Around the Institute

St. Louis Cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows Talk Community Impact, Reflect on Fellowship Experience in Session Four

November 14, 2017  • Youth & Engagement Programs

After an exciting trip to DC this summer, the St. Louis cohort of Aspen Young Leaders Fellows recently convened for their fourth session at the Soulard Preservation Hall in St. Louis. Fellows unpacked materials including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address, Ronald Reagan’s Address on the Space Shuttle “Challenger,” Missouri’s controversial SB 43 act, the NAACP’s issuance of a travel advisory for the state of Missouri in response to SB 43, and Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Fellows were impressive and pushed beyond the boundaries of conventional thinking and civil discourse” said Rashon Hason, AYLF Fellow Success Coach. Fellows argued joyfully while discussing the impacts that SB43 and the NAACP’s travel advisory ban have on their communities. Several Fellows offered varying perspectives related to wealth distribution, economic development, and discrimination during the discussion. One Fellow noted the high level of trust among the cohort and articulated his appreciation to have a space where he can speak freely without being judged and learn from the diverse perspectives of his peers.

The Fellows leaned in during the discussion of Hidden Figures, which raised issues about race, gender, and their intersection. Fellows admired the manner in which the film’s protagonists overcame tremendous challenges as African American women in a white, male dominated environment. One Fellow noted that the film helped him understand that everyone has different perspectives, shaped by their own life experiences, and that he will carry that lesson forward to create the change that he wants to see in his community.

Fellows took a break from the seminar room on Saturday and enjoyed trips to the Missouri History Museum and Escape the Room St. Louis. Saturday was, in part, developed around the Innovator’s DNA framework that will help the Fellows build the skills they need to create a strong social venture project. For example, the Fellows worked on their questioning and observation skills at the Museum. They walked through one of the museum’s newest exhibits and were asked to make observations through the eyes of three different perspectives – the curator, the young tour guides, and the security officer. The Fellows also had the opportunity to tour the civil rights exhibits and learn things about their city that they had not thought about in the past.

The visit to Escape the Room was all about fun! AYLF Program Associate, Emily Dean, was excited to see Fellows let loose. “Designed for intense cooperation and teamwork, this unique and fun adventure tested Fellows’ comradery and problem-solving skills.”

On Sunday, Fellows began to dive into the social venture component of their Fellowship experience. The social venture projects are designed to get Fellows involved in designing real solutions to challenges they identify in St. Louis. They are now tasked with identifying an issue that they want to work on for the duration of their Fellowship.

The last bit of curriculum guided Fellows through a review of FDR’s First Inaugural Address and an activity where they crafted an outline of their own inaugural address if they started as Mayor of St. Louis on that day.  They had conversations about their decisions around framing and agenda-setting, and Fellows emphasized their individual approaches to leadership. Energized from the activity, one Fellow reminded the cohort that they are the future leaders of St. Louis and the world!

In the closing session, several Fellows noted how grateful they are to have the opportunity to be part of the Fellowship and to be amongst peers that are so willing to be open and vulnerable. Others noted how excited they are to dive into their social venture projects and lead the change they want to see in St. Louis.

The St. Louis cohort will reconvene over the weekend of January 19 for their fifth session.