From the BBC Grant Community: Let the Students LEAD
By The Rev. Meg Wagner
In 2019, Beloved Community Initiative—a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa—received Becoming Beloved Community grant funding to begin an Ethnic Studies Leadership Academy. We envisioned a culturally responsive program for African and African American girls in seventh through ninth grades to learn about equity from the lens of African American historical figures, cultivate leadership skills, and engage in community activism.
Right as we were beginning to launch, the pandemic hit, and in-person activities were suspended. Like so many programs, we took time to pause, discern, and regroup with our partner organization, Sankofa Outreach Connection, a Black women’s empowerment community group. Together we connected with a local high school group, Leaders for Equity, Advocacy, and Diversity (LEAD), to find ways to support them during the pandemic, a time of fear, stress, and uncertainty.
LEAD is a group of students of color who create opportunities to explore advocacy and leadership, and build skills around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Their main goals are to introduce students of color to leadership resources within our community, empower students to take actions toward positive change, and inspire students to reimagine their perspective and outlook of the world around them.
During a regular school year, LEAD would meet once a week to check in, share experiences, provide support, learn leadership skills, and grow in knowledge. Thanks to our partnership, and funding from the grant, they continued this work online, adding in extra academic tutoring, self-care, and other supports that became crucial during the pandemic.
With our support, as they moved back into in-person learning, students carefully selected and hung 14 murals that represented the unique and varied identities of all the students at the school. Program director Carmen Gwenigale reported that the murals, “bring color and diversity to the wall of the school, celebrating identity and a sense of belonging.”
In the fall of 2021, we supported LEAD students as they organized a conference called “Agents of Change” for youth across the school district in junior and senior high to develop their skills, knowledge, and attitudes and to take on leadership roles in their schools and communities. Students helped facilitate a forum for exchanging ideas, concepts, projects, and reflections about school building needs and community issues. Students attending the conference shared their reflections from the day:
- “Never be scared to use my voice and make a difference.”
- “Creating change is hard and it takes time. However, it is easier to accomplish when we work together.”
- “When you work with a team in a respectful manner you can accomplish great things and even things you think are small problems can affect people in big ways.”
Our school district had not offered an opportunity like this conference before, and the hope is that it will be an ongoing way to bring students together across the district who are ready to be the change they want to see in their school and community.
The Rev. Meg Wagner serves as the missioner for Congregational Development, Transitions, and Reconciliation in the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa and is co-founder of Beloved Community Initiative.