Community Learning Exchange

“Looking Back to Move Forward”

The first step toward creating change within your community is looking back to understand the past. Then, armed with that knowledge and understanding, you are able to work with others to move forward and build a brighter future.

The participants of the North Carolina CLE

This theme guided the last Community Learning Exchange - “Looking Back to Move Forward": Leading for School, Family and Community Healing - which just wrapped up in North Carolina earlier this month. Teams from around the country - from California and Texas to Florida and North Carolina - gathered at the Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, North Carolina from October 10 to 13. The Franklinton Center has deep historical significance in this part of the United States, and this location was the foundation for conversations about what the theme “Looking Back to Move Forward” truly means.

Before the Civil War, the Franklinton Center was a plantation with an especially brutal reputation, where “unruly slaves were brought to be broken,” according to center staff. After the war, General Oliver Howard bought the plantation and later became the first president of Howard University. The next owner of the former plantation, Julia E. Brick, wanted to open a school to educate poor children of color. She donated the land to the American Missionary Association, and the property became the first African-American school to be accredited in the US. The school went on to become a junior college in 1925, offering classes in arts, science, teaching and pre-medicine, staffed by people of color (which was highly unusual at the time). It closed its doors in 1933, and Franklinton Center is now a conference, retreat and educational facility focused on leadership development, social justice and issues affecting the marginalized and the poor. 

A visual representation of the North Carolina site visits

The fact that the Franklinton Center was once a place of cruelty and oppression but was transformed into a center of learning, justice advocacy and community leadership captures the core message of the North Carolina CLE’s theme. During the opening of the weekend, participants reflected on the meaning of the symbol of Sankofa, an ancient symbol that signifies the importance of learning from the past, and were invited to become agents of change in their communities:

In West Africa, they call the story holders the griots, sacred members of the community who work to bring others together, solve issues and keep the community story and honor in place.

Think of what history you bring to this moment that is important for understanding who you are. Think about how this intersects with the history of the country and of this place in North Carolina. Think of how you reach back to the spirit of Sankofa in your daily life, drawing on your sense of story—stories from your family, your community, your work, your interactions. We will start our journey with coming to know the history and the spirit of North Carolina. We can bring that history to our CLE work as a model for how we can use our history and presence of place in our work at home.

The Sankofa symbol used as a theme for the CLE.

Multiple Generations of Leaders

Place, history and story played valuable roles in the weekend. “Looking Back to Move Forward” was present in each site visit, discussion and activity, and participants explored what this idea means to their own communities.

“Through place-based learning, we’re looking at how stories from the past influence what we’re doing now,” said Angela Strother, one of the organizers on the host team. “You have to know where you’ve been to move forward.”

Each team that participated in the CLE was a mix of different leaders, each of whom brought valuable experiences and perspectives to the weekend:

  • School leader (principal, assistant principal, teacher, superintendent)
  • Youth (middle or high schooler, or recent high school graduate)
  • Community leader/activist
  • Additional school/family/community member

Angela emphasized that different generations working together was an important aspect of the North Carolina CLE.

“It shows it really takes community to make changes,” she said.

The goal for all of the teams is that they will take what they learned during the weekend and go back home with a plan to host their own mini CLE within their communities. They will apply their experiences with place-based learning and collective leadership to address challenges in their own schools and hometowns.

Participants at the Oxford, NC site visit 

Stay Involved in the CLE

1. Check out the Facebook photo album from the North Carolina CLE, and tag yourself or your friends in photos.
2. Engage with the CLE on Facebook and Twitter.
3. Download resources on strategies and pedagogies used in the North Carolina CLE.
4. Join the Community Learning Exchange website, and stay in touch with other leaders. Here are four ways you can use the CLE online network.

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