By Phillip Agnew
Director, Dream Defenders
We arrived after an epic (seriously epic) 24 hour drive from Miami, FL to the Center. We picked up folks in Orlando, Gainesville, and Tallahassee, FL. It was a crazy experience to start off the program with. Someone (me) missed our turn into Georgia and wound up driving all the way to Pensacola. That caused us to have to drive the whole state of Alabama on local/state roads in order to get back to our correct course. In all, it added about 3 hours to our trek. Still, everyone remained in extremely high spirits (even Shamile who can’t stand road trips). Seeing this really reinforced the excitement about our time together as well as the amazing team that we had assembled.
Our Bloc Leaders are diverse and range from experienced immigrant rights organizers to fresh(wo)men in college new to organizing and social justice. They are 20 of the most insightful, creative, driven young people that Florida has to offer.
We arrived in New Market, TN at 5:30am on Friday morning…and…proud to report 100% on time attendance to our morning session at 10am.
After breakfast, we gathered outside and our amazing, skilled, knowledgeable, able facilitators Carmen and Kazu led us in our opening ceremony. As the wind blew through the mountains our 23 person delegation from all over Florida and North Carolina began to form the foundation that was needed for the weekend and for the greater work.
Carmen and Kazu were brilliant. Absolutely amazing. Their facilitation allowed us to begin the journey of understanding lifetimes of experience in nonviolence and its teachings while giving the entire group the opportunity to engage in a real discussion about what it meant to the movement today and moving forward.
Friday continued with a foundational understanding of the principles, history, and application of nonviolence: from Gandhi to King to today. Kazu led us in a way that was purposeful yet flexible. It was interactive and challenged us to consider nonviolence (not non-violence) in an individual and collective framework. We ended around the fire: casting in it our fears, insecurities and doubts. My favorite part of the day was the opening/closings. After the long drive, I feared that we would lose momentum during the first day and that, possibly, the entire workshop would suffer. This wasn’t the case. We have our facilitators to thank for that.
Saturday began with much excitement as we were promised an expert panel to discuss many of the deep questions and doubts around nonviolence amongst our group. Saturday we were also tasked with the very important work of introducing nonviolence as a tool for organizing to a group of folks still questioning its’ relevance. It was also our transition day: from nonviolence to organizing/strategy work.
Kazu began the day with trickery as it turned out that we were the expert panel on nonviolence. “Fake it till you make it.” The exercise allowed for each of us to debate the merits and values of nonviolence while challenging each other deeply. It ended with a lunch viewing of the award winning documentary film: Mighty Times | The Children’s March. It brought many of our Leaders to tears and ignited a great anger, resolve, excitement, and determination in each of us.
Elandria opened up the afternoon session with a heavy task. She answered the call. The agenda went out the window, but it allowed for our Leaders to think outside of the box and really flourish creatively. It facilitated them bringing their whole selves into our organizing training and organization. She was able to reach into and bring out many of the deep uncertainties that were brewing throughout the weekend and before. Day two ended with more questions than answers: just how it should. A highlight of the day was the light bulbs that flickered and erupted during Elandria’s introduction. She linked creativity, economics, education, love, strategy, and history together in a way that was magical and a joy to be a part of.
Day 3 started a bit rocky. It was the only day that we didn’t open with the spiritual grounding/cleansing ceremony and we all felt it. We hunkered down in some of the “weeds” of our work: power mapping, one-to-ones, strategy, community mapping. Elandria was able to shepherd us through this process as best she could but we stumbled into the finish line as the toll of a nonstop four days began to take its toll. We closed the weekend as we opened it: with a circle. We disassembled our alter and reflected on a transformational weekend.
And this was where the magic happened. I’m glad that we caught it on tape. We sang, and we prayed together. We had members pray in Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, and English and the power of that moment swept us all up. It solidified our community and rounded out our experience.
I learned a lot about myself, my leadership and our team during those three days in the mountains of Tennessee. I must do more to develop myself and my understanding of the work that we are engaged in. There were too many times where I felt underprepared to lead. I told myself that I wanted to observe, but was that a cop out? We still must work to have better communication to facilitate more transparency within our ranks. We have nothing to hide…yet we still do it. I must not allow my insecurities to hinder my abilities to step up and step back in leadership. We also have much work to do in politicizing, developing, and preparing our leaders for true leadership: within our ranks and in the world. Our staff has a long way to go as well. Some of us shun new ideas. Others accept them too quickly. We have to slow down and smell the roses. What we are building is beautiful and will change the lives of many. We should relish in that more often. We are all finding our way, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Also, just being at the Highlander was heavy. To know that we were now a part of a lineage that included many of the women and men that we love and look to for inspiration, was motivating and sobering.
All told, this weekend was everything that I envisioned. I want to thank Carmen, Kazu, Elandria, and Gina for your vision, dedication and donationsJ. I am looking forward to seeing the seeds planted that weekend flourish into everything we see in our wildest of dreams.
Note: Click HERE to read more reflections from our training at the Highlander Center.