Floating in the Sea of Change: My Reflections from the 2019 Obama Foundation Summit

White House from the South Lawn
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By Derrick Braziel, Co-Founder & Managing Partner
November 5th, 2019

This year, my life forever changed.  I was named to the 2019 cohort of Obama Foundation Fellows, joining 20 amazing people from around the globe who are working to make the world a better place.  It’s an experience that is hard to put into words, but I’ve tried anyways.

As part of the fellowship, we’re invited to join other parts of the Obama Foundation family; including the Obama Scholars, Fellows, Community Leaders, etc., in Chicago for a week of enriching activities and programming.  I sat 2 ft. from both NBA legend Charles Barkley and Broadway legend and trailblazer Billy Porter, who is an Emmy away from the rare EGOT prestige. Outside of the start-studded affairs that included Yara Shahidi, Ava DuVernay and, of course the Obamas, I learned a lot about what it really means to change the world and I wanted to share those reflections in a blog:

  1. There is no singular way to change the world but there are common themes

The world is a massive place with countless cultures and variations within those

cultures.  As a result, the ways in which we see and approach challenges will vary.  My context as an African-American who grew up in the United States is not the same as a person who lives in rural Colombia.  However, there are lots of similarities within our respective movements, including:

  • Most people are cash-strapped and in constant fundraising mode, taking valuable time away from doing what’s most important – changing the world
  • Leaders from the Obamas to a high school student organizing their peers in Chicago, all experience imposter syndrome, or the phenomenon where highly talented people doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as a fraud
  • Many, many, many leaders are experiencing burn out from the pressure of fundraising, the relentlessness of working in the social sector and the weight of leadership.  I credit entities such as the Obama Foundation, Echoing Green, Common Future and others for also recognizing this and creating spaces for social change leaders to focus on their mental health.
  1. Diversity matters, and it starts with you

Study after study shows that humanity is better – whether within the organizations you work on or in the communities where you live – when diversity is prioritized.  However, what I learned at the Summit is that we must embody and actively embrace diversity ourselves before we can expect others to do it, too. For example, the context under which most of the world works is a white, middle-classed, straight male from the United States.  The way that we interact with one another, the way that we develop goals, etc., mostly stems from this one particularly dominant mindset. Did you know that there are unlimited other perspectives?  

Diversity isn’t just getting the right people into the room it’s also ensuring we keep pushing ourselves to continually challenge our biases and preconceived notions in a way that accepts different ideas and ways of moving in the world. 

  1. There’s no place like HOME.

The theme of the Summit this year was PLACE, and the one thing I continue to take away is how amazing Cincinnati truly is.  There are many places around the world that would be envious of what Cincinnati can offer – a vibrant arts and culture scene, affordable quality of life, a sense of pride and a touch of weird.  It’s a city with so much to offer. It’s also the city where, in my opinion, the gulf between our perception of ourselves and our reality are as wide as anywhere in the world. We’re the artist fearful of showing our work to the world for fear of rejection.

After traveling to Chicago (another amazing city) and hearing how other people talk about their place, it makes me think of our own inferiority complexes and imposter syndrome that has the risk of preventing our ability to be great.  Cincinnati showed up everywhere at the Summit (it is one of a handful of cities to have two Obama fellows) which made me feel proud of where I call home.  

As always, there is so much more to learn about myself and the world around me.  It was fun, however, to have a few days to sit in rooms with people and see how they talk about themselves, their work and their place.  If you have any questions about my experience, I’d be more than happy to answer questions. Feel free to email me at derrick@wearemortar.com.

Congrats to @DerrickBraziel on being chosen to for the 2019 cohort of the Obama Foundation Fellows! Learn about his experience in this MUST-READ blog post! Click To Tweet

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