Last month at the Strive Together annual conference in Chicago, I remembered what it’s like to physically be in a space with 500 people, listening to someone share their story, their experience, their knowledge - and it was wonderful! The spontaneous and unexpected moments when we all held our breath as one, or were compelled to get up on our feet as a way of showing respect and support, the palpable energy… what an absolute joy not to be on zoom! To not be in a soulless breakout room but actually sitting across from each other, having human connection and all the positive affirmation and encouragement that comes from eye contact, body language, knowing that people are switched on and actively engaged with what you’re saying.
This was just one of many insights that I experienced over the course of the week - the importance of meeting in-person and how we must persevere with getting people round the table in our Feltham Convening Partnership meetings; it really does make a difference to the work! Below are some other insights, in no particular order:
- Language matters
How we choose to talk about our work, our community, people, places… our language needs to reflect our values and our vision, and this requires a level of thought and intentionality that can sometimes be overlooked - and sometimes, quite simply, I think we get lazy! So if we have an asset-based approach to community development (and we do) then our language needs to reflect this. Why do we label young people Not in Education, Employment or Training? Why not label them Opportunity Youth as they do in Thrive Chicago, which makes it clear that (in the words of Liz Dozier) “young people are not a problem to be solved; they just need adults to make better decisions” - in this case, provide better opportunities for them to flourish. Similarly, Braven’s mission statement refers to “promising, underrepresented young people”; again, the young people themselves are not the problem here, the system that disadvantages them is.
- Young people need to be given the opportunity to be their own agents of change
For all the wonderful moments of connection and learning that I experienced throughout the Conference, there were definitely also times when I found myself asking “where are the young people?” It was interesting that Strive chose to end the conference with Eric Liu from Citizen University, whose inspiring speech was a community organising call to arms. He spoke a lot about power: the way it compounds and justifies itself, but also the way in which it is infinite. This made me reflect on how we are being intentional about transferring power to the community and to the systems’ stewards - are we transferring power to young people and supporting them to be their own agents of change? The first step towards this is surely making sure that they’re in the room - and the next step is ensuring that they have the tools, training and support they need to participate on a level with other partners, other power holders. We need to invest in them, and we need to ask them what they need to be able to participate fully, to feel truly powerful.
- “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
I made so many notes during all our meetings and sessions, frantically scribbling down all the pearls of wisdom from partners and keynote speakers: “head + heart = hustle”; “it’s the quality of your care, the quality of your love that counts”; “we’re all better off when we’re all better off” etc. I know that I won’t necessarily remember all of them a week/month/year from now, but I suppose, as Maya Angelou so wisely explains, that’s not really the point, or it shouldn’t be. I will remember how I felt hearing all those things and how the way they were said made me feel compelled to write them down - I was trying to capture the moment, a feeling, as much as anything. Hearing Clint Smith III, Dr West, Liz Dozier, Jonathan at Braven, and the many Strive partners talk about their work, made me feel hopeful, energised, reassured: there is a community of people out there who are doing the stuff, who we can learn from, share best practice and build relationships with, and I mustn’t lose sight of that when we’re in the thick of it. It is also something I need to hold onto when thinking about the many, many convenings that make up the bulk of FCP’s work: how are we making people feel? What will they remember when they leave the room? What will compel them to keep coming back and to drive the work forward?