I was sitting on my couch reading a book when one of my friends emailed me about the BK Foundation Leadership Exchange. “Not another leadership event!” I thought to myself. I read the email with an apprehensive predisposition and got back to my reading. However, over the course of the next two weeks, I had the event at the back of my mind — something about the intergenerational aspect had me curious. At the last minute, I decided to go.
As I walked into the office of Berrett-Koehler Publishing I was greeted by two very cheerful and friendly people. They signed me in and welcomed me into a spacious room lit by abundant morning light, with a mesmerizing view of the beautiful city of Oakland. I looked around the room and saw unfamiliar but friendly faces. I lingered around the snacks, giving my introvert self, something legitimate to do. Then we began. We were seated in a big circle that felt welcoming, equal, natural and yet unprecedentedly intimate. From habit I put up my guard, my professional persona hiding my complete self.
But activity after activity I felt myself loosening, my authenticity feeling safe and then safe enough to surface. I started laughing louder, feeling a kinship with people whose names I hardly knew. This was different then what my countless experiences had been in the Bay Area. I was starting to feel gratitude bring down my guard.
In the morning the room of forty people were engrossed in a conversation about race and spirituality through the lens of Critical Race Theory. During lunch, we mindfully ate a delicious meal. Our discussion revealed the beauty of my fellow participants, who were brave enough to be vulnerable and taught me it was safe for me to be too. This was the perfect preparation for the second half of our day where we got to reflect on our needs as leaders and seek support from others. What ensued was the most deeply personal yet constructive conversation I’d had in a long time. It was truly uplifting to hear familiar words and experiences from new voices. I felt I was not alone in my struggle to do the work that I do.
I heard people sing, share stories, share joy and simply be themselves.
I felt a deep human connection. I laughed, cried and even danced. Most importantly, I belonged.