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AMEX Alumni Reflections: Say Yes To Yourself

by Althea Dryden

In 2018, CBMA said yes to me and that invitation, that validation allowed me to say yes to myself.

--Althea Allen Dryden, Director of Operations at Cities United and 

2018 AMEX Leadership Academy at CBMA Fellow

I remember where I was the day the first Building Beloved Communities Fellowship application was due. I was in a hotel room in Washington DC preparing for a summit at the National Press Club the next morning. It was nearly midnight, and I realized I had no more time to apply for the fellowship.  I quickly convinced myself I was not really who they were looking for in the first place. Sure, I was working for a national organization centered on Black men and boys, but I was no “expert”. I didn’t feel as if I had the credibility worthy of a CBMA fellowship, but I desperately wanted to show up as a leader – to myself, especially.

In 2017, I wanted to be a CBMA Fellow, but I convinced myself, the Fellowship wouldn’t want me.

The next year, my decision to apply was grounded in a desire to step up as a leader within my organization. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity again. I needed to immerse myself in exemplars working around the country.  

"I needed the Fellowship; I needed to fellowship."

I showed up in Greensboro not sure what to expect but with complete trust in CBMA. The itinerary was detailed and deliberate; the agenda was open and organic. Come as you are, leave as you can be. We formed our cohort community in a circle at the Beloved Community Center surrounded by black and white photos of local history and at the knees of living history in Reverend Nelson and Joyce Johnson.  We toured markers and museums and situated ourselves in legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. The Beloved Community Center tied us to our history and to each other. A history that lives and breathes in our actions every day.

"The Beloved Community Center is as much a nudge to the future as it is a nod to the past; and we are that future."

The Center for Creative Leadership was a brief bus ride from the BCC but felt like a speeding train to the 21st century. The campus is impressive and inspiring and even a little intimidating. This place, designed to educate and elevate, was a fitting contrast to BCC. One is communal and personal; one is individual and professional. Both are necessary pieces to leading our own beloved communities. We deepened our bonds to one another thru games and conversations, but this time was a chance to look in the mirror and connect to our beloved selves.

BCC builds communities outward - potlucks and prayer circles - experts of the field.

CCL builds communities inward – best cafeteria food I ever had and coaching sessions - experts in the field. A beloved community is by design an invitation. The application for the 2020 Fellowship is your RSVP for an invitation you’ll never regret accepting. I feel connected to people around the country because of a few short but deeply meaningful days spent in North Carolina. Their struggles and their successes are interwoven with mine.  I don’t simply like a tweet or comment on a post by my fellow Fellows. I pray for these people. I consider their students, their colleagues, their communities and know that they too, are in my beloved community. That’s how this works. That’s how we work. And as the heart-work of Black Male Achievement, it is the only way it can work.

After the journey to Greensboro, I no longer questioned my leadership role; I questioned my leadership responsibility. 

"This invitation comes with a charge. What do you expect of yourself now and what can we expect of you?"

I want to show up differently, step up frequently and speak up consistently because of the people I met in Greensboro. I owe it to the Campaign, to my cohort, to my beloved community to live into and love out of my leadership. The mirror I look into now – the one that used to reflect self-doubt – now has the faces of my Fellow leaders smiling back at me. 

“Be loved” they say. 

And I am.

Althea Dryden is the Director of Operations at Cities United (@CitiesUnited) - a CBMA National Partner. Learn more about her work here


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