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Reflections on 2023: Moving to Transformation, Healing, and Joy

December 14, 2023

By Ronda Alexander, Director of National Partnerships, Corin Bauman, Program Coordinator, and Diana Rivera, Program Manager, Vital Village Networks

In 2023 we focused on collective action and coalition building in our work here at the Networks of Opportunity for Child Wellbeing powered by Vital Village Networks. The NOW staff wanted to share reflections from the past year of transformative leadership and learnings that happened in the NOW community. We had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with inspiring community leaders and coalitions from across the country who shared innovative practices focused on healing, joy and equity in their communities. From building equitable food systems, to advocating for birth equity, to transforming public policy through community-driven leadership, the stories and work brought an abundance of inspiration and connections. We invite you to take time and consider, how have you grown in your understanding of collaborative action and coalition building this year? What lessons and commitments are you carrying forward into 2024? 

With deep gratitude, we thank all of you for making 2023 a remarkable year of leading and learning, and look forward to all that we imagine and build together in 2024.

Vital Village Networks National Community Leadership Summit. October 17, 2023. Credit: Felix Gaertner

Ronda Alexander, Director of National Partnerships

What an amazing year 2023 has been! This year we hosted our 10th National Community Leadership Summit, it was our first time in person since 2019.  It was a powerful gathering of the Vital Village Networks family from across the country; we heard from author Kiese Laymon about owning all the parts of our narrative and activist Camille Bennett about stepping into our individual and collective power.  The event featured our second Data Equity Symposium where we focused on birth equity, specifically equitable practices in collecting, analyzing, and sharing data. I am still beaming from the energy and abundance that filled the space; there were sessions on health, food systems, education, and leaders from across the country sharing data stories from their communities. I continue to be inspired by the wisdom, leadership, and gifts in our communities. I truly believe this year’s summit was the best one yet and there’s only room to grow in 2024. I walked away from the summit feeling energized, motivated, and held by OUR community.  

Vital Village Networks Data Equity Symposium. October 16, 2023. Credit: Felix Gaertner

Resource: Listen to the recorded opening plenary from the 10th National Community Leadership Summit - In the Arena with NOW Podcast, Season 2 Episode 7 - Writing Our Story, Kiese Laymon on Joy, Justice, and Healing 

Corin Bauman, Program Coordinator

This year launched Season 2 of the In the Arena with NOW podcast, which hosted inspiring, thoughtful and action-oriented conversations with community leaders who are working to build and sustain healthy communities through collaborative efforts. Listening to the line-up in this season, I gained insight into the transformative leadership being built in neighborhoods and communities across the country through processes like creative place-making, a practice shared by Allentza Michel, of Powerful Pathways in episodes 1 & 2. Allentza shared examples of how creative place-making can push public policy work toward more inclusive, community-centered development practices, and encouraged listeners to use collective imagination and visioning in collaborative action. “I really believe we need to dream big. I really believe that in order to create just futures, we have to be willing to imagine wildly” (Allentza Michel, Powerful Pathways Part 2: Collective Imagination to Build a Just Future, July 2023). This conversation along with the lessons learned from the other guests like using collaborative action for healing, building trust through the “heart-work” of partnerships, and harnessing the power of owning our stories and our gifts deepened my understanding of community leadership through collective action.

Vital Village National Community Leadership Summit, Closing Plenary with Camille Bennett. October 17, 2023. Credit: Felix Gaertner. Listen to Camille Bennett in Episode 8 of In the Arena with NOW.

Resource: Subscribe to In the Arena with Now, and find inspiration from season 2 for transforming how we collaborate together.

Diana Rivera, Program Manager

This past November marked another powerful closing conversation for our fifth NOW webinar series, which continues to lift up the voices, stories, and wisdom of community leaders across the country. The leaders who spoke to this year’s theme, Collaborative Action and Coalition Building: Transformative Practices for Healing, Joy, and Equity, helped reaffirm for me how critical it is to center collective healing and joy as we move through the challenging but necessary work of transforming community systems. As someone who is committed to process, I often grapple with how day-to-day actions can help move us closer to centering community voice, power, and decision making. Our final session lifted up two Vital Village Community Food Systems fellows, Kim Ross (H.U.B Market, Mount Terra LLC) and Hallie Nelson (Jefferson County Food Policy Council), who spoke to their work to build meaningful cross-sector, multi-stakeholder relationships towards equitable food systems in the Appalachian Region in West Virginia and Jefferson County, Colorado, respectively. I was struck by the intentional process that the 280+ members of the JFPC coalition, staff, and partners use to authentically build leadership with members, offering a scaffolding of engagement opportunities towards increased leadership roles, grounded in hyperlocal creative outreach strategies and intentional, up-front work to establish a shared vision, expectations, and decisions. This was quite illuminating for us, and I encourage you to check out the webinar archive and recording to learn more about their experience translating the idea of shared leadership into action. 

Resource: Watch the NOW Webinar Series, “Collaborative Action and Coalition Building: Transformative Practices for Healing, Joy, and Equity;” November 30 Webinar, Building Relationships and Partnerships towards an Equitable Food System

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