View Original Notice ? Rich Archbold: LLB rises like a phoenix with impressive ‘First’ Class of 2022
One by one, members of the Leadership Long Beach Class of 2022 came to the podium early last week to get their diplomas.
Each did so to the sound of cheers and rousing applause from friends and family.
And deservedly so — for this was the class that helped save the premiere leadership program in Long Beach from perhaps closing its doors after more than 30 years developing and connecting city leaders.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, the economic downtown and other factors, we had some really dark times in the past two years,” said a happy Drew Schneider, LLB’s president, “but we’re here now and we’re back.”
Schneider led the organization through those difficult times, which saw last year’s class canceled — the first time that happened in LLB’s history.
In a later interview with me, Schneider said it was “the greatest privilege” of his life to work with LLB’s Board of Directors and volunteers in steering the organization through turbulent waters and watching this year’s class as it went through a rigorous 10-month development program.
“I can’t imagine a greater gift than watching this class graduate,” said Schneider, whose day job is assistant director for security at the sprawling Port of Long Beach. “They will be great leaders helping to make meaningful changes in Long Beach.”
Also loudly applauding this class, the first under his direction, was Sean Devereaux, who took over as LLB’s executive director last year.
“This class was wonderful in coming together so fast and connecting with each other on so many levels,” Devereaux said.
Of course, Devereaux should give himself a big hand for laying the foundation for this year’s class of 29 people.
Also working tirelessly to help Schneider and Devereaux were Jill Unze as interim director and Amy Ericksen, executive director of Angels Gate Cultural Center, who was the retreat team leader.
When this class first arrived at a mountain forest camp retreat in September, they were relative strangers, a little anxious and wondering what to expect from their time together.
But they came together and over the past 10 months formed a cohesive group, not always agreeing but always able to talk about serious issues facing Long Beach.
Emily Kazim, one of two members chosen by the class to be speakers at the graduation, said the relationships formed by class members was a gift and should be a catalyst for them as they interact in the community.
“I hope we can each take with us the amazing and energizing things we have learned to encourage us to grow and contribute to the work that’s happening,” Kazim, of the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion, said.
The other class speaker, Long Beach Fire Department Capt. Christopher Duffy discussed how the class has been trying to come up with a name for itself.
“We have been the phoenix rising out of the ashes of COVID-19. We have shown resiliency and persistence and we have shown heart,” Duffy said. “We are all these and then some. We are all now forever connected and, regardless of the name we pick, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this LLB family.”
Whiley the class doesn’t have to pick a name, previous groups have — and this team is still bandying monikers around.
Another name being considered is “First Class” because this was Devereaux’s inaugural group as LLB’s executive director.
To me, as a member of the retreat team, one of the breakthrough moments with this class came at the retreat after the group had gone through a particularly physical exercise. Standing in a circle in a debriefing, members congratulated themselves for completing the exercise. But one member raised the point that not all of the women were listened to in strategizing on how to complete the exercise.
Because the exercise required some physical strength, she said, some of the male members tended to work together, leaving out and not listening to some of the women.
That led to a healthy discussion on gender equity, one of the main goals of a major initiative contained in LLB’s new strategic plan, a pledge for “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.”
Devereaux read the pledge to the class: “To connect and meaningfully serve Long Beach, we must acknowledge inequities and create opportunities for the future leaders to thrive, belong and create systemic change.”
Devereaux told me that this pledge was foremost in everything the class did this year, including monthly programs, and speakers on education, health, public safety, government, media and the arts.”
“We wanted to reach out and bring more voices of people who have not been heard from,” Schneider said.
“There was some discomfort sometimes in different discussions, but accountability and healing followed.”
Kazim, in her graduation speech, said she often left class days feeling energized.
But sometimes, she also felt frustrated, Kazim said, “because, despite all the work done by these talented leaders of the city, there is still much, much work left to bring parity and equity to many in our city.”
“And I think that is the point of this class,” she added, “to show us what is good and what can be better.”
In a later interview with me, Kazim said an example of a lack of parity and equity is how some students are treated if they fall behind in their education.
Kazim, who ran a tutoring center on the city’s westside for several years and still volunteers as an after-school tutor, said resources to help struggling students in more affluent areas seem to be more available than those available to students in less affluent areas.
In my interview with Duffy, he quoted author and speaker Liz Fosslien:
“Diversity is having a seat at the table,” Fosslien said, “inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice be heard.”
The 2022 class “all headed up to the mountain as a diverse group of strangers,” Duffy said. “During our time at the mountain, we learned how to include everyone’s thoughts and opinions with each challenge. This allowed us to have buy-in and have belonging.”
This was a challenging but exciting 10 months for this year’s LLB class members, who now will join the organization’s more than 1,800 alumni in working to make Long Beach a better place to live, work and play.
If you would like to be in the Class of 2022-23, the 33rd in LLB’s history, this is the time for you to apply.
LLB has been in the business of changing lives since 1989, Devereaux said, and he and LLB board members are looking for participants to continue that legacy and open new doors on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
“Throughout the program, participants become connected to one another in a way that builds trust and comradery,” he said, “allowing them to dig deep into the problems that face our city and seek solutions to enact change.”
If you like challenges and want to make the city better and earn a coveted LLB diploma next year, fill out an application.
Applications will remain open until July 1. A link to the application and more information can be found at: leadershiplb.org/the-institute.
See you on the mountain.