Moral courage isn’t easy. Raising your voice and taking action for what you believe is right never is. The national Community Learning Exchange gathering in Jacksonville, FL in October highlighted and explored the subject of moral courage, both by hearing from voices that made an impact in history as well as those of the current generation, all to inspire moral courage in our own lives and communities.
[Photo by Radwan Chowdhury — Check out the rest of his album from Jacksonville! ]
Natalie Medina is no stranger to Community Learning Exchanges, though the Jacksonville CLE was her first national gathering. While at university, a professor introduced her to Community Learning Exchanges and she implemented CLE strategies in her work with women at the Children’s Home Society, her church and at the school where she is interning.
In Jacksonville, the CLE model has been used to increase local engagement for over a year, ultimately leading the local CLE team to spearhead the national Jacksonville gathering. As part of the planning team, Natalie experienced both a behind-the-scenes perspective and the joy of taking part in a learning exchange with people from across the country.
Natalie, a graduate student on the final stretch of the counseling program at the University of North Florida, is passionate about “seeing the value and strength in communities” as well as the well being of children. Formerly in social work and now as a school counselor, her concern is for kids and how they’re treated. She wants to see children not only living well, but having an active, valued voice.
It was that same passion for the value of youth voices that made the most impact on her at the Jacksonville CLE. Though it was on a larger scale than any of the local gatherings she participated in, Natalie felt the same spirit at the CLE in Jacksonville.
“There’s this power of learning from each other. It’s not just the people with titles being heard — everyone has a voice.” she said, recalling the equality that embodies every Community Learning Exchange.
One major difference between the national CLE gathering in Jacksonville compared to smaller gatherings was the inclusion of site visits, which left a lasting impression on Natalie:
“The site visits were my favorite. I ran one [as part of the planning team] on empowering youth. We had these incredible stories from these dynamic youth. They clearly demonstrated moral courage and gave this definite focus and a fresh perspective. They’re very insightful and powerful...there’s something about these kids that we just don’t see in the mainstream.”
Natalie described one youth who stood before his peers and rapped about moral courage, displaying a hidden talent that no one knew about. Youth displayed leadership not only at site visits, but collectively throughout the whole of the Jacksonville CLE, as many were in attendance.
“Kids have so much to offer and so much wisdom to give if they have a platform. They just need to be given a platform to be leaders.” said Natalie.
“I’m going to be school counselor pretty soon,” Medina explained, “As educators, we need to ask [youth] what they need. We need to give them a voice in education.”
Natalie is already practicing principles of collective leadership in her current internship at a school, seeking to give kids a platform — whether it’s verbally, artistically or in some new way — to present their voices, stories and values. She advocates for their voices, firm in the belief that educators shouldn’t give youth what they think they need, but to stop and ask them what their aspirations and needs actually are.
As for her experience at the Jacksonville CLE, Natalie Medina describes it as inspirational and a source of hope for the future.
“It was just so inspiring to go forward and then take that back to your work. It can be really draining, but then you’re around these like-minded people [at the CLE] and it’s just refreshing.”