December 2, 2018, marked a milestone for the Aspen Young Leaders Fellowship (AYLF) as 18 of St. Louis’s finest successfully completed their experience and began their journey as alumni of the program. AYLF identifies, cultivates, and prepares young leaders to engage in the values-based leadership essential for transforming their lives and their communities for the better.
AYLF was founded in 2016 by Henry Crown Fellow (2005) William P. (Scott) Bush. It is a place-based, multi-site program that nurtures diverse youth who are committed to addressing the most compelling social, political, and scientific issues facing their communities. At its core, AYLF strives to:
- Connect talent to opportunity;
- Develop passions into purpose; and
- Transform vision into action.
All of this is in service of creating and mobilizing a pool of young, values-based, civic leaders from across St. Louis who are ready to capitalize on commonalities, bridge differences, and engage in community leadership today- not in some distant future.
More than 100 supporters and stakeholders attended the graduation ceremony at The Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Guests and family members helped honor the Fellows by acknowledging their accomplishments and commitment to their fellowship experience. Over the course of two years, fellows participated in nine seminar experiences and launched Community Impact Projects to help address critical issues they identified within their communities. These projects addressed a wide array of relevant issues in St. Louis including:
- Incentivizing economic growth and development
- Remediating injustices associated with mass incarceration
- Disrupting educational inequity
- Addressing and supporting mental illness in the Black community.
Before the formal graduation ceremony, gallery walks featured pitch videos created by Fellows who shared insights from their experiences and Community Impact Projects.
Key supporters attending the ceremony included Dr. Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and The Honorable Representative Bruce Franks, Jr. of Missouri’s 78th Legislative District. Rep. Franks, Jr. delivered the community keynote address during the ceremony. His heartfelt message to Fellows inspired them to “be dangerous and to hear orders to be silent as calls to be loud and unapologetic.” Rep. Franks, Jr. had previously participated in a seminar session with the cohort and remains committed to supporting AYLF and its work with developing young leaders in the St. Louis community.
Fellows nominated two cohort members, Jasmine Adams and Max Goldstein, to represent them as speakers during the ceremony. Each of them shared reflections from their experience and encouraged their peers to continue leading their communities. Jasmine Adams challenged her peers to accept their roles as the leaders of today: “We are the leaders of today, our parents and the people on the television were the leaders of yesterday. Our work today will change the world tomorrow!”
Max Goldstein reflected on his fellowship journey and helped guests understand the intentionality of AYLF when he stated, “when the fellowship launched I worried that some of my views, whether political or personal, might not be taken seriously by the group as some of [my views] seemed to greatly contrast the overall sentiment of the cohort. Why was I worried about this? I honestly don’t know. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the Aspen Institute carefully hand-picked the finest leaders in the St. Louis area and we were more than capable of having a positive dialogue.”
This is what AYLF does best. It not only teaches fellows how to engage in civil discourse but also helps them develop critical skills such as perspective-taking and team building. Each year, 25-30 youth between the ages of 18-22 are selected to join AYLF cohorts in their localities. Local cohorts complete programming designed to accelerate personal and leadership development as well as fellows’ understandings of how to effectuate change individually and collectively both in and outside of systems.
The curriculum focuses on values-based leadership, collective impact, and change. The program is designed to meet participants where they are by engaging them in text-based dialogue, field experiences, project-based learning, and simulations. The curriculum draws on the Institute’s unique blend of high-impact pedagogies, localized content, personalized learning, and access to influential leaders that set AYLF apart from traditional youth leadership programs. The program culminates with the implementation of a community impact project.
The graduation of St. Louis’s inaugural AYLF cohort is a moment of celebration as well as a call to action. There is no shortage of young talent in this amazing city nor in any corner of our great nation. However, there is a shortage of opportunities that invest in, catalyze, and propel talented youth into their communities as agents of change. AYLF is attempting to change that. If you would like to learn more about the program or contribute to our efforts, please reach out to AYLF’s managing director, Dr. John Dugan (firstname.lastname@example.org), for more information. Together, we can transform our cities by investing in brilliant, young, talent ready to contribute and lead us into a more prosperous and equitable future.