Just what had I gotten myself into? A few months ago, I was honored to be selected as a 2012 fellow for the D.C. Chapter of the New Leaders Council (NLC), a national non-profit dedicated to training and connecting the next generation of progressive political entrepreneurs.
There was elation in the room -- almost palpable -- when our class of fellows finally convened early on a Saturday morning in January. Months after the nomination and application process, the interviews and, ultimately, selection (which occurred just in time for the holidays), we spoke to each other in what began our first group activity. In a session reminiscent of Christmas Day, we began to unwrap each other, introducing our partners to the group, and unveiling a high-quality mélange of young professionals. We came to see a distinguished collection of individuals with a commitment to progressive values and a demonstrated capacity to get things done.
A motley array of public, private, and non-profit sector professionals from across the country, the class resembles what America's political landscape may look like in some 20 years: 50 percent women and 60 percent minorities in the NLC-DC chapter. Keenan Austin, a vivacious African American aide to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, would later comment, "The diversity of our class reflects the progressive values and vision the organization carries in shaping a more just nation. We are really following the constitutional vision of our founding fathers to continuously strive for 'a more Perfect Union.'"
The fellowship training was also a top-notch showcase, bringing in A+ grade speakers into the luxury executive meeting room with a crystal-clear view of the White House. That first day we left through the revolving doors onto Pennsylvania Avenue, refreshed and revitalized, and with a sense that our group could really change the world. After only three months, I can honestly say that we will never again be the same.
The District of Columbia is a natural epicenter for new political talent, luring all types from ambitious former senior class presidents to collegiate activists who have started human rights or labor campaigns, excited to take their leadership to the next level in our nation's capital. The 22 fellows are the cream of the crop, promising minds committed to remedying economic and social ills, new and old. Sharing common progressive values and an overall common goal, we were drawn to NLC seeking the answer to a simple question: "How do I do it?"
The NLC Fellow Institute is a national, volunteer-run 501 (c) 3, 5-month rigorous training program for a diverse yet select group of young professionals (age 24 - 35). The NLC recruits its high-caliber applicants through professional referrals. At once-monthly Institute seminars, experts provide advanced training in entrepreneurship, communications and marketing, fundraising and campaign management, public speaking and speech writing, and political technology and public relations. NLC combines leadership development training with mentoring, networking, and job placement opportunities, so that the Fellows will learn how to translate education into action and retain their new skills.
Sharing this life-altering opportunity with such a dynamic, enthusiastic, and promising crop of dreamers and achievers, is inspiring, as is witnessing the transition as we realize how to build on the abilities, skills, and knowledge we already possess. We fellows are undergoing the realization of the selves lying dormant within us, and NLC is helping to trace the path between where we stand now and the world that we dream to live to see.
One outstanding trainer, Jake Brewer, Strategist and Campaign Architect for Fission Strategy, challenged us by asking, "How big is your agenda?" We giggled at the question, unsure whether to voice the audacity of our visions for the world in the coming decade and beyond. In a word, for us, our agenda is "unlimited." That is the nature of progressives to hold a vision of a world worth working for and to never be satisfied with the status quo as long as our environment is in peril and human potential is squandered by inequity and injustice. Until then, time is our best friend.
While NLC is volunteer-run, it still has to meet certain costs so that the fellows can participate free of charge. So each chapter concludes their program with a fundraiser to raise money for the next class of fellows. Our chapter's fundraiser, "PUNDITS, POLITICIANS and PROGRESSIVES: an Evening Reception for NLC" will be held on Thursday, May 17, 2012 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at Opera Ultra Lounge, 1400 I Street, N.W. The evening will feature remarks noteworthy progressive leaders Krystal Ball, Robert Raben, and Congressmen Jared Polis and Keith Ellison, as well as cocktails, and music. There we will honor of the 2012 Leadership Institute class of fellows.
Another fellow '12, Matt Kaplan, a senior consultant at Booz-Allen Hamilton, and a former captain of the Oberlin college basketball team, shared his insightful view on his generation, "The Millennials have good ideas to move America forward and we are not going to wait on the sidelines to get into the game."
It is our turn. It is time for the next generation of progressive leaders to get behind the wheels, power-shift gears, and start driving our future. In the not-distant future I see fellows representing Pakistani-American communities with the federal government, introducing an economic redevelopment plan for Ohio, running for local and national office and counseling elected officials, pioneering new technology to delicately advise Arab Spring countries transitioning into fledgling democracies, advocating for 10 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people all over the nation, managing public relations firms, hosting a national talk radio and television shows, and leading non-profit and for-profit organizations. In short, we will be doing our part to make the world a better place.