Community Learning Exchange

On a former plantation in Northeast North Carolina, a group from Jacksonville, Florida discovered new insights about their own community.

The Jacksonville team included Sophie Maxis and Chris Janson (both associate professors in the University of North Florida’s department of Leadership, School Counseling & Sports Management), Saponda Lee (a graduate student studying school counseling), Rudy Jamison (a doctoral student studying education leadership), Jeffery Dillard (a school teacher) and Rick Palo and Travis Pinckney (school counselors). The group attended the October 2013 Community Learning Exchange - "Looking Back to Move Forward": Leading for School, Family and Community Healing - which took place at the Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitaker, North Carolina, a former plantation that has been transformed into an educational facility focused on leadership and social justice.

The Jacksonville, Florida team 

Powerful Moments from North Carolina

The historical significance of the plantation resonated in a meaningful way with members of the Jacksonville team.

“North Carolina was more moving for me than Texas because of the location,” said Saponda Lee.

“It was really thought-provoking, a place of deep self-reflection. Our team would process together; it brought us to a place of great vulnerability, and we really opened up to one another. We reflected on how privileged we are because of people who went through what they did in the past.”

A site visit to a cotton field in North Carolina 

Sophie Maxis said that in the past, she attended other Learning Exchanges in places that have more of an influence from Latin American culture.

“We work with an African-American community, and I would wonder, ‘How would this look with my community? How would we try that with African-American students?’” said Sophie. “Being at the North Carolina CLE was powerful.”  

A 2014 Learning Exchange

The weekend sparked conversations among the Jacksonville team about the challenges that face their city and how they can bring the community together to address them. The group identified a need to improve the safety - both physical and emotional - of young African-American males growing up in Jacksonville. They are planning to host their own CLE later this year that focuses on mending relationships between the young men in the community and the local police.

The participants at the North Carolina CLE

Saponda said that the Jacksonville team has hosted successful one-day Learning Exchanges in the past, and she hopes those experiences will help shape the direction of a weekend event.

“We’ve had a lot of youth, clergy leaders, students, parents, professors,” she said. “Different people from different areas, and you hear from everyone. One thing we do is break bread together - we sit at one long table and get everyone together to talk. Anyone will talk over food. It helps people connect.”

Sophie emphasized the importance of place for the CLE that their team is planning. They’re defining what makes Jacksonville unique and are exploring a theme that incorporates the seven bridges that connect different parts of the city as a metaphor for important pillars of the community - such as health and education. Sophie also discussed the importance of collaborating with a variety of community leaders who are already going great work.

“In North Carolina, we talked about the quiet, powerful workers and finding ways to highlight them,” she said. “They might not be the hotshots, but they’re the people quietly doing the work.”

The Personal & Professional Impact of the CLE

Both Sophie and Saponda said that their experiences with the Community Learning Exchange have had a lasting impact on them.

Sophie said that the CLE methods have influenced her work as a counselor and a professor, and she uses Gracious Space and meeting in circles frequently.

“It transformed my teaching,” she said. “I use students as a springboard.”

For Saponda, incorporating the CLE teachings into her daily life is essential.

“The CLE literally changed my life: the way I think, my outlook on life and people,” said Saponda.

“It’s outstanding. It has made me more accepting of other people. I thought I was accepting of all people, but I had to struggle with being uncomfortable, being OK with interacting with people who are different from me and not feeling a certain way. At the Texas CLE, the idea of showing love echoed so loud. I believe in showing love, purposely loving people, no matter where they’re from, what their background, what their sexual orientation. It’s about accepting and giving of myself.”


We look forward to hearing more about the work the Jacksonville team is doing - stay tuned for updates on their upcoming Learning Exchange!

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