emerging coalition of clergy, citizens and historic trust leaders to relocate a statue of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney which is currently in a prominent position in the Maryland State Capitol. Taney authored the notorious landmark 1857 Dred Scott Decision that denied citizenship rights and dehumanized African Americans, institutionalizing racism into the legal system. The goal of Mike Berry and his colleagues is to ensure an honest and inclusive telling of history.

At the final weekend module, civil rights warriors Audrey and Collie Burton told how their decisions in the mid-80s to make personal changes and to reach out to others who were different helped to lay the foundations for what is now known as Hope in the Cities. Anjum Ali,(CTF 2005) a leader of the Islamic community, and Abigail Ballew (CTF 2016) who comes from an evangelical background, discussed how they have focused on the models of justice and humanitarianism in their respective faith traditions. CTF program manager Elnora Allen (CTF 2004) and Bob Petres (CTF 2017), a medical doctor, shared their work of “history, healing and hope.” Duron Chavis (CTF 2015) told how he is putting his new perspectives to work as a community activist and urban gardener. 

Osita Iroegbu“The Fellowship has added greatly to our intellectual and spiritual arsenal as truth and justice seekers,” says Osita Iroegbu. “There is a Nigerian saying which goes: ‘A tree does not move if there is no wind.’ I encourage all of us to continue living in ways that allow us to be the fierce and gentle winds that cause the trees to sway toward peace and justice, never growing weary or bowing to hopelessness or despair.  As another Igbo/Nigerian proverb prompts us: 'Jisie-Ike - Let us hold on tight to our strength and power.'"