At the 2022 CLA Welcome Ceremony, alumna Angela R. Rudolph (CLA'18), director of equity at the Grand Victoria Foundation, addresses the incoming cohort—welcoming them to the CLA community while sharing reflections and words of wisdom as they embark on their CLA experience.
Her remarks to the incoming CLA cohort appear below in full.
CLA 2022: Congratulations and welcome to the family! As I reflect on what it was like sitting in chairs like these as a member of the CLA 2018 cohort I chuckle at what I expected to get out of this experience.
I expected dry lectures from uber-intellectuals, lots of discussions with high-minded academia speak and a long reading list of books I’d probably never crack open again once CLA ended. Thankfully none of that happened.
Now yes, there was an incredibly long reading list with some books I did not look at again once class ended but MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” revisited in Jonathan Rieder’s “Gospel of Freedom,” refreshed how I had, up until that moment, thought about who Dr. King was and what he represented in the struggle then and now.
Barbara Ransby’s book on Ella Baker gave me a fresh look at the age-old Chicago question of who sent you and instead prioritized for me in how I made allies the question of, “Who are your people?” or as we often hear organizers on the ground say, “Who do you protect, and who do you serve?”
And finally, Choosing Leadership by Booth School Professor Linda Ginzel became my bible and road map as I lead a culture shift when I returned to working within government from the nonprofit sector to become Deputy Commissioner of the City’s Youth Services Division. By following the lessons from her lecture and workbook and hosting regular team chats, Ginzel’s work was instrumental in helping me to empower my staff to see themselves as leaders in their own right, with the ability to live up to a potential they did not initially believe they possessed and a skillset they just needed to be supported in continually practicing and developing.
Personally utilizing Ginzel’s lessons on the power of choosing leadership also aided me in seeing, I was who I had been waiting for. I had what I needed to not just coach others but more importantly myself.
That reflection helped me rewrite how I approached the idea of what meaningful work looked like. Creating space for me to own that I had valid experiences, cultural cues and knowledge and that made me be my best self—and most importantly helped me to ignore and shake off those messages I had been inundated with early and often in my career, namely that I was too Black, too invested, too independent, too partial, while simultaneously saying I was too much and not enough.
Just as influential in my growth were the talks I had with my cohort peers. They were insightful and rich¾reflective of the City’s various communities, cultures, and experiences.
And don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to present CLA as a utopia where everyone got along and we all agreed, far from it. The inevitable tensions between those who worked in government and those who worked in the community and the non -profit sectors did make themselves known and seen in big and small ways.
Issues around race, class, and gender, like in the real world, presented challenges too. Voices were sometimes raised and feelings were definitely hurt
Yet through it all, we, as a collective relied heavily on the ideas we committed to at the beginning of our cohort year—namely, public service is our calling, and the love we have for this city and county is so enduring that we, in our already busy professional and personal lives, are committing to adding more to our plates in order to create spaces to learn more about who we are as leaders and change makers in our non-profit and civic landscapes.
What I learned during my time in CLA is that in order for me to be my best self, I must be my full self: Angela, southside girl, nerd, daughter of the South, granddaughter of sharecroppers, my ancestors wildest dream. All of that, for me, is a non-negotiable, one I bring proudly wherever I go.
And I feel fortunate to have been able to have had the time and ability to figure that out, via CLA.
I don’t know the reasons why you applied to CLA. I don’t know what you hope to get out of it, but I do fervently hope CLA gives you what you’re looking for, and maybe, some insight on what you need to answer those questions we never have time to contemplate but we know are central to helping us be our best selves.
So, some parting words of advice:
Use this time to not just reflect on your professional journey but your personal one as well. Time for reflection is fleeting when work, family and life in general comes at you fast. See this time as the gift it is.
Be open to the possibilities of opinions, experiences, and ideas outside of your own. It doesn’t mean you will always agree. But in a world where there are so many hard lines and rigid sides, being open to a new viewpoint is a skill sorely needed for us to find the common paths we can agree on in building a truly better world for us all.
Learn to sit in discomfort. Too many of us are afraid to lean into why we feel that discomfort, that emotional reaction. Understanding why can lead to a deeper insight of yourself and often help you reach a greater level of knowledge, awareness, and perspective.
Find and expand your tribe. I was lucky as an avowed introvert. I found some of my closest and dearest friends in CLA. Folks I’ve laughed with, cried with, drank with, and confided in. I cannot imagine how less bright my world would be without them.
And finally, for those in the room who have looked around and wondered how did I get here or you, like me, combat a sense of imposter syndrome from time to time let me tell you, you are exactly, where you are supposed to be. Speak up more, your voice and experiences got you this far and need to be heard.
And for those of you thinking, that’s not me, because I’m definitely in the right place. Great, how about you lean back in that self-confidence a bit and listen more. Talk Less. Learn from those around you, particularly your cohort members. There is strength, power, and knowledge sometimes in silence.
I am genuinely excited for you all. The time you have ahead of you in CLA I predict will be incredible. Good luck and welcome to CLA, Cohort 2022!