The American president John Quincy Adams once said “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I think about quotes like these a lot when I work to involve the Lao community in civic engagement in Minnesota. I believe it is very important to lead by example, but it is also important not to get discouraged. I was very happy to see so many come to our civic engagement workshop at the Harrison Neighborhood Center on October 18th. We had almost a hundred people take time out of their busy schedule to hear what we are doing, but more importantly to tell us what their dreams are for their families and our community together.
This month the Lao Leadership Institute has continued to meet as well. One of the important topics they learned about was what it meant to be an advocate. To go beyond service, and to share our stories with others so that we can learn from them. We have been very fortunate to have Chanida Phaengdara, the editor for Little Laos On the Prairie to be helping us. She is doing so many projects within the community, helping others and making us all proud to be Lao. I hope she continues to inspire others.
We can build so much, create so much together. As a participant in the Bush Leadership Fellowship progrm I have learned that it is important to encourage and support promising leaders. This means asking us to think bigger. To think differently about the change we can make in our communities. I encourage people who are committed to positive development of our communities to consider applying for the Bush Leadership Fellowship in the future: http://www.bushfoundation.org/leadership/bush_fellowship.
This year there is also another new Fellowship i think we can all be excited about, the MCF Philanthphy Fellowship. They describe it as “ prepare individuals from underrepresented communities for careers in philanthropy. Fellows will be employed by the Minnesota Council on Foundations and placed at the Bush Foundation to work either with its Community Innovation or Education team. Over the course of a three-year appointment, Fellows will receive significant professional development and networking opportunities.” I encourage you to see what they are trying to do at http://www.bushfoundation.org/leadership/MCFFellows
Alfonso Wenker, one of the founding fellows of the program said “Philanthropy is a powerful force for change in our communities. But if the leaders of philanthropic organizations do not reflect the communities they serve, then those institutions will be less effective.” I agree. It’s also important to me as we begin to ask, who will be the Lao American philanthropists in the future? How are we creating the best opportunities for one another to touch many lives for generations to come?
As a community leader, I see we need to be doing more to express the inner visions and dreams we have. We should not focus just on day to day survival and stability, but ask ourselves the important questions. How do we reduce barriers to create equity. What does it mean to go beyond giving everyone a pair of shoes, and making sure that everyone has shoes that fit? I think the Lao culutre has many good lessons we can share with American society. But we also have many things we can learn from American methods too. We all need to have an open mind.
I hope our emerging community leaders also understand that it is part of what we do to get criticized. There will be people who say we aren’t doing enough. We aren’t going fast enough. There will be many complaints. But I hope that our young leaders do not get discouraged. That they will never give up on trying to help people the best way they know how. Sometimes this means we have to put aside our egos. Sometimes this means we have to stand by our principles. Sometimes we teach. Sometimes we learn.
I know I still have a lot to learn. But I also know I am not alone, and this gives me hope. For our younger leaders, you will have a lot to learn too, but always have hope.
The Lao community should seek to share its great ideas. Have conversations with the many different people who want to be your mayor or city councilman, who wants to represent you. You have many rights in a democracy. But to make the most of them you must be civically engaged. Dont forget to vote next month!