On the weekend of April 25-26, our 2015 Fellows met for their fourth weekend of institute, entitled “Progressive Ecosystems.” They spent 2 days discussing leadership & management principles, our upcoming fundraiser, and hearing from community leader Prophet Walker.

We invited our fellows to reflect on their experiences. We’re grateful to Paul Tran and Aida Mariam for sharing these thoughtful insights.


“Dare to Dream” By Paul Tran

“I wanted to create a place for children to dream again,” explained Prophet Walker to our NLC class this past weekend. He was talking about the impetus for creating a camp for under-privileged youth but also expanded on an important point he made earlier – do we even dream anymore and if no, then why not?

This struck a chord with me for a few reasons. One big reason was because I work with kids in my day job. Every time I interview kids for work, my favorite question is always: what do you want to be when you grow up? I love hearing the different dreams some of these kids have and see their personality shine through. For example, the other day a 14 year old girl from Bay View declared to me she was going to become an Olympic swimmer one day and a Defense Attorney. She said it with such conviction that I had no other option but to believe her.

The other point to Prophet’s statement resonated with me in a different way. What are my dreams? What is stopping me from daring to dream? As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” My big issue was self-doubt and the need to be brutally honest with myself. What am I interested in versus what am I committed to?

I realized early on that part of the self-doubt that I had came from a lack of skill-set needed to achieve what I wanted. All of the Institute weekends so far have provided many valuable skills and experiences that make a farfetched dream seem more plausible. The other factor in removing self-doubt is the amazing NLC family rooting for everyone. From our amazing Chapter Directors, to the NLC Board and Class of Leadership Fellows, everyone is supportive during every step of the fellowship. The old Zulu saying rings so true, “If you go alone you can go fast, but if you go together you can go far.”

Looking forward, it is clear how transformative this program will be for each of us. The individualized capstone project – a detailed life planning document that set outs our personal and professional goals and the concrete steps to achieve these goals – is our conduit to make our dreams come true and separate interest from commitment. It will be an opportunity to get honest feedback and help to achieve something we each care passionately about. But the real lesson from the capstone project is that we can all do this with people in our lives, including with strangers. Encourage people, show love and provide support and people will not only start daring to dream but act on it. This was Prophet’s inspiring prescription to the question he posed.

“Iron Sharpens Iron” By Aida Mariam

Standing witness to deaths of Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Eric Gardner, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Alisia Thomas, Ayana Stanley-Jones, Freddie Gray, and the many other black people killed at the hands of police has left many unanswered questions for us. Questions like: How do we address institutional racism? Do black lives matter? What does real police accountability look like? What does justice look like? How do we stand in solidarity with the marginalized and neglected? What does a world without prisons look like?

These questions and many others are the kinds of conversations that coincide with our NLC Institute trainings. At April’s Leadership Institute we were given important tools and allowed space for critical dialogue around how we re-imagine our communities and world. We, as a cohort, have recognized the long term struggle we’ve entered for justice and dignity from a system that has long served unequal outcomes.

It was especially valuable spending time learning how to use polling data as indicators and proxies for attitudes and behavior when applied to real issues, like Californian’s attitudes of anti-Death Penalty initiatives. Examining the nuances of sample size, focus group vs. survey, and possible polling questions served to be a great addition to our progressive tool box. Sunday, we spent the morning listening to the journey of Prophet Walker, a young progressive leader and activist from Los Angeles. His inspiring and heart-wrenching story of being abandoned by his mother at a young age, getting incarcerated, becoming a father, graduating from to college, starting a business and running for office in his hometown of Watts all by the age of 25 is the kind of story of redemption we hope to make normal in our society. He modestly spoke of his journey while being painstakingly intentional to encourage our potential, emphasize our collective greatness, and to never give up.

What I am most grateful for in my NLC experience has been the fellowship, community and camaraderie I’ve experienced with such beautiful souls in my cohort. The endlessly deep commitment to justice, dignity and courage is truly remarkable. Our collective values and individual identities speak to the caring, concerned people I’ve grown to call family. I’ve experienced real courage, conviction, and commitment by my NLC sisters and brothers to embrace challenges and suffering, stand with the abused and marginalized, confront injustice, and pursue self-discovery.

One of my favorite adages is “iron sharpens iron” and since joining NLC I’ve never felt sharper.