On Sunday I attended my brother’s graduation from Claremont Lincoln University, a relatively new accredited graduate school founded with a mission to develop compassionate leaders in the areas of ethical leadership, interfaith action, and social impact.
Hardy – along with Joseph Williams and Leslie Fountain, a few other graduates I know well – earned a Master of Arts degree in Social Impact. His thesis, “Teachers Transforming their Knowledge of the Underground Railroad into Lessons of Empathy and Citizenship,” is based on his work with the hundreds of educators who have participated in our Footsteps to Freedom Study Tours over the past two decades.
From empathy training and peer-led mindfulness training for parents of children with special needs to media for social impact and defining quality care for people with developmental disabilities, I was impressed with thesis topics illustrating the school’s vision to engage in positive social change. With the rise of American authoritarianism and political narcissism, it was refreshing to see a group of emerging thought leaders and change agents dedicated to the concept of transformational leadership. And it was enlightening to hear commencement speaker Paul Chavez share his own story of leadership through transformation.
Paul, the son of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, whose 90th birthday we celebrate on March 31st, urged the graduates and the audience to remain open and flexible to transformational opportunities. He used his own life as an example. “I started off as a printer in the marketing division, that, I thought was my life’s work,” he said beginning what would become a litany of positions he thought were his destiny. He moved from printer to union organizer, from organizer to contract negotiator, from negotiator to political director and lobbyist, and from lobbyist to foundation director, all at his father’s urging with each position demanding more skills, knowledge and responsibility than the last.
And now as chairman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation he has led an impressive expansion of the organization his father founded half a century ago, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people during that time. Paul proudly preserves his father’s legacy and promotes and applies his father’s values through the various activities of the organization, from the high-quality affordable housing for thousands of low-income families and seniors to the after school tutoring programs for underserved students.
In times of crisis, it’s easy to become distracted and derailed by the drama of the day. Paul wanted his message to inspire us – all of us – to embrace transformational opportunities, especially when those opportunities can make a sustainable social impact that can last for generations.