There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself—and if you can not hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences, and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.
Based on excerpts from Dr. Howard Thurman’s Baccalaureate Address at Spelman College, May 4, 1980, as edited by Jo Moore Stewart for The Spelman Messenger Vol. 96 No. 4 (Summer 1980), 14-15.
Participants of the 2014 Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists
On the afternoon of December 11, 2014, only weeks before the beginning of this new year and amid the backdrop of anguish and activism in our country, 32 young leaders and 5 Courage & Renewal facilitators gathered outside of Atlanta, GA for Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists retreat. We came from various parts of North America from a wide range of sectors including: education, healthcare, food justice, ministry, social entrepreneurship, law, and nonprofits. Together we would create a Circle of Trust where each one of us was invited to listen for what Howard Thurman calls the sound of the genuine in ourselves and to be present to the sound of the genuine in each other.
Just hours before the start of the retreat, Marcy Jackson, Stephen Lewis, Parker Palmer, Matthew Williams and I shared a smaller circle, acknowledging how our own hearts were holding both grief and hope and the ways we, too, were wrestling with our own difficult and demanding questions. And also we acknowledged, to paraphrase a poem by Wendell Berry, that what we needed was here.
And so it was.
We were together for just under 48 hours—barely two full days—but long enough, in the words of one participant, to create “a countercultural space where all are invited and welcome to be their most authentic self . . . [to take] a journey into the heart in order to understand its complexity, simplicity, its most current condition . . . [to experience] a time for renewal, reconnecting with the self that is courageous, confident, and whole.”
For many, our time together introduced principles and practices that allow something essential, but often elusive, to emerge. As one young leader said: “After months of trying to connect with my true self in the margins of my life, the retreat offered a container and a community to have a deep, honest and heartfelt conversation with my self which has awakened in me a renewed sense of wholeness and strength.”
Perhaps there has never been a time when generative spaces between and among people have been more necessary or when our world has held a greater need for people to lead from within. For my own part, I left our time together filled with a tenacious hope that as we keep straining against the many forms of injustice in the world, change will come. A deep source of the wisdom and energy needed to shape a different future is held in the hearts and souls of young leaders like the ones who formed our circle.
And there is more. As we shared expressions of gratitude with one another in closing, these vibrant and innovative leaders and activists offered encouragements which came to me as a clarion call for the Center for Courage & Renewal and its worldwide network of facilitators: “There is elegance here that is so brilliant. Be wary of its preservation. Continue to create spaces like this that so beautifully coax forth the soul. Continue to offer this sacred space, for all who find it surely need it.” Or more simply, “Convene. Convene. Convene.”
Another participant put it this way, “To empower young people to mine their own wisdom rather than searching the wisdom of others is a profound contribution to the field of leadership development. And yet! Yet the process itself is shrouded in the wisdom of our elders.”
Truly, we are all in this together.
Kathryn McElveen is the President of inVision Ventures, a company specializing in leadership coaching, facilitation and collaborative program design. After more than a decade working in education and community-based nonprofits, Kathryn discovered a passion for helping leaders join “soul” and “role” for personal, organizational and cultural transformation. She especially appreciates working with diverse groups whose different backgrounds, experiences and world views enrich and inspire mutual formation.
Join Kathryn McElveen’s upcoming Courage & Renewal program:
Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Ministers: A 6-month Leadership Intensive for Faith Leaders to Renew, Reflect, and Reconnect
Spring – Fall 2015 in Atlanta, Colorado Springs, and Milwaukee | Learn about the program >>