A program that trains aspiring leaders in McLean County has some new leaders of its own and a new vision to address two of the biggest issues of our time.
This year's class of the Multicultural Leadership Program plans to work with non-profits in Bloomington-Normal on the impacts of COVID-19 and racial injustice.
Tuesday is Matt Drat's first day as executive director of the Multicultural Leadership Institute. He said one component of the course addresses anxiety counseling, one of the effects the pandemic has had on many people.
“One of the perhaps lesser known or lesser understood components of the effect of COVID is what it is doing to people’s emotional and intellectual state,” Drat said.
The program also partners with agencies that work on immigrant rights, fair housing and career counseling for women and people of color. Drat said in some ways, COVID and racial justice are connected.
“We don’t want COVID to keep organizations from serving our community, that impacts specifically in this particular year; Black, indigenous and people of color,” Drat said.
But the pandemic has impacted nearly everything, including the leadership program. For one thing, the 25 participants in this year's intensive, nine-month course are meeting online.
Program coordinator Micaela Harris said they use breakout rooms on Zoom to split participants into smaller groups and sometimes pair people at random, or based on personality type. She said they also encourage them to meet one-on-one, and in person if they can do it safely, to keep the personal touch.
“There’s definitely still that relationship aspect of it all,” Harris said. “We are very cognizant of that because that’s part of the magic.”
Sharon Peoples graduated from the leadership program earlier this year and is now vice president of the institute's board. She said the growth that comes from that interpersonal communication is what enables graduates to better serve their community.
“The reason why the program is so powerful is that it’s not just preparing us for future abilities to impact positively in our community and our companies, but it also helps us to have immediate impacts as well,” Peoples said.
The leadership program runs until mid-March and graduation is scheduled for April. The program has had nearly 300 graduates since it began in 2009.
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