Voices was created in 2010 to be a place for leaders of color – specifically black leaders who were working alone in white led, evangelical organizations. I began to get a little concerned about the number of black leaders that I came across who were really struggling in their work or looking to connect and process in a place that understood their perspective. I was also concerned that they were being used to do programs, give input, work with people, create safe places for students and participants of color, and even give ”perspective” to white leaders but were working alone in many cases. There are very few black voices in boardrooms, very few as Executive Directors, etc. Finally, I was concerned that communities of color were not seeing black leaders. In fact, there were many stories of failure. Leadership in countless organizations working in brown and black communities is being lost to young whites and gentrification. Even in our own association, CCDA, most organizations are led by white leaders, something Barbara Skinner mentioned in her plenary talk a few years ago.
Voices was birthed out of this lament. We have created a place for voices of color, and particularly African Americans, to come to the table: connect to history, share their wisdom, collaborate as bridge builders which many of them are, and affect culture in their communities from a larger platform. We engage quality leaders, not ones who needed the limelight all the time but people whose vocation spoke for itself. We collaborate in a multi-generational model, connecting new and mature leaders in conversations to reverse the increasing breakdown between young and old. We connect to leaders from every sector; business, church, the arts, politics, education, and media are represented.
We started with smaller conversations twice a year. These “gatherings” are held in January and August, and employ a “call and response” format where a presenter shares for a 30 minute period that is then followed by questions and conversation for 45 minutes. This allows someone to talk about his or her vocation or passion but then to have a deeper conversation with the group. There have been 10 of these events over the last 5 years reaching 60 leaders. We have attracted the attention of larger media voices like Soledad Obrien who continues to support these efforts and who spoke at a recent gathering.
Voices is also committed to engaging and training a younger generation of black leaders. We do this through our Black college tour. This is done once a year in February where we visit 5-7 black colleges and offer training, encouragement and connection for black leaders. “The ReConnect Tour” looks to join Faith, Justice and Vocation for young black leaders.
-Leroy Barber, Co-Founder