A Recap of the 2019 ASF Program Director Retreat

From year to year, Program Directors of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship chapters across the nation have voted on the hosting chapter for the annual Program Directors retreat held in July. The Alabama chapter was selected to host this year’s retreat as our state’s storied history around civil rights perfectly encapsulates this year’s theme: “Pursuing Equity, Addressing Trauma, and Increasing Resilience, within Our Fellows, Communities, Organizations, and Nation”. 

Twelve Schweitzer Fellowship leaders from cities, spanning Los Angeles to Boston and many in between, convened in Birmingham and Montgomery from Tuesday, July 23rd to Thursday, July 25th, to focus on building collective strategies for the next year, including meeting the needs of more diverse Fellow classes and reviving a collective organizational network.

During the Tuesday session, the Program Directors learned about developing more effective communication and storytelling strategies. Courtney Roy and Dennis Archambault, the Program Directors from Dallas and Detroit respectively, provided their fellow Program Directors with strategies that will inform each chapter’s communications approach, including effectively promoting their chapters to intended audiences. Additionally, during the session, the Program Directors were given a presentation from Michele Forman, documentary filmmaker and the director of the Media Studies program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Chip Brantley, the current co-host of the NPR podcast White Lies and professor at the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama. Highlighting their various experiences in journalism and media, Ms. Forman and Mr. Brantley discussed using storytelling to elevate lesser-known yet deserving narratives. Mr. Brantley left the Program Directors with the lesson  that “everyone is interesting, and it’s a matter of taking the time to listen and get to know the person”. The presenters also supplied the Directors with storytelling resources to utilize within their chapters. 

On Wednesday, the Directors traveled to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Just opened last year, the Legacy Museum uses different forms of multimedia to produce an immersive and educational experience about the legacy of the domestic slave trade throughout history  to its visitors. Located near the Legacy Museum sits the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is described as “a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy”. The Program Directors also paid a visit to Executive Director Carla Crowder and her team at Alabama Appleseed, a nonprofit that is a part of the national Appleseed Centers network, who are dedicated to legal advocacy for a multitude of issues across the state. 

The following are reflections from Program Directors about their visits to these important spaces: 
“Visiting the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice was an extremely powerful experience. The Equal Justice Initiative did an outstanding job documenting our history of racial and economic injustice and creating a platform for important discussions about this legacy and its current ramifications.” – Barbara Heffner, Program Director, North Carolina Chapter

“The day in Montgomery was stunning/daunting, unforgettable, and will be forever deeply motivating.” – Lachlan Forrow, President, ASF National Board of Directors, Boston, MA

On Thursday, the Program Directors returned to Birmingham to reflect on their week and to discuss the next steps upon returning home. Chesley Leruth, the New Orleans Program Director, led the Directors in a workshop analyzing results from the 2019-2020 pre-survey, primarily focusing on the demographics of the new Fellow class. During this workshop, there were also discussions about creating more thoughtful questions for next year’s post-survey that will help better capture the diversity of the Fellows. For the rest of the Thursday session, Program Directors held a conversation about reestablishing a national network that will highlight the tremendous work being done by all individual chapters. 

Here are more reflections from the Program Directors about the impact and lessons learned from the week: 
“I am looking forward to the productive and evolving time ahead with such creative and dedicated teams across the U.S. “ – Rebecca Gamble, Program Director, Pittsburgh Chapter

“The opportunity to connect with PDs from around the country helps our chapters and our collective strengthen our Fellowship community. I loved the perspective of visiting Alabama’s civil rights memories and museums — it helped us feel grounded in this location and keep our mission and commitment to social justice central to our meeting.” – Maya Bauer, Program Director, Chicago Chapter

“I was amazed by the energy and collective wisdom of the Program Directors and feel much more connected and engaged — this will enhance my participation and engagement moving forward, especially on the Program Director calls.” – Lizzie Fitzgerald, Program Director, Columbus-Athens Chapter

“I hope/think this meeting will turn out to be the crucial turning point from ASF’s structure/functioning to an exciting future in which everything about our U.S. Fellows programs grows out of the enormous combined strengths of our local programs and skilled/committed Program Directors.” – Lachlan Forrow, President, ASF National Board of Directors, Boston, MA

Please visit our Facebook page to view photos from the week.