Fallout from Winter Storm Stella did not deter the newest cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows in Newark, NJ this weekend. On the campus of Rutgers University-Newark, area youth kicked off the two-year Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) with fervor and enthusiasm.
Through conversations that unpacked the lives, teachings, and leadership strategies of the framers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the father of Mexican independence Miguel Hidalgo, and Mahatma Gandhi, Fellows fully embraced AYLF and Youth & Engagement Programs core values.
One of the highlights of the weekend as expressed by Fellows was the opportunity to argue joyfully. AYLF staff and moderators challenged Fellows to think deeply and introspectively about the topics that guided conversations as they relate to each Fellow’s unique lived experiences. Many of these conversations evoked emotions to which Fellows were in strong disagreement, but in those instances, Fellows acted with graciousness and gratitude as they seized those opportunities to listen to and learn from each other’s perspectives.
“No one shied away from talking about things that are real,” said one Fellow.
While acknowledging that the topics presented through the work and teachings of the framers of the Declaration, Dr. King, Fr. Hidalgo, Gandhi, and Maya Angelou are often difficult to discuss, AYLF Newark Fellows were grateful for those tough conversations and the respect with which they handled a diversity of opinions.
A commitment to excellence and accountability on the part of each individual was another key takeaway from the first session of AYLF Newark. Fellows came not only prepared to engage based on the materials that they had been asked to familiarize themselves with prior to session, but they brought with them extensive knowledge of a number of the subjects. Such intimate understandings of the materials and their subjects allowed the group to organically engage on a much deeper level.
Many Fellows expressed immediately feeling like they had to raise their levels of preparation and performance in the presence of their cohort mates.
“It was invigorating to be in such intelligent company,” remarked one Fellow. “I had to constantly step my game up in a room with so many talented peers.”
AYLF Newark Fellows made it clear their commitment to a level of excellence that would not compromised. Rather, Fellows graciously brought each other along.
AYLF Program Director Zakiya Reid was heartened by Fellows’ connections over the group’s collective embrace of AYLF and Youth & Engagement Programs values of arguing joyfully, seeking excellence, and acting with graciousness and gratitude.
“You hear things about different communities one way or another, but you never really know what a community and the people who shape it are like and are capable of until you go to that community and engage with the people who give it life,” said Reid. “AYLF Newark Fellows put their drive, resourcefulness, and ambition on full display this weekend, and reaffirmed that Newark should not and will not take a back seat to anyone regarding the leadership of tomorrow.”
As they were with the selection of the St. Louis cohort, the AYLF team was very intentional about the makeup of the Newark cohort, so Program Associate Emily Dean was eager and anxious leading up to this first session.
“The launch of AYLF in St. Louis went so smoothly and that cohort set the bar so high, that we almost wondered if it could get any better. But, this Newark cohort brought their A-game,” said AYLF Program Associate Emily Dean. “You always wonder what a cohort will look like together for the first time, but Newark Fellows bonded and were passionate and engaged throughout the session. We could not be more pleased with the foundation that these two inaugural cohorts have laid for the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship.”
The Newark cohort of AYLF Fellows will reconvene on Friday, June 9. For all things AYLF, keep up with Youth & Engagement Programs online, and @AspenInstYouth on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.