On February 26, Austin College hosted the Posey Leadership Award’s Alumni Panel. Its purpose was “to bring talented and involved alumni” to talk about their experiences in community and political activism. The forum was mediated by Dr. Karla McCain, with questions ranging across a broad spectrum of the subject of leadership.
The speakers, all of them Austin College graduates, were the kind of people who make you stop and wonder what difference you are making in the community. Carla Storey ’96 served as Continuum of Care Director for the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition in Fort Worth. During her time in this position, she led the first count of homeless youth in the county as part of the Youth Count! Texas initiative. Then there is Rania Batrice ’03, who is a proud Palestinian-American, political advisor, and non-profit strategist who worked as a deputy campaign manager on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. Jesus Navarrete ’06 currently serves as the Director of Bilingual/ESL at Responsive Education Solutions in Dallas as an educational administrator. And last, Ana Rea ’17, who is a very recent graduate and Hatton W. Sumner Scholar. Ana is serving as an Education & Community Outreach Specialist at RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services).
Each speaker described how they found their way to public service. Carla stated that her parents were the models for her service and that this led her to pursue a career in social work. Jesus found his passion after realizing that there was a large disparity in the resources available for ESL students, especially those that are undocumented. Ana found hers through personal experience, growing up as an undocumented immigrant herself she realized that immigrants have the skills, but not the opportunities. Rania was also influenced by her parents, growing up a 1st generation Palestinian-American she was stuck between parental culture’s expectations and personal desires for her own future and realized that others were in the same situation.
When asked about how a liberal arts education prepares one for leadership, they each had their own response. Jesus said that it produces great communicators, a skill that is in high demand. Ana told the audience that it reveals that often what we believe is only personal. Rania found the freedom to explore, as happened on a life-changing trip to El Salvador that changed her path. Carla had her world opened by coming to Austin College from a small town. Remaining on the topic of the bigger picture led Dr. McCain to ask how important it is to look at issues from a systemic level. Carla was quick to point out that if no one is working on the systemic scale then the people at the bottom won’t see any benefits. Jesus followed up by stating that at this level the interconnectedness of social issues becomes apparent. Ana emphasized that the work was done at the systemic level often carries the largest impact and that it is important to remember what gets lost in holistic observation. Raina stressed the need to meet the people we serve where they are when advocating, which can be difficult to do so when issues often intersect.
The speakers were also asked how they dealt with advocating issues to the opposition. Carla, who differs widely in her ideas from her family, shared that she often tests her methods on her family. She emphasized that leading with personal perspectives helps make issues more real. To Jesus, it is important to recognize the difficulty of bringing perspectives bottom-level to the systemic. He suggested that it is often an art of negotiating expectations or beliefs with the needs of reality. Ana pointed out that there is often an educational gap between those trying to do good and those in need of service. She explained that those at the systemic level are often not experts on the issues.
Dr. McCain redirected the forum back towards the panelists when she asked how they saw themselves as leaders. Ana expressed that she feels privileged to be a leader. She sees one of the main jobs of a leader as to accumulate and pass down knowledge and to be willing to show up on behalf of someone else. Carla never considered herself a leader. She says that her experience is what has made her more confident and that the emphasis of her leadership is on mentorship. Jesus agreed with both Ana and Carla. He reiterated that just because one is the boss does not make them a leader. To him, leadership is about building connections and a desire to see people transform. Rania also agreed with the previous panelists and noted that an openness to new ideas and a willingness to ask the tough questions make a great leader.
The panel closed with what advice they would give to young people who want to serve. They all agreed that passion is the core of excellent leadership, which makes it a much more meaningful experience. Ana recommended that we focus on fine-tuning our skills and volunteering to humble ourselves. She continued that its most important to work with the community and not for them. She ended by saying that we should have realistic expectations of our abilities and capabilities stating, “You’re not helping anyone by burning yourself out.” The floor was opened for questions from the audience and after a brief volley, the forum came to an end.