Reflections on the Leadership Grand Rapids Class of 2023
I was pushing my daughters in their stroller through the LMCU Bridge Run on Sunday. My out of shape body was pleading me to stop, while my chronic knee issue remained a persistent reminder of how uncomfortable jogging is for me. Despite my uncomfortableness as we ran, I couldn’t help but note the churning waters and bridges were the perfect analogy for the weekend I was completing.
You see, I am blessed to be part of the Leadership Grand Rapids Class of 2023: a group of diverse individuals looking to grow and be the best leaders they can be for our community. We have committed to learning, listening to each other, and building bridges across our socioeconomic, cultural, political, race and faith chasms in the hopes of bettering our shared community.
Our group of 45 had just spent an intense, exhausting, and encouraging Friday and Saturday bonding over laughter, anger, ignorance, and shared learning. At one point during our weekend sessions we separated into five groups. The task of each group was to get off a “deserted” island using some pieces of lumber. Each group approached our task in our own unique way. At the outset, some of us were failing miserably, others in their frustration up and quit, while the rest seemed to be succeeding with ease. Using the lumber, each team built bridges off their islands to their haven of safety. While watching, I observed the groups that finished first were celebrating and joking together, which only further aggravated those of us unable to complete the task. Competitive spirits flared up, and in frustration groups started to quarrel with each other. But then a mentality shift happened – the successful groups started to recognize those of us struggling. As they recognized this, they communicated ways we could help ourselves, which eventually turned into them physically aiding us in our bridge building task. In observing the exercise, it was impossible to not draw parallels between the activity we were attempting to complete and the state of our Grand Rapids communities.
The parallels between our structured leadership task and our Grand Rapids community was clear to me. In our task, it was only when the safe individual groups began to recognize and assist the struggling groups that the overall group began to succeed. The bridges began to be built at an astonishing rate, compounding quickly. As a diverse community made up of transplants, immigrants, Dutch, African Americans, Polish et al., we notably tend to stick to our safe spaces, the communities and friendships we know. This takes on many shapes and forms, and is not meant to be a condemnation, so much as a moment of reflection. By staying comfortable and out of the churning waters, we are causing a disservice to ourselves and our greater community. We all have so much perspective to give and build each other up with. As a transplant assimilating to this city, my personal challenge has been “maybe it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?” In doing so I’ve committed myself to building bridges. As uncomfortable or painful as it may be to build those bridges, I may just have to swim through the churning waters first.
That brings me back to my LMCU Bridge Run. As I ran those bridges I was thankful for the physical bridges built before me. Bridges that kept me from having to swim the churning waters; bridges that allowed me to enjoy running beside members of my community. As I looked into the stroller at my two young daughters, I had to ask myself, what bridges can I build so they can run freely too? My hope, like any parent, is for a better future for them. I also hope they can in turn be thankful that someone swam the uncomfortable churning waters of our community, so they didn’t have to.
As I commence 2023 with the best Leadership Grand Rapids class ever, I’m looking forward to building bridges with my classmates for our community.