Guest Columns

JOHNSON: CENTER FOR PROGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP LAUNCHES FELLOWSHIP

Colorado builds fellowship program to train future progressive activists

Over the last 25 years, conservatives have successfully built a robust national training infrastructure for developing future leaders at every level of political involvement. The Center for Progressive Leadership is responding by actively working to fill a void in progressive leadership training by investing in the recruitment, training and building of future candidates and grassroots activists across the country and the state of Colorado. CPL’s goal is to build an infrastructure for developing the next generation of progressive leaders.

CPL-Colorado is in its second year, and it already has made an impact through its many collaborations with other statewide progressive organizations, including the Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC), the White House Project, the Latina Initiative, the Progressive Majority and ProgressNow. Not only does CPL offer a comprehensive nine-month State Political Leadership Fellowship for more advanced community activists and aspiring politicians, but it also is developing a Leadership Academy for beginning activists that, in partnership with the CPC of Greeley, it will hold in the spring.

The program is designed to offer leadership training for the newly energized grassroots activists who emerged during the 2008 campaign.

This year’s fellowship weekend kicked off Jan. 30 with a celebration at the Kiva Restaurant in Denver. There, the new fellows got a chance to meet local politicians, community leaders and last year’s alumni.

“We have received twice as many applications for this year’s program as last year. Of this group, we selected 54,” said CPL Colorado Director Dante J. James.

“We’ve seen an incredible wave of energy this year from people who want to help shape the political futures of their communities. And the CPL Fellowship gives all those people an amazing opportunity to get the training, mentoring, coaching and networks they need to make a difference.

“The uniqueness of our program is that it is more introspective than others,” said James. “Our goal is to have each fellow walk out of the Fellowship as a better human being. Fellows learn from the first weekend to identify their issues and values, and, through the fellowship, build on learning how to speak from these values.”

Training includes an in-depth analysis of each fellow’s leadership style and the completion of a five-year Personal and Professional Leadership Plan, which offers the roadmap to
each fellow’s political aspirations, whether it’s to run for office, to run a non-profit or to become an activist working to create progressive public policies in the community.

Fellows have the opportunity to connect with the progressive community and to build relationships with other leaders from around the state. Part of the program includes a mentoring component that pairs the fellows with leaders in the community who can provide insight and guidance as the fellows work to achieve their leadership goals.

“Fellows are empowered to understand what transformational leadership is and to stand in their own strength and power,” said CPL Colorado Program Director Emily Shamsid-Deen. “The skills we introduce teach them how to connect their social justice issues to their personal values, and how to work across party lines through collaborative leadership to accomplish their policy goals.”

The Fellowship consists of five comprehensive weekends of training over the nine-month period. Workshops are held every other month starting with the last weekend of January and ending in late September. Workshops will be held around the state in Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Weekend topics include “Leadership,” “Values and Vision,” “Messaging,” “Fundraising,” “Campaign Planning” and “Collaborative Leadership.”

CPL was founded in 2003 by a broad and diverse group of progressive leaders from around the country who saw crucial gaps in training, mentorship, coaching and support for progressive campaign, organization, community, policy and political leaders. CPL is a national political training institute that develops diverse leaders who can effectively advance progressive political and policy change. CPL and the CPL Action Network has trained more than 5,000 diverse progressive leaders through intensive, nonpartisan leadership programs primarily in our state offices (currently Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania).

Across CPL’s long-term leadership programs, 60 percent of our participants have been women and almost 50 percent people of color. In addition, a third of our trainees had never been involved in a political campaign before the trainings. The diversity of our alumni reflect CPL’s deep-rooted commitment to engage new leaders in the progressive movement.

With a growing network of alumni, the CPL Colorado Fellowship is building a network of powerful leaders working at every level of politics in Colorado to advance progressive change.

Cecile Johnson is outreach director for the Colorado Center for Progressive Leadership, www.progressiveleaders.org.