by Clare Stern, UNF Senior
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”~John Quincy Adams
When I first heard these words I was sitting in my living room watching a speech given by one of Jacksonville’s circuit court judges. These words bring three things to my mind: courage, authenticity, and determination. These are all things that have played a major role in my time with the UNF Interfaith Center and Better Together Leadership Development Program. The courage to say what I believe at my core, what is right, and needed in my community. The courage to engage others with an authentic and compassionate heart, and to have the determination to see something through, even when the masses say that interfaith collaboration is “a pipe dream” or “it will never work,”.
When I came to UNF I was reserved and often quiet, even in times when I knew what I had to say was important. I was living in comfort; some would even say fear. The fear of feeling humiliated for holding a value or stance on something. I wasn’t living with the integrity with which I aspired to lead. In subtle ways, working with the UNF Interfaith Center helped me develop courage and integrity in what I believe. When I speak of courage, I am not speaking of leaving fear behind, but rather stepping right into fear because the call to action is greater. In the Fall of 2013 the Interfaith Center’s coordinator Rachel McNeal asked me to serve on the Interfaith Week Planning Committee. Most of the meetings started with a check-in (name, worldview, why you are involved in interfaith?). Often times I would chalk it up to ‘Clare, Christian-Episcopalian (which has since changed), and because I love all things interfaith.”. What I really should have said was, “what is good for me may not be good for you, in order to be an effective member in society I need to know what the needs of others are.” I have always known that was the root of what I believe in interfaith work. I was living in comfort because I would hear my peers say, “I don’t know,” or “I was invited to serve so I am here.” It was after checking in over a few months that I realized I was suppressing something very important to me. I wanted to start naming the WHY in a bolder way.
While it was difficult naming things (values, my changing worldview, etc.) it pushed me to share with people what really matters to me. I was voicing my values. I started my journey as an emerging interfaith leader and living with the kind of integrity I had envisioned for myself to a fuller extent. It was over time that I started to reach for more – to live with a touch of discomfort so that I would grow more.
Over these three years I have gone from someone who was quiet and afraid to name their value(s) because of what their peers might say, to someone who has not only stated their values in informal settings, but ain national and international settings. I have had so many opportunities to develop as a leader. From presenting my own proposal at the White House’s President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Fall Gathering in Washington D.C., or co-presenting at the Parliament of World’s Religion’s Conference. I served as one of Interfaith Youth Core’s Better Together Coaches for the 2015-2016 school year, and as a member of National Leadership Team for two years in a row, and finally as UNF’s first Student Government Interfaith Chaplain. While ninety percent of the time I was terrified (an excited) about each new role that I was taking on, I knew that the resourcing provided, as well as the community support from my mentors and team members at the Interfaith Center, would have my back should I need to call on them to be an ally for me. No change is ever made by being idle, history tells us that.
While I have developed a sense of courage, I have also grown in my own leadership style as an authentic and servant leader. As a participant in the Community Leadership Minor at UNF I have had opportunities to look at the various styles of leadership. According to my values and the way I practice them, I align most with authentic and servant leadership. Authentic leaders lead with their heart and mind, are focused on the long term, and strive to be self-aware and genuine. Servant leaders seek diverse opinions, and seek to help in the cultivation of other leaders. I have found that working with an interfaith community has helped me grow dramatically in this area. Being around others who have the same goal of wanting a more harmonious world and respectfully bringing differing perspectives to the conversation makes for a richer and deeper engagement outcome. Our world is rich in diversity and differing opinions. I personally believe that genuine actions that help humanity and communities are the very thing that will solve our world’s biggest problems. As someone who is about to graduate with a degree in public health I see the leadership characteristics I have developed in interfaith work completely applicable. Health resourcing is not a one size fits all need, just like our religious and values-based systems. As a health educator who has gone through interfaith work I have a better understanding on how to have respectful conversations with those who do not agree with traditional western medicine. Knowing the reason why someone might not want pork or shellfish in their diet or why someone can or cannot have a blood transfusion is important. Knowing a little information from someone else’s background is key to someone’s health status. By engaging diversity and shared values there is a window of opportunity to bring various perspectives to act for the common good so that more people have their voices heard and are provided the equity they need.
Interfaith cooperation and activism have taught me to dream more, learn more, to reach for more. Dreams with a strong backing of determination can turn into reality. As Interfaith Youth Core often says, “ only an act can turn an idea real.” I have learned more than I could have ever imagined possible. Not just about a religious, spiritual or values-based worldview but how that worldview contributes to our complex human identity and how it plays into the way individuals move and think in the world. Not only that, but also to reach for more than what I think and see in the here and now. I feel ready to meet the world’s conversations and challenges because I was resourced well enough to start my journey as an emerging leader.
Signing off with a heart filled with gratitude, a mind full of dreams, and body ready to act to make my dreams possible.