Contextual Leadership

Urban Leaders in Training is an service leadership initiative by the Northwest Leadership Foundation designed to shape and train young people to become leaders in their community. Urban Leaders in training tends to gravitate towards young people for a reason- we are still young enough to be trained, we are not yet set in our ways, we still have blind faith at times.  

It was fitting that we started our year with Contextual Leadership- some of us are not from Tacoma, or have been away at college for a few years, but all of us need to learn new ways of seeing.  NLF offers these amazing Backstage Pass Tours where we all load up on a rented school bus and literally tour the city with a guide, showing us parts of Tacoma we never knew existed: the Graffiti Garages down on St. Helens, the now defunct Eastside Boys and Girls Club, Salishan.  Through the eyes of our tour guide we saw a city we didn’t know; a city graffitied in young blood and lies, a city forgotten, a city living in pain.  We were thrown into a reality we didn’t necessarily want to see.  And yet through the imperfections we saw hope, we were taught to see possibility.  

At a later training, we read “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich and discussed this man’s opinions and validity.  The piece argued that ‘good” Christians who do mission work on their spring vacations are actually doing more harm than good to the communities they work in.  Instead of asking these communities what they need, mission workers seem to force their beliefs on them and tell them what they need.  It’s an age-old fight- the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  It could be said that we (our team) have good intentions about the work that we are doing, but sometimes cause more harm than good.  But we are learning- the point of ULT is to train (and sometimes re-train) us to see a thing as it is, not how we want to see it.  To let Tacoma be; to take ourselves out of our work; to see life through the eyes of these people we serve.  

As we ended our time with Contextual Leadership we were left with knowing that we can only act within the world that we see.  It is an interesting thought – how are our actions affected by our “lenses” (the way we see the world)? Are we blinded by these lenses? Can we learn to see things differently?