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A new initiative at Fresno EOC hopes to help ignite passions for leadership and community. The agency recently launched the BLAC (Black Leadership Activating Community) Initiative. The centerpiece of the initiative is a six-month leadership program led by Kevin Williams, who says the goal is to “invest in our community intentionally by shaping leadership around how it’s culturally relevant.”The leadership program’s first cohort has eight members ranging in age from 15 to 34. The youngest is in high school. Kadence Skei knew she wanted to explore leadership opportunities after learning about the details of her school’s winter formal. As with most public schools, tickets to the event were expensive, and Kadence said she didn’t feel the dance was accessible for everybody, particularly students of color. “Everyone wanted to go, but they couldn’t simply because they couldn’t afford to. And that’s not right. Your economic status shouldn’t determine how much fun you have. That shouldn’t cost you your high school experience. That’s not your fault.”

Kadence took action, and with help from her friends, she organized a formal dance that she hoped would be more accessible. “And I asked my friends about ticket pricing, ‘Hey, do you think this is a fair price? What about this?’ And then I also had to think about how to sell the tickets, because students may not have Wi-Fi. So, maybe we shouldn’t sell them online. Details like that really matter because you have to take into account everyone’s situation.” After weeks of planning and careful consideration, Kadence rented the courtyard at Fresno EOC in downtown Fresno for a night of fun under the stars with her classmates. At $20, tickets were $30 less than the school’s price, and if a student’s grade point average was 3.5, or higher, they were able to invite a free guest. Eighty-seven people attended the event. Kadence says she is now inspired to be a community organizer and will delve into the possibilities over the next few months in the BLAC leadership program.

The person leading this ambitious cohort has a wide range of skills and experience. Williams is also the Fresno EOC Manager of Equity and Inclusion. He and other local leaders collaborated to develop the initiative, the first of its kind in Fresno County. “We discussed the core competencies and tenets of leaders in the black community of Fresno. Then, we built a syllabus based on those competencies, which include identity and purpose, strategic thinking, community building, negotiation, and navigation. These are things you would do once you are in a position of authority or a leader. And then, the other piece of it is, each person decides on a project. So, they are instructed to create their project, based on a passion they have.”

The group meets once a month on Saturdays for six months. Their first meeting was held virtually via Zoom due to the pandemic, but they hope to meet in person in the coming months as they work on their personal projects. Williams says, “The closer we get to the end, we really want to make sure that they’re able to develop their project and provide some structure around it. For example, how to create a business plan, how to market it to different people, and how to get funding for it. Things of that nature. The idea is that at the end of this, I would like our participants to have ways to fund and support these passion projects.” Williams says the sky’s the limit. “You can come in with any idea, and we’ll help you develop it.”

Kadence says she was drawn to the leadership program because its focus is specific to the black community. “Because we tend to lack resources and guidance on how to be a leader. I love that Mr. Williams provided that. And then, I also really appreciate how he was able to provide a space for everyone to share their experiences and ask ourselves, “How do we learn from that? How do we grow from that? How do we help others based on what we’ve experienced?’ I thought that was really cool.” Kadence says she hasn’t decided on a project just yet but thinks it will involve providing a safe and fun space for teens, led by teens, as they navigate the pressures of work and school.

Click here for more information or to fill out an application for the next cohort starting this fall.



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