By Malina Brown
When the Wildacres Leadership Initiative holds its 10th anniversary celebration on October 27, the program will not only reflect on its past success, but roll out an ambitious agenda for the future.
Founded in 1995, the program selects a diverse group of 25 emerging leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors throughout North Carolina to become William C. Friday Fellows for Human Relations, named in honor of the longtime president of the University of North Carolina system.
The two-year program consists of seminars and individual and group projects that challenge fellows to work across their own differences in race, class, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
“One of the problems with our society is that people don’t really talk to each other, says Philip Blumenthal, a member of the board of advisers who helped establish the program. “they talk at each other, but they don’t really listen to one another.”
The fellowship aims to teach participants how to “include a lot of voices” in their leadership decisions, he says.
In September, the initiative completed a nine-month comprehensive strategic-planning process, the results of which will be unveiled at the 10th anniversary celebration.
One outcome of the planning process was a decision to narrow the focus of the fellowship to what Executive Director Sterling Freeman calls the three “I” words.
Those include “integrity,” acting on your stated values; “intention,” pursuing opportunities commensurate with your skills; and “inclusion,” engaging with others across cultural, economic or other differences.
Another plan is to create a fellowship network that reaches beyond the program’s two-year timeframe to address North Carolina’s most pressing issues, particularly in the area of human relations.
“We want to create a new avenue in how we focus the energy of the people who have gone through the program” in order to foster a “once a fellow, always a fellow” mentality, says Blumenthal.
To build this network, the initiative wants to engage the more than 130 graduates of the program, along with current fellows, in collaborative projects that will tackle systemic problems, such as illiteracy or poverty. Previously, similar projects were undertaken solely by current fellows still.
But the hope is to get graduates involved to ensure that the larger community of Friday Fellows are “working together for the betterment of North Carolina,” sas Freeman.
Michael Brader-Araje, a member of the most recent class of fellows, says the program not only teaches participants about leadership, but also challenges them to reflect on their most anchored beliefs.
“Ultimately, the Friday Fellowship has been instrumental in illustrating how so many of us can work together effectively because of our differences and not in spite of them,” says Brader-Araje, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Former fellow Deborah Ross, a Democrat who represents Wake County in the state House of Representatives, says she has benefited from the program’s teachings on bringing together people with differing viewpoints.
“Wildacres was the perfect leadership program for me as a young professional,” says Ross, who was highlighted this summer by The News & Observer in Raleigh for her willingness to work with members of the opposing party to craft laws.
“The friends and contacts I made at Wildacres,” she says, “will last a lifetime.”