Even after nine months of leadership training through the Neighborhood Leadership Fellows, Shavanna Spratt says she still feels like an ordinary, everyday person. The difference now is she’s prepared and ready to take action to make Ferguson a better place.
“I think that's what makes my situation even more special, because that's kind of where I am now, fighting for people, the everyday, average person, to speak up and be involved and to be encouraged to get in their communities and do some work,” Spratt said in an interview..
Being in the Neighborhood Leadership Fellows’ 2020 class taught Spratt about her strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and how to use both. Specifically for her, she said she is starting a podcast even though public speaking is something she feels is a weakness for her.
The group’s mission is to increase and amplify the voices of north St. Louis and north St. Louis County residents at civic decision-making tables in order to produce more equitable regional policies for neighborhoods.
But quite possibly the most important thing it does, according to Spratt and others who have gone through the class, is provide the opportunity to network with other change-making St. Louisans.
“The cohort itself was amazing,” she said. “Just the people in there, the connection alone goes a long way — like the people that you connect with is just awesome. But on top of that, the history that they go back and teach you — the history of your neighborhood and the neighborhoods surrounding your community. So that was awesome, you know, finding out how things happened in the past that leads up to what's happening now and especially around the policy part of it.”
Lisa Potts, who has lived in the Central West End for 17 years, completed a similar program at UMSL called the Neighborhood Leadership Academy. Her end plan was to work on reducing road-rage and speeding on Hamilton Avenue.
She is also currently working on a 20-year comprehensive, resident driven community development plan for the area after she and three other residents received the Invest in St. Louis Grant in partnership with Cornerstone Corporation, a nonprofit that restores properties.
She said: “I was able to meet people from across the metropolitan area and learn about what their what their challenges were in their neighborhoods and make new friends and build future collaborations, because what's great about this class is that we will forever share the bond that we are the NLA class of 2020 and I think they will be able to kind of stay together as a cohort for future trainings and future opportunities for leadership and opportunities to partner on various efforts in the community.”
Potts will also participate in the NLF in 2021.
The members of the 2021 Neighborhood Leadership Fellows Cohort Class were announced recently. They are: Leia Burroughs, Shameem Clark-Hubbard, Keith Crawford, Patricia Dees, Angela Drake, McFarlane Duncan, Tashara Earl, Terry Epps, Marcel Hagens, Charlin Hughes, William Humphrey, Latonya Jackson, Jane Kayser, Farrakhan Shegog, Jayson Stewart, Ly Syin Lobster, Samantha March, Veronica Morrow-Reel, Lisa Potts, Michelle Spraggins, Orlando Sharpe, April Walker, Shavette Wayne-Jones, Frank Williamson, and Ashley Winters.
Duncan, who has lived in St. Louis for 20 years, said he’s spent a lot of his time working in nonprofit and political areas.
“You hear a lot of energy or talk around election season: ‘Let's get everybody registered to vote. Go vote, go, go vote, go vote.’ And that is great, but I think that's just one part of the solution” he said.
“So now that the vote has been had, it's time to start not only holding those elected officials accountable, but to start being engaged in other solutions that are going to be impactful,” Duncan said. “For me, I just want people to take from this story that the residents are key to change.”
Sharpe is a former educator and now works for De La Salle, Inc., a nonprofit group that supports La Salle Middle School near downtown St. Louis. He said that he wants to become better informed of what’s going on in the St. Louis Promise Zone, areas federally designated in 2015 that encompass portions of St. Louis and St. Louis County.
“I'm going in with an open mind rather than coming in with the specific plan in and around organization, development and things like that. And so you kind of need to clear the slate so that you can receive the information that's being provided,” he said. “… I'm really going to be focusing most of my attention on young youth and younger adults.”
The Leadership Fellows program is a collaboration between Creating Whole Communities, University of Missouri-St. Louis, University of Missouri Extension and St. Louis Promise Zone-St. Louis Economic Development Partnership. The Deaconess Foundation, St. Louis Mental Health Board and Saint Louis ReCAST financially support the fellowship program.
The 2021 program is set to convene on Jan. 8 and run through September. Participants receive a $2,000 stipend and an UMSL Chancellor’s Certificate upon completion.