Lee Scott wandered into his parents’ living room in Jackson, Miss., late one evening. His mother, an avid viewer of the nightly news, sat watching the evening’s broadcast. The next segment began introducing a new network providing opportunities for community activists to engage with one another and to share the work they were doing. Scott’s mother looked over at him to ask if he was interested, but he was already on his laptop typing the website address displayed on the television screen.
After a bit of research, he decided to apply to the Change Collective, a national leadership network for rising local leaders that includes a six-month leadership-development program. The Change Collective selects members who exhibit passion for making a difference in their communities. The organization’s goal is to equip the members with the tools, resources and skills needed to create and to lead change.
“We are living in a time where there is increased polarization and where there’s increased divisiveness,” Kalisha Dessources Figures, leader of the Change Collective, said. “We’re also living in a time where there are real problems to solve on the local level. And there are leaders—local change agents, young folks, folks who work across different industries—who really want to get involved and understand how they can push change more in their communities. So we are building this national network that will be made up of local cohorts of local leaders.”
After being accepted as a member of the inaugural Jackson cohort, Scott joins an eclectic group of 24 other community changemakers. That includes members like Vilas Annavarapu, who is a co-founding member of a worker and entrepreneurship incubator in south Jackson called Riverside Collective, and Angela Grayson, the director of advocacy and organizing for The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects.
Other members include middle-school teacher Williesha Mack, entrepreneur Ashlee Kelly, surgeon Jared Davis and deputy general counsel for the Jackson Public School District Shani Anderson.
“It is a phenomenal opportunity to meet people from different parts of the country but also folks here in Jackson,” Scott told the Mississippi Free Press. “I think just having that camaraderie is very important. Engaging those other people from other communities was helpful (in knowing) that you’re not reinventing the wheel. There’s somebody else that is doing or trying to sell something that you’re trying to figure out. And so that collective thought process is super helpful. And so I’m excited to continue to work with other people in that way.”
He traveled to Detroit in late June 2023 for the National Change lab where he met the other members of the inaugural Change Collective class. The pilot group includes cohorts in Jackson, Chicago, Ill., and Detroit, Mich.
“We talked about adaptive leadership and how it’s important to understand why someone has the view or the insight that they have,” Scott said. “We talked about coalition building a lot. In our conversations, we were really challenged to think about what it looks like to allow a person to think through why they believe what they believe … and why being empathetic is important. That was super insightful and helpful, especially in this grassroots work that we are getting an opportunity to be a part of.”
The Change Collective is a project of Civic Nation, a nonprofit that focuses on national organization and education initiatives. Former President Barack Obama, who inspired the program, helped launch the initiative with a video announcement.
“We were really inspired by parts of (Obama’s) leadership trajectory and journey, understanding that he was a president of the United States but that he started as a local organizer and a local community builder,” Figures said. “He had such deep investments in that work. As Civic Nation, we work on a number of issues and campaigns across the country, whether it’s mobilizing folks around getting a vaccine to address a public health crisis, issues around gender equity or sexual assault on college campuses. They’re all focused on how to build connections between the national and the local (groups).”
Each person in the cohort has a civic-action project they want to launch in their respective local communities. Projects range from Black business and home ownership to using the arts, culture and theater to better engage community members. Figures hopes the cohorts will be able to leverage the training and resources they receive to implement those plans. The goal in the years ahead is to create communities of practice around the chosen projects.
“If we’re hearing that there are these three people in Jackson who want to focus on homelessness, and then a couple people in Detroit and a couple more people in Chicago, we’re gonna pull together spaces where they’re able to dive in deeply and talk about their civic-action projects and take some best practices and lessons learned and really be in community around specific issues with each other,” she said.
Scott, who serves as the volunteer recruitment coordinator for Jackson Leadership Foundation, is focusing on rebuilding South Jackson.
“I want to focus my project on how to connect and bring opportunities back to the south side, ” he said. “Through the work that I do with the Jackson Leadership Foundation, we’re about to start a pilot program of workforce mobility. I am trying to couple those things together and figure out how I can make connections and relationships.”
After the six-month leadership-development program, members participate in alumni events and serve as mentors to future cohorts. Scott returned from Chicago inspired to begin the hard work of encouraging investment in the blighted south Jackson area. He appreciates now having a core group of people with whom he can collaborate.
“It was so amazing that they were thoughtful and picked Jackson to really highlight the work that people are doing in our city,” he said. “I think that’s such an incredible thing. It lets us know that Jackson has so much to offer and that this is a place where people are making a difference in the world. I’m so humbled and grateful that I get to meet some great changemakers in our city who are doing incredible, incredible work, and getting to learn from them and engage them.”
To learn more about the Change Collective, visit change-collective.org.