Street Lights Archives - Leadership Foundations

Equity Means Ownership…

Racial Equity and the City as Playground

Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.'”

Nehemiah 2:17

For Juneteenth this year, I was in downtown Atlanta with my church and a group of other churches where we marched for racial justice in our city. While my heart breaks for the many places where justice does not yet exist as a reality for people of my skin tone, my heart is full for the way that we were leading the way in the march for justice.

It was also a great chance for me to reflect on my own leadership journey, what has led me to where I am serving as president for the Resurgence Leadership Foundation, and where we are at this moment in time in Atlanta and in the world.

As a child, I grew up in Louisiana and migrated to Tacoma, Washington—like many black families in the ‘70s, we were looking for opportunity and our parents worked hard to give us the best shot they could. Here I met some remarkable leaders who I had the great privilege to be shaped by– Dave Hillis, as my Young Life leader, John Bratholm as my basketball coach, and Wendell Phillips, the bus driver for Bethesda Baptist Church on the East side who picked me up– someone who introduced me to the power of the Gospel—it was these men that saw something in me and wanted to invest in me.

How powerful it was in my life to be pursued by these people who saw in me what I couldn’t, who saw potential where I didn’t…

In the early ’80s in Tacoma I didn’t see a lot of people like me – especially in leadership. I’m 6’3”, black, male, cisgendered. Few leaders looked like me. But a gift given early on in my leadership journey was ownership—not a lot of black folks were owners of anything in Tacoma in the ‘80s.

I did, however, get to engage with a great black leader, Tom Skinner, and see what it looked like to be a leader, black, and proud. This informed my own my work—as a youth leader, and now as a local Leadership Foundation president.

About Tom Skinner

Hope and Pain, side-by-side

Right now in Atlanta, there’s a lot going on currently, especially in light of the events that have taken place recently with Rayshard Brooks being shot and killed a few weeks ago. It’s really disheartening – how old this stuff is, and how it didn’t need to happen.

But at the same time, there’s so much here that gives me strength—this is the city of Tyler Perry after all. Keisha Lance Bottoms, a black woman, is our remarkably talented mayor. I remember first coming to Atlanta and saying to myself, “there’s people that look like me that run stuff here!”

This is our tension-filled space in a place like Atlanta—so much hope, but so much work still to do.

The Broken Down Fence

The Covid-19 Pandemic is providing a remarkable opportunity for our world. There are no distractions – we have no sports to distract us.

The pandemic has slowed us down so much that we finally have to deal with what’s in front of us. Many who’ve had their eyes closed, have been forced to open them for the first time to things they would rather ignore –the reality of racial inequity. It’s nothing new, but now they see it.

Even the tall fences—both real and imagined—that people have built around their houses and lives, have been broken down – that is a good thing. With the fence gone, now we have to look at one another.

Equity Means Ownership

What Leadership Foundations offers is ownership – At LF we are all owners, not employees – we own our organizations, we encourage ownership throughout our cities, and we voluntarily opt in to a common way of engaging our city through the wheel of change. You don’t have to abdicate your authority or equity to be in leadership.

That’s why I’m so excited that 55% of local Leadership Foundations are led by people of color. That’s compared to the US nonprofit sector having fewer than 20% of its organizations led by people of color. As a Senior Innovation Fellow with LF, I’m excited for the work ahead of us of strengthening this pipeline of leaders of color to lead in cities throughout the world.

Wakanda—when the invisible becomes visible

Where do we find hope right now? The closing scene of Black Panther is an inspiring image of what this looks like:

When the Invisible becomes Visible

Let’s set the scene: T’Challa (Black Panther) and his sister are in Oakland, California, with some young brothers playing ball on a playground. His sister thought they were headed to the ritzy part of the state and were going to Coachella.

“No,” T’Challa says—”here….“…And we own that building, and that one and that one. This will be our first Wakanda International Outreach Center…”

But here’s the kicker – the technology from Wakanda comes down on the court and the boys start running around it.  

It’s that idea of the invisible becoming visible, on the playground—the idea that—at Leadership Foundations we truly believe this—Wakanda has always been there.

At LF, this is what we’re about. We want to make sure that what was invisible shows up and becomes visible in those places that don’t ordinarily see it—in places that deserve it just like everywhere else.

Cornelius Williams, Jr. is the Founder and president of the Resurgence Leadership Foundation, based in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Tacoma, Washington, attended Lincoln High School, led Young Life urban work in Portland, Oregon, and now leads Resurgence in its work to meet leaders where they are at and build tailored solutions enabling them to make a lasting impact in the communities they serve. Cornelius also serves as a Senior Innovation Fellow for Leadership Foundations’ Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center.

Child from Lexington

Serving Our City in Crisis

Like so many others, we could have never imagined what the beginning of 2020 would hold for our world and nation. We at Lexington Leadership Foundation (LLF) have been challenged with the question,

“How do we serve our city, while still adhering to the guidelines set in place for our community’s safety?”

What does LLF’s role for the city look like during this time? Our team has been collaborating on the best ways to serve our neighbors. We suspended our regular in-person programming and adjusted our work to address the pressing needs of people in our community and shine Christ’s love and light.
Gathering meals for distribution throughout Lexington
We are working with our partners to serve hundreds of meals to children and families- averaging 136 meals distributed per day, along with a smile and a friendly face. We will continue to do this as long as we are able. Our staff is also checking in on our students, their families, volunteers, and partners to identify their needs and connecting them to resources. A few of our students didn’t have a computer at home, so we helped get them one to ensure the kids could do their schoolwork. One of our bi-lingual team members is taking on the role of Resource Coordinator, working by phone to provide emotional support during an overwhelming time and help families access available resources.
We don’t know how long life will operate like this, but we do know that God is good and in control. In the midst of these uncertain times, we continue to lean into our call to serve Lexington and the people who call it home.
dedicated Lexington Volunteers
Dedicated volunteers of Lexington LF distributing supplies and loving neighbors

Nonreactive Leadership

or, Leadership in a Time of Coronavirus

a reflection by President Dave Hillis


It is in times like we find ourselves in today–with the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s mind–that many would say to Leadership Foundations,


“Cities as playgrounds?


They sure look more like

battlegrounds these days to me.”


With social distancing potentially making us see our neighbors as our enemies, and shelter in place orders breeding distrust and fear, it seems like our cities are becoming more like battlegrounds.


Counterintuitively, I believe that it is in times like these where this central metaphor of LF, Cities as Playgrounds, holds its greatest promise. In fact, this image of Cities as Playgrounds can remind us all of why going through a trauma like what we’re going through is even worthwhile.


So how do we live in a time of crisis like today? How do we lead?


I ultimately believe a time like this calls us to live and lead out of a place of freedom. In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul simply says, “where the Spirit of God is, there is also freedom.” The movement of God is always drawing us toward a place of freedom- both interior and exterior freedom.


And by definition, being free, as a leader, means to engage in the world in a way that is non-reactive.


So here are three practical realities in which I believe non-reactive leadership can be lived out in our day-to-day lives:


1. Non-reactive Leadership is Characterized by a Non-Anxious Presence


You know leaders and you know that place in yourself that is so anxious to please the crowd in front of you, that place so eager for

the approval of others.


Leaders who are able to practice “non-anxious presence” recognize that they don’t require the approval of others.


They are clearly aware that their ultimate value comes from a source much deeper and unshakable–a source that is much different than the whims of the crowd.




2. Non-reactive Leadership Pivots From the Practice of Being Holy


A word that often holds too much religious baggage, the word “Holy” simply points to its relative with a ‘W’, “Whole.


When we see things as a whole, we see how they are connected to one another.


This then becomes our working assumption in leadership–that ALL things are connected. But the trick is, you can only see this interconnectedness from a nonreactive place.





3. Non-reactive Leadership Leads to an Eschatological – not Apocalyptic – Way of Seeing


Trappist monk Thomas Merton was known to make this distinction. When we see with Apocalyptic eyes, we are seeing in a way that is in response to what is right in front of us–in other words, reactively, out of fear for what we think the future holds.


When we see with Eschatological Eyes, we see with the eyes of hope. This doesn’t paper over the harsh realities we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives, on our city streets or in our quarantined communities. But nonetheless we can imagine and envision hope in a way that brings our reality into sharper focus–that can envision the fullness of creation being within our reach.



It is in this place of non-reactivity, of freedom, that all of us can continue to see our communities as places of God’s deep hope and love. Even in times of crisis, God’s promise of our cities as playgrounds is there for us to live into.


February 2020 Street Lights Reflection – Dave Hillis

T.S. Eliot, in his poem regarding Ash Wednesday which inaugurates the Lenten Season we are currently walking through as a Church, writes these evocative lines: “Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.”


These words haunt me, and perhaps you. They raise the question not of whether the word is ever present and accessible; we know it is. The very economy of God is described through the parable of the sower as scandalously effulgent. The word is seen falling everywhere on all parts of our life: the holy and the profane. Rather, the question the poem raises is whether you and I are present and accessible. In short, have we nurtured a space where there is “enough silence” so the word can “be found” and, where it will “resound?”


One of the great graces of the Lenten Season is that we are given explicit permission to spend time on ourselves in a way that the other four seasons of the church do not allow. We are meant to focus on those places in our life where “there is not enough silence” and make the necessary changes. This is hard work. Work that while needed, can leave us in a state of disequilibrium, despondency and with a feeling of disqualification.


And yet, it is in this very season of Lent, and this very place of desperation, that God graciously affords us the time and space to answer Eliot’s question in the positive; that we may collaborate with God’s Spirit to create a “silence” where it is possible that the “word be found” where it will “resound.”


Many blessings and may this Lenten Season be a place where you find enough “silence” so the word can be “found” and “resound” in your life, ministry and city.


Changing the World

The old adage—dream big or go home—certainly applies to LF’s vision of cities and communities becoming playgrounds instead of battlegrounds. Farfetched, outrageous, impracticable, might all be adjectives attached to this vision…unless Margaret Mead, who we quoted last month, is correct.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Here is another example of one of those leaders Mead is imagining—this time in Delhi.


In 2007, Catalyst Leadership Foundation was born out of Abhishek Gier’s deep dive into one of Delhi’s poorest areas. Amid severe poverty, Abhishek also encountered an abundance of grace as he built relationships with the children of that neighborhood. This, he decided, is what the Kingdom of God looks like in all of its sharp-edged glory. So he and his wife, Angelika, said yes to Jesus’s call to seek justice, defend the oppressed, and take up the cause of the orphaned- regardless of the consequences.


Catalyst’s big idea was to connect local leaders with neighborhoods like the one Abhishek and Angelika first encountered and change things from the grassroots up: a unique approach within the caste system of Delhi. Through these connections—powerful to vulnerable; young to old; religious to nonreligious—Delhi is beginning to be relationally rewired.


One of the particular projects built by Catalyst and its partners to rewire the city is an initiative that rescues girls and women from a life of poverty and sex trafficking. Catalyst’s work provides everything from education to employment opportunities to a supportive community—offering a future previously unthinkable.


Searching to build organizational capacity and drive further change in their city, Catalyst became a member of the LF network in 2008. A decade later, Abhishek describes the LF approach and wheel of change as exactly the tonic Delhi needs: a focus on leadership, support from a global community, and an emphasis on working together to address a city’s greatest challenges. Because of his journey, Abhishek now coaches other LLFs in Southeast Asia.


Beginning with seeing grace in street children to now coaching others, Abhishek is one of the reasons LF is confident that cities are becoming God’s playgrounds. Investment in LF is an investment in leaders like Abhishek to “change the world” into playgrounds.


Changing the World

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Leadership Foundations is graced with just such a reality: LLF presidents and their staff around the world. These leaders are the “group of thoughtful, committed citizens” that LF is convinced “can change the world” through increased mastery of the LF wheel of change. Stay tuned over the next couple of months as we introduce them to you!


Lisa Slayton is one such president. While remaining committed to loving Pittsburgh into a playground, Lisa has a particular passion for helping business leaders integrate their faith life and vocation. This vision came about working in the corporate world, where she realized many of her colleagues had a deep desire to build relationships with other leaders and dream about how to effectively leverage their business skills and shared values across the city for its betterment. Under Lisa’s leadership, PLF created the Leaders Collaborative (LC). The idea that if the participants saw their work as ministry, an indelible impact would be made in the lives of their employees, and ultimately, the city of Pittsburgh. The LC does just that; it helps leaders use their God-given skills to find the place where passion meets need in the city. Through the LC, leaders from across city sectors spend six months together being coached in the power of relationships to “transform the city of Pittsburgh into a city of truth, beauty, justice, and human flourishing.”


As PLF continues to take on this large vision for its city, Lisa believes that Leadership Foundations strengthens PLF’s work significantly. The LF wheel of change takes context seriously, not only allowing, but embracing PLF’s unique model. The LF Accreditation process made a series of recommendations to sustain and build a viable organization. The Senior Associate strategy, where Lisa not only receives coaching from Senior Associate but also serves as one, provides practical support, strategies, and fellowship with like-minded leaders.


These kinds of services are replicated throughout the LF global network, as leaders like Lisa and their organizations dream about their cities and drive the wheel of change to see them improved. Investment in LF is an investment in leaders like Lisa to “change the world” into playgrounds.

Communities of Practice

For a movement like LF to flourish, organizational theorists talk about developing a learning culture—that particular way in which knowledge is gathered, packaged, and delivered.  Richard McDermott, in the Harvard Business Review, coined the term “communities of practice” to describe how this process works. Indeed, we need look no further than Jesus’s training of the twelve to see evidence of this theological reality.


McDermott goes on to write that every community of practice shares a basic structure consisting of three parts: a domain of knowledge, a community of people, and a shared practice. It is this structure that has energized and animated the creation of an online training curriculum called City As Playground: LF Training Essentials.  Done in partnership with our training partner, Street Psalms, this resource allows us to keep up with our ever-growing list of cities (now over 30) expressing desire to affiliate with LF.


Through the City As Playground: LF Training Essentials we have created six 90-minute sessions offered on a monthly basis by a variety of seasoned voices to ensure that LF’s gift of seeing the city as God’s playground instead of a battleground, first given to Sam Shoemaker and Reid Carpenter in 1962, is passed forward in faithful and generative ways.


In this context the City As Playground: LF Training Essentials is a result of three primary elements: a domain of knowledge of how the city can become a playground which provides common ground and a common identity; a cultivated, nurtured, and modeled community of colleagues that understand transformation is not primarily about the transmission of information, but relationship; and surfacing the prominence of the wheel of change as our shared practice by highlighting current LF work around the world.


Through the City As Playground: LF Training Essentials we have created a training platform by which many cities and communities will be able to develop LF affiliates to help transform cities from battlegrounds to playgrounds.

Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center Launch

Embedded in the very marrow of Leadership Foundations (LF), is the adage that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This idea emanates from Jesus who, in his first public debut, acknowledged his sense of indebtedness to his cousin, John the Baptist (Matthew 3). In this context, and with LF’s 40th anniversary afoot in 2018, the LF Board asked itself: how can we honor those whose shoulders we stand on and ensure that this veneration has a real-time benefit for the LF global network?



In response to this question, LF created the Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center (CCIC), named after Jerry Colangelo, LF’s first board chair, and Reid Carpenter, LF’s founder. Launched this month, the CCIC is based in Washington D.C. and will generate and scale innovative practices, programs, and polices in support of the LF network and cities around the world. It also allows us to say a hearty amen to two leaders on whose shoulders we stand.


Dag Hammarskjöld—the Swedish diplomat, second United Nations Secretary-General, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient articulated something that captures the very essence of this moment in LF’s history. “For all that has been, thank you.  For all that is to come, yes!” Through the CCIC we say “thank you” to Jerry and Reid and “yes” to the glorious future of seeing cities and communities become playgrounds.


Learn more about the Colangelo Carpenter Innovation Center on our website!

Interview with Jack Fortin, LF Board Chair

Leadership Foundations Board Chair Jack Fortin was awarded an honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Divinity honoris causa) on May 19th during the 118th Annual New York Theological Seminary Commencement. We chatted with Jack about this high honor and his experience being recognized for a lifetime of achievements in ministry and theological thought. To watch Dr. Fortin’s sermon, click here


This is a big deal to be given this honor. What was your feeling when NYTS approached you about this?

Dale Irvin, President of NYTS, is a Leadership Council member and a wonderful supporter and friend. We’ve had several conversations about life and work and meaning. Dale came to me one day and said, “We’d like to honor your work.” The honorary doctorate is really the honoring of a person’s life work and having your peers recognize it and that meant a lot to me. More importantly, institutionally, I believe God loves organizations as much as God loves people because people in organizations create more change than they do individuals. I told Dale I wanted to give myself not just to people but to institutions like Leadership Foundations which is biased for action and creates stronger communities which allow God’s mission to be carried out. Dale and I both wanted to connect our institutions and decided one of the ways to do that would be through this honor.


It is also a momentous occasion for Leadership Foundations to have its Board Chair validated in this way and to be on that stage.

One of my goals was to lift up the two organizations where I am giving my time and that share the values and direction of NYTS; Augsburg University and LF. They are not about building a bigger organization but they’re about impacting the community through their area of expertise and doing so in a collaborative manner, and I wanted to elevate that and reflect on the commissioning coming out of Augsburg and LF, and biblically justify the uniqueness of the two.


“What a fantastic time to be alive participating in and leading faith communities with all of the expressions found among us; knowing we can be a vehicle of transformation of life where cities will no longer be battlefields but will be playgrounds of safety and hope and shalom.”.  Jack Fortin, from his sermon “Through Closed Doors…Sent“ NYTS Commencement Service May 19, 2018


What did you want to communicate to this 118th graduating class of NYTS?

I wanted to reflect the occasion and give a particular commission to the graduates. I wanted to acknowledge that you graduated from not just any old Seminary but one whose point of view is critical to the world today and to demonstrate that LF and Augsburg are two institutions that are living out the work that NYTS has uniquely trained you for. But there were also families there as well–brothers and cousins and sisters and I wanted to make sure that the Gospel was clear enough that they could understand the power of the Good News when it is delivered through action and reflection, not just reflection.


The Church where you delivered you sermon is full of history. The building was commissioned by John Rockefeller and MLK Jr, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and more who have spoken from the same pulpit. Was the historical relevance significant to you?

Oh yes. I was very aware of that. It was a phenomenal privilege in my career to speak from the same platform as these great leaders. But it was only after it was all over when I stepped back and really reflected on what had just happened, the way that God has used me, and how the experience strengthened my own fervor for the work that we are doing. Very humbling.


Dale introduced you and must have gone on for 5 minutes on your lifetime of achievements. I hope this is not a period at the end of your work.

I can never retire! My calling isn’t about my job. My calling is about my work and when I quit work, I die. Until I die, I will continue to do my work. This experience simply fires me up.

Mentoring Youth for Leadership

The Department of Justice must think that Leadership Foundations (LF) is doing something right in mentoring at-risk youth. Since 2015, LF has received two grant awards from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) totaling $4.5 million to provide mentoring relationships to more than 4,500 youth through a network of 23 Local Leadership Foundations (LLFs) across the U.S.


Administering these grants is a great privilege and a great responsibility for LF. We put LF’s wheel of change to work as we seek to build the capacity of local leaders and their mentoring programs. The grants allow LF to provide local leaders with training and resources, sub awards, coaching, and assistance in developing joint initiatives with other local organizations to better serve youth in their communities.


Two LLFs recently shared their reflections on how the training they have received from LF has built their capacity as mentoring programs:


“We feel that we have a strong mentoring program; however, we always know there is room for growth. Through the training webinars, we have gained insight from other cohorts on best practices that have been proven effective. Through the in-person training, we are better prepared to deal with challenges that could develop. We also gained helpful insight from having a regional coach who has the ability to push our thinking and challenge us to be a better mentoring program that will benefit our community.”  
– Anthony Branch, Vice President, Memphis Leadership Foundation


The Metro Atlanta Leadership Foundation has been able to touch the lives of more than 150 students through evidence-based mentoring practices as a sub awardee of the OJJDP grant. Alongside exceeding our mentor-match target goals, we have been able to provide training to our mentors and establish organized processes of data collection. With the accountability of the grant systems in place, we have been able to increase our effectiveness and meet recognized benchmarks.”
–Bianca Singleton, Director Mentoring Youth Collaborative, Metro Atlanta Leadership Foundation


We are grateful not only to have the opportunity to serve youth through mentoring but also to build the capacity of LLF mentoring programs so that they can continue to truly transform communities from battlegrounds into playgrounds.