A New Leadership Academy for a New Decade

Twice I have visited Cooley Landing as part of Green Foothills’ Community Advocates Leadership Academy (CALA). The first time was as a member of the 2018-2019 CALA cohort. Now, on this windy Saturday morning, I’m here as Program Director facilitating the first session of the reimagined CALA.

You could say that this year the proverbial stage was set very much like last year’s. The promise of a warm sun behind fast-traveling clouds and the cold bay breeze seemed to remain. So did the palpable excitement of a brand new cohort coming together. Everyone was on time once again indicating the seriousness of these local leaders.

Unlike previous year’s though, this cohort is part of a program that now has an explicit commitment to equity, specifically to racial justice. CALA, the small passion project brought to Green Foothills by Executive Director Megan Fluke that had become a staple for civic leadership development, is now addressing systemic inequity in the larger context of protecting our natural resources.

Green Foothills Steps into Equity

The work to center and weave equity into CALA’s environmental advocacy lessons was spurred by two factors: (1) alumni feedback pointing out a lack of attention to systemic barriers that marginalized identities face in land conservation and (2) an increased exposure to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the environmental field. This helped drive  Green Foothills’ rethinking of our approach to the Leadership Academy. 

From “Pure” Advocacy to Embracing Messy Processes

The twenty individuals that comprise the 2020 cohort have been brought together with one common goal: to take their leadership skills to the next level in service of nature and community. In addition to ensuring that our cohort is reflective of the racial diversity of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, the CALA sessions include collective exercises, readings, and space for discussion around the ways in which systems of oppression play out in our communities and the world. Our approach also involves transparency and self-reflection, as we deconstruct the ways in which environmental advocacy approaches can both unwittingly contribute to and subvert systems of oppression. 

By the end of the six-month CALA program, participants will have learned how to create an efficient campaign plan, increase their influence, and improve their ability to communicate their advocacy goals and missions. Empowering community leaders with civic advocacy skills and knowledge continues to be a key part of CALA’s function.

A Platform for Justice-Centered Leaders

This commitment to equity as a critical component of the CALA program sealed the deal for me when deciding to join the team at Green Foothills. I have spent the last three years working within the nonprofit field while being part of a movement that addresses the injustices that underrepresented communities in environmental and outdoor spaces face. 

From the marginalization of people of color in the outdoor field, to the benign neglect of inclusive practices by leadership within environmental organizations, I have learned that the upkeep of supportive spaces for community members who bring justice to the forefront of their advocacy is a vital part of protecting our world’s life-giving resources. This is our intention with the reimagined Community Advocates Leadership Academy: to build a more equitable land conservation movement.

Championing Change

We are grateful for the support we have received in making these changes to the CALA program. The new CALA Advisory Board, a group of alumni who are committed to improving this program, have been a key part to bringing critical feedback, new participants, and much-needed funds. The Knight Foundation, the County of San Mateo, and a private donor offered substantial funding that provided the foundational support to implement this new version of the program. Contributions from CALA alumni and supporters also helped us reach our fundraising goals. 

It is both humbling and exciting to be part of this new incarnation of CALA. In the first session alone, I had the privilege of witnessing how this year’s cohort was willing to embrace their vulnerabilities around talking about racism and other systems of oppression. It is rarely easy to dive into these conversations, especially in a group setting. Yet the 2020 CALA cohort successfully created a safe space where their individual origins, experiences, and learnings were honored. I am thrilled to work with this group and facilitate their steps towards liberation in their civic leadership.

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