“WE” are the CHANGE!

It is not US vs THEM, or THOSE PEOPLE, it is “WE.”

NUII, say it with me: “Best Class Ever.” Hello everyone, my name is Lanre Ajakaiye. Thank you to my NUII LRI classmates. It is a humbling honor to be chosen to represent you across our amazing class of leaders and people. You just being the amazing people you are have given me great insights. I am honored and appreciative to have had the chance to meet and grow together over the last 10 months.

Thanks to the Leadership RI and its great staff for executing such a great program. There are a myriad of logistics involved and you did a great job providing an immersive, leadership journey.

Our theme this year was ‘Connect Rhode Island.’ However, the LRI program design would first seek to connect as individuals in the Thoreau-esque, Walden that is Alton Jones.

At Alton Jones, we revealed personal artifacts and many things near and dear to our hearts. In the first day, I employed a purposeful rotation to accelerate my meeting new people. Amazingly, Amy Vitale was able to remember everyone’s name by the 2nd day with no sweat. 74 new people memorized in a day. She recited, brushed off her shoulder and dropped the mic with a curtsy.

We continued learning many facets of the biggest little state in the union going to the Westerly Armory, Economic development, Education where many of my classmates were impressed with my Alma matter Classical, Basic needs, Enhancements at the Naval War College thanks to Julia and Ride Along with officers including our very own Terrance Green. The months continued on with PechaKucha presentations (which I nearly twisted my tongue trying to learn how to say) I finally remembered it by thinking of chickachika and Health in Rhode Island day featuring Brett’s great presentation. There was Military / Defense day with an incredible ride in a C130 and sitting in a black hawk gaining a deeper appreciation for the commitment and service involved with military service from people like our very own Michael Steiner and Amy Kane who then balance life and career. (round of applause).

I knew we were in trouble before flying in the C130 when they gave us barf bags. Five minutes into take off, my new purple complexion on the plane would cause some LRI classmates to ask, “hey Lanre, you ok?” as my stomach turned in knots with no landing in sight.” However, I loved the experience and would do it again. We felt was it was like to live on the fringes and rob peter to pay Paul.

Our personal visits took us to many different organizations throughout Rhode Island like the non-profit Dorcas International and organizations like ‘The Compost Plant’ presented on topics like the greatness of innovation that is RhodyGold.

Crime and Incarceration and Government day were the most impactful to me. For Crime & Incarceration some moments had us frozen as we connected statistics with real life. For Government day, let’s just say we had lively Majority –thank you Jason. Minority Lead – Hamza who pulled out all the stops with savvy tricks up his sleeve and Independent party lead and commander– Karl Wadensten. I will forever remember your combination of shorts, cigar and military hat my friend. I must take the time and thank you again for nominating me as “Speaker of the House” providing me with the ability to experience from a different vantage point. I will remind you we were able to get all three bills passed. To think, our very own rep, Aaron Regunberg does this daily. He is a voice for people, bringing to life paid sick time, green energy initiatives while bridging a focus on the small business owner.

The last session combined a statewide scavenger hunt. Within the LRI program, we got to vicariously experience the beauty of our classmate’s milestones and just connect as people. LRI presented informal and formal conversations to connect.

Our project focus would revolve in and around the corridors of RT 102 in Rhode Island –SURPRISE! Said LRI… Before this, my biggest associations with Route 102 were the immortal words of Salty Brine that many of us know, “No School Focester Glouster.” I was always so jealous as a kid while thinking where the heck is that and how do I get my parents to move.

In NUII fashion, we rose to the challenge and: Assisted with realizing affordable housing, helped Coventry youth and the Providence Resiliency center, developed substance abuse processes with Burriville Police, harnessed the voice of the farmer for economic development, executed ground breaking surveys and case studies, augmented the emerging Career Technical Education (CTE) programs of Scituate high school with marketing automation connecting them with partners like Amgen and IGT. Collectively, NU II assisted 9 towns in 9 months.

As the program sessions continued, personalities unfolded revealing the collective power of engaged leaders amassing knowledge about Rhode Island. We are quite a spirited and dynamic bunch of great people.

However, if we are to take the moniker of Best Class Ever, leaders should always pay it forward and lead the way. Leadership is more than a title or popularity contest; it is about strategic action which positively impacts the future. I am thinking we will be the first class to Pay It Forward in this fashion.

[Lanre bestows gifts for staff and next class on behalf of NU II]
It’s funny the types of great innovation a great glass of wine and a social can produce.

So the question becomes: What is Leadership?

Hypothetically, if one were to Google on their mobile phone at 10:27pm riding back from New York City while their wife was driving a leg, you may find a ‘Leadership’ definition which says, Leadership involves:

  1. Establishing a clear vision
  2. Sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly
  3. Providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision, and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders
  4. A leader steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations.

Bill Bradley positions it this way: “Leadership is about unlocking people’s potential to become better.”

However, in order to unlock other people’s potential, we must first unlock ourselves. We must realize that socialization is the driver within our human wheel of perceptions. Social orders, hierarchies and even what we think on first sight of each other is driven by a socialization we must continuously challenge.

There are many things afoot on a national and local level that can serve to divide us as humans –if we let them…. There are also many things which can unite us – if we realize and strive for them.

At one of our social functions after Military / Defense day, I sat at a table with Mike McDermott, Tino Chow, Keno Mullings, Priscilla Gonzalez, Jason Chopoorian and Gloria Johnson. Now if someone were to look only by exterior, some may tend to cast the group as: White, Asian, African American and Latino. At a high level, they’d be right looking across one dimension. Broken down further, they may see Irish, Armenian, Dominican, Singaporean, African-American first generation and African –American generations removed- but discovering she is 79% West African according to inside information from Ancestry.com.

With dialogue, conversation and deeper understanding, the break out would be four parents who balance children, career and find time to serve the community who liked the same foods as evidenced by the rapid clearing of the nachos and wings on the table. When broken down to its lowest common denominator we are all human with origins in the cradle of civilization (Ethiopia, Morocco or South Africa) depending who you ask. My wife is Ethiopian, so I say Ethiopia.

The basic premise is we are different, yet sometimes strikingly the same. At the root of it all, we should always go back to the fact we are all human. As leaders, we must embrace difference and use it to fuel the innovation, success and positive community impacts. We are charged with walking the fine line of bringing people full circle to realize our connections since it is quite easy to fall into the trappings of divisiveness.

  • When we look through our lens of perceptions and only see exterior attributes (gender, clothing, race, hair style, etc.), we magnify the divide. The divide may lead us to think “Us vs. Them” and those people over there; however, we are all human.
  • When children and youth have to learn in crumbling infrastructures, it is not “Us vs Them” or those people over there it is “We.” Are children not our future-especially in an increasingly global work force?
  • When women leaders are paid less for the same work and hit glass ceilings, it is not “US vs Them,” it is “WE.” Do we all not have mothers, wives, sisters, aunts and nieces?
  • When we question the “What” of protest vs. the “Why”, we must realize that sweeping dirt under a rug still means “We” are walking over it.
  • When unarmed civilians and children are gunned down and killed, it is not “US vs. Them” or those people over there; it is “WE.”
  • When victims of floods and natural disaster are still building from 2005 or Puerto Rico, part of the US, is given inhumane treatment during a crisis, remember our LRI classmates who have people suffering in some of those very same villages, it is not “US vs. Them”, it is “WE.”

We must look not to erect walls of divide but build walls of understanding, it is not “US vs. Them” or those people over there it is “WE.”

“We” are now alumni of Leadership Rhode Island. “We” are the change agents in every conversation, meetings, hiring practices, recruiting and bringing up the next generation. Our individual power, connectivity and collaboration are a juggernaut. “WE” can make a difference and need to continue to bridge the divide in our lives and workplaces. The change is not a one-time event and program; it must be constantly juggled within the host of things within our lives. “We must always ask ourselves what Langston Hughes brought up so many moons ago: “What happens to a dream deferred?” and use our influence for good.

Sometimes “We” just know things need to be done as leaders and to steal a Rachel Dotsonism, “we just get in the pool and dive in!” “We” must consider what happens if we are lulled into non-action for our children who inherit the world after us. And as leaders “WE” must be ok with sometimes not being understood and people not supporting us because we know it’s the right thing.

So Leadership RI, NUII Best Class Ever and the many classes before I challenge you to stay connected, collaborate and pay it forward by leading the way in all your interactions. As my sub team will tell you, you can also expect me to support you and be a person of more action, less talk. I challenge you to get past only viewing things one way and get to the heart of active listening to foster deeper understanding. We have a great class and leaders doing great work. We must uplift each other in the work of leadership.

“Challenge yourself to keep the same group connectivity in your mind and actions supporting your LRI team.” We should never be an isolated finger viewing the precipice of change but rather have employ a collective, all hands mentality.

It is not US vs THEM, or THOSE PEOPLE, it is “We.”

“We” are not the light at the end of the tunnel; “We” are the light illuminating throughout tunnel.

“We,” NUII, “WE, Leadership Rhode Island, “WE,” together creating the future of Rhode Island in the United States of America. Knowledge is Power. Knowledge combined with action creates the ripples of change which cascade into a sea of possibilities.

Thank you everyone, thank you LRI and NUII, continue to do great work for “We” are forever NUII!