By: Lauryn Jones

In summer 2021, I attended my first International Camp for Democratic Leadership (ICDL). At the time, I was familiar with neither Kallion nor the annual ICDL, beyond what Dr. Norman Sandridge, my Greek Literature professor at Howard University, shared with my class. 

As the event neared, I started filling out the mandatory Google Form, and it required more than I had anticipated. More than my name, more than my interests, the form asked me to think about and state what exactly democratic leadership is. I realized then that, to me, democratic and leadership were essentially empty words. To add to that, I associated democratic leadership with only two things: antiquity and politics. 

This all changed, however, following my participation in the 2021 ICDL. Thanks to Kallion, the ICDL, and everyone I met and collaborated with last summer, I was able to see my world and my surroundings in eye-opening and previously unthought of ways. I remember being nervous at the beginning of the ICDL, as I was surrounded by professors, scholars, and lifelong learners with more academic and life experience than I had. But I never felt out of place, and I suppose that’s what democratic leadership is truly about. 

Through my 2021 ICDL experience, I learned how to be a team player, a necessary skill for democratic participation and democratic leadership. The 2021 ICDL workshops I attended often involved participants meeting and working together in small breakout rooms. In these smaller spaces, I found that I had the time and opportunity to contribute meaningful perspectives while listening to my group members, as well. It can be close to impossible to stare at dozens of faces, or worse, dozens of black squares, for hours on end on Zoom. So the close-knit and collaborative nature of the workshops and of the ICDL as a whole made it appear as though everyone was together and in the same room, not in different rooms across the world. 

Once the 2021 ICDL came to a close, I wanted to make sure that I both remembered and applied what I had learned. Midway through the 2021 ICDL, I started working as a tennis instructor and camp counselor at a local middle school. Of course, I was an authority figure to the students who were enrolled in the camp, but as I learned during the ICDL, authority does not have to come from a place of control, superiority, and distance. I did not want to rule over anyone with an iron fist clenched and raised. I wanted to lead. I wanted to make sure that their camp experience, much like my ICDL experience, was democratic, in that the students were able to have, within safety and reason, autonomy and ownership of what they learned, what they did, and where they were able to explore. I was not by any means a perfect coach, a perfect counselor, or a perfect leader, but I can say that I began to see my leadership abilities blossom. More importantly, I was able to help instill a sense of confidence and leadership within the groups of students I interacted with, taught, and learned from throughout the remainder of the summer.

Without the ICDL, not just my summer, but my life from that point on would not have been the same.

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