2014 Leadership Conference Reflection: Broadway Jackson III
August 13, 2014
The 2014 Center for Inquiry Leadership Conference was an amazing experience, first and foremost. Rarely have I had the opportunity to work with and talk to so many secular folks. The conference was really focused on providing us the tools to do whatever our organizations need to grow and to affect change, or simply to be the kind of affinity group our campuses need while also fostering discussion and community amongst attendees. I want to say thank you to CFI for giving me such an amazing opportunity to pick the brains of students and community leaders in the secular movement and an opportunity for others to pick my brain and see what I’m thinking. To the readers of this post, if you are ever debating whether to go to the CFI Leadership Conference, don’t; don’t debate it, go. You will not regret the experience and I’m here to tell you why.
The focus on the thoughts and potential of each attendee was a fantastic way to get all of us invested in the conference. The workshops fostered group cooperation and dialogue, but the thing that stood out to me was the promotion of inquiry after lectures. The decision to field questions from the audience is an easy one but it makes all the difference for the attendees. It tells us that we matter, that our questions matter, and that the lecturer can’t preach from on high with no worries of contrary opinions. A conference that promotes challenging ideas or investigating further is a conference worth attending and is a conference genuinely about leadership and innovation. On the last day, we also had a round table with all of the student leaders. We discussed issues we faced on campus, from questions about balancing the inclusion of non-religious people with avoiding the exclusion of religious people, to helping members navigate the difficulties of identifying as non-religious. Although everyone had different opinions, everybody was able to broaden their understanding.
Debbie Goddard’s talk about diversity warmed my heart as one of the few people of color in attendance. Instead of a talk that chastised the secular community on its lack of diversity, which I’m sure many folks were expecting, she went into the broader demographic situations that create a lack of diversity in the secular movement. One of my fellow SCA interns, who also went to the conference, said that he respected that Debbie did not have a cure-all for increasing diversity. It fits in the nature of the Center for Inquiry to not have all the answers, but to be constantly searching, constantly inquiring. One solution may be hidden within the conference itself. Multiple workshops discussed partnership and finding allies to help strengthen the movement. Not only do allies increase the visibility and positive image of atheists, but they allow the secular movement to embrace other perspectives not yet seen and allow us to reciprocally strengthen our movements. Much like Debbie, I’m not sure if this is the cure-all for the diversity problem in the secular movement, but it might help. Presenting something difficult to fix or solve, for me at least, once again fosters the notions of critical thinking, dialogue, and inquiry.
I can’t thank the Center for Inquiry and its staff enough for teaching me so much in such a short amount of time, allowing me to meet a plethora of amazing people, and re-energizing my brain before a semester of student activism and community development.
About the Author: Broadway Jackson IIIBroadway Jackson III is a senior International Studies major and Political Science/French minor at Elon University. He spent the last semester studying French language, phonetics, and culture in Paris, France before returning home to Maryland this summer. He has interned at the Secular Coalition for America this summer in downtown Washington, D.C. and is preparing to head back down to Elon, North Carolina to start his senior year.
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