Reflecting On Explore’s Inaugural Year

June 27, 2022

The inaugural year of the Valley Leadership Explore program was many things: challenging, unexpected, thought-provoking, disruptive, life-changing, fun, enlightening, and full of emotion from laughter to tears. We embarked on this adventure with the assets and strengths of our state top of mind, embracing the Principles of Doing and our roles as leaders to listen and learn from other leaders in the state. 

When we went to visit the Yuma gap at the border wall and unexpectedly encountered families crossing into the U.S. with several children in tow and a baby in their arms, many of us became paralyzed and overwhelmed with the heaviness of the situation. Others hurried to hand off the snacks and water they had brought with them, while one person greeted them, embracing them and welcoming them into our country with tears in their eyes. 

When we were given the opportunity to meet with asylum seekers in Nogales, MX at Kino Border Initiative and learn their stories, many of us had our first experience learning firsthand about the violence, drugs, and danger that families were fleeing from in an effort to protect their children. It led us to think about the lengths we would go to protect our own families, creating an unexpected connection with the brave people who shared their stories with us. 

When we visited Mesa and learned about the history of racial and socioeconomic inequities that persist today, even as the area sees massive investment and growth, many of us grew deeply concerned with ensuring that decisions being made now don’t continue to reinforce broken systems in the future.

When we heard story after story about the rapid growth happening in Buckeye, and recognized the pride that many community members felt about this growth, we were confronted with what this means for the limited resources of our state and sought to understand the role of this city in the larger context of Arizona.

When we visited Navajo Nation and learned about the infrastructure challenges that led to limited access to power and water for residents, we were humbled by the many things we take for granted in our everyday experiences in the Valley, and we felt called to revisit the ways in which our history has devastated the land and people of the largest designated tribal land in the nation.

The last day really felt like a family processing together. It was the most beautiful way to wrap up our profound experiences. The Zine activity was rich and got our brains going. 

As we reflected on our journey during  the final program day, we looked through the lenses of adaptability, equity, and interconnectedness to understand how we were affected by our experiences. What we found at the end of our journey is this: Arizona is a complex state full of rich culture and rich people, a deep and unjust history, and old systems that perpetuate inequity. The graduates of the Explore program embraced the chance to learn about our state’s assets, challenges, and opportunities. We know the first step to creating change and putting leadership into action is awareness – and here, from the other side of our Explore experience, we stand with eyes wide open.

The bottom line is that this is an absolutely amazing program and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Thank you all sincerely

For more photos, please visit our Facebook album.

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