Leadership Racine kicked off its 15th class this past September and as I spoke to the new group of participants, I reflected on my involvement over the past fifteen years.
From a participant in that first class to advisory board chair, I have done everything from schlepping soda to presenting. In between I have served on the program and selection committees, helped revise the program after that first year and supported the program with my “time, talents and tithes”.
Over sixteen years ago, a small group of community leaders began asking the question, “Who would take over when we are no longer involved.” Perhaps they sensed their own mortality. Maybe they had grown tired. Or quite frankly, they were ready to pass the baton. Whatever the reason, they asked the question but didn’t like what they saw. There were no runners coming up from behind.
A vision was cast that day and a program was created to meet the needs of our community.Leadership Racine was placed in the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC) and with support of United Way and the Racine Community Foundation, along with several major corporations, a net was cast to reach the broadest of audiences. Diversity was a key goal and one that was easily met.
What is unique about this next generation of emerging leaders is that they come from all walks of life-transcending racial and socio-economic barriers. They work in the private sector, the public sector and for non-government organizations. Some own businesses while others still live at home. They are young and old, rich and poor, black and white but none of that mattered because they were a part of a shared experience called Leadership Racine.
Over the past fifteen years, each class has worked together for nine months, learning about themselves and about others. They are taught leadership skills, exposed to various community leaders and organizations and complete a team project. But most importantly, they are united by a desire to make this community a better place.
As I spoke to the new class this year, I mentioned three things:
1. If they want to see servant leadership in action, watch Karen Bayer. Karen Bayer is the Executive Director of Leadership Racine and has quietly guided the program from the beginning, mentoring many who have gone through. She is part den mother, part task master. With her bell she keeps the day moving but more often, she quietly leads from behind. Whether its an encouraging word or a hug, Karen has a way of influencing people and engendering support.
2. A marker of success for Leadership Racine is the buy-in from the graduates of the program. Not only is Karen Bayer a servant leader but she is highly relational. This has benefited the program immensely over the years. LR graduates enjoy working with Karen. She empowers them to lead, encourages them in their strengths and supports them from behind.
Although Leadership Racine was started by a group of community leaders, there are only two founding board members still involved with the program. The bulk of the work is handled by Leadership Racine alumni who cheerfully serve on the various working committees. For example, LR grads on the “Program” committee plan each session and then volunteer their time to assist the day of that session. In between they meet monthly to plan and evaluate each session.
3. Finally if you look around our community, you will notice that almost every board, committee or commission has at least one, if not more Leadership Racine alumni serving on it. Some alumni have run for office, serving as elected officials. Others are appointed to positions. Overall, there are fresh faces serving in a leadership capacity and no longer is there that fear that there is no one to pass that baton to.
That day over sixteen years ago, these community leaders, many who will remain as icons in the history of Racine, casted a vision and Leadership Racine was birthed out of a desire to train up a new generation of leaders. Fifteen years later, that torch has been successfully passed and a new generation of leaders has emerged within our community.