Nia: Our Story of Leadership Development

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February 12, 2013 by mishagabrielle

This month BOP youth member Joevonte Kelly became the very first member to join theBlack Organizing Project’s NIA Apprenticeship Program (NAP)! The four-month intensive apprenticeship is named after the Swahili word, “Nia,” which means purpose- and that’s exactly what this program is about!NAP logo

At BOP, we’re committed to investing in black leadership developing community organizers who can: analyze, strategize, and mobilize around issues affecting our community. We believe in the African-American community’s ability to identify key issues and stand as leaders in the movement toward a more socially and racially-just Oakland.

Nia takes a personal approach to developing leadership by working with BOP members to create a personalized development track, which focuses on developing the core strengths & skills of a community organizer, while also developing skills that the apprentice identifies as areas they’d like to improve.

As the first successful applicant to the Nia program, we want to track Joevonte’s progress and bring his story to you. Over the next few months, we’ll be checking-in on Joevonte’s progress in the program and bringing the BOP community updates on what

he’s been up to and how he’s seeing himself as a leader more and more each month.

As an introduction, we sat with Joevonte to talk about what inspired him to apply the program, what he hopes he’ll get out of it, and what strengths he’ll use to keep himself grounded throughout the intensive program.

BOP: How did you hear about Nia and what interested you most?

JK: Through my mentor Jasmine Jones. What interested me was the development part- when she said I could push myself further in my leadership skills and my organizing, that motivated me to get my feet wet and see what the program was for my own two eyes.

BOP: You were already an active youth member, do you see Nia as being different? 

JK: Like you said, I was already doing volunteer work for BOP and the organization is what’s going to really help me develop my skills. The NIA program is just a plus, a bonus on top of [being a BOP volunteer]… another tool that BOP provides.

BOP: It’s your first week as the NIA apprentice and you’ve received your work plan so tell us about your first phase of development.

JK: Just learning to be organized. This is the first month, the introduction stage, so I’m just working on being structured. I have to structure my skills… like being punctual, being dedicated and being consistent. Also this week, we’ll be talking about what BOP is and my feelings about the campaign.

BOP: That’s right, you know our campaign Bettering Our School System (BOSS)! How did you feel about the campaign when you first became a member and how do you feel your perception has changed?


JK: I still feel the same way I felt about it, ecstatic! It’s bettering our school systems. Not all schools are perfect, not all schools are imperfect, but the schools we’re targeting need to be better. They need more structure… more measures… more organizing, and more mentorship. But at first I did wonder about things like where did we come up with a complaint policy for the officers? I still need more training on our policy because I don’t always know why we’re monitoring this, or exactly why we’re reacting to the police doing that.

BOP: So it sounds like the analysis was what you’ve found difficult, asking questions like why do we have to monitor that, right?

JK: Yes!

BOP: What do you hope to get out of NIA overall?

JK: As of now, what I want to see myself get out of this four month program is the ability to… plan ahead and have everything be thought out. I want it to help me structure my organizing and my leadership skills, not to mention my communication and writing skills as well. In addition, political education… some of the issues we talk about, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with.

BOP: Speaking of challenges, what do you think your greatest one will be while going through the program?

JK: Starting off, I’m not thinking about there being tasks that are too great to complete. I don’t want to think like that. If there’s a task, I have to complete it. I’m not thinking of it as ‘this is going to be a great challenge for me, I don’t know if I’ll be able to complete it or not.’ I just keep thinking positive thoughts of completing tasks and goals. There is no challenge greater than that.

BOP: What do you see as the thing that will help you get through this program?

JK: My sense of humor… I am a real funny dude. If I see somebody who doesn’t laugh, there’s a way to make them laugh… Some people just accept the consequences that the world gives to them and they doubt themselves. But I tell people, just laugh and it helps you to forget your worries. Just laugh, be around good comedy and good energy. See yourself making it, without stress.

BOP: Tell us more about how your sense of humor will help you as a community organizer?

JK: You know, as organizers, we have a whole lot of work, we have a whole lot of planning. Our calendars are so filled up and we don’t know what our next move might be because we might have this scheduled, but we have to cancel this to go to that and then cancel that to go to this. It can be stressful at times. Take some time to just laugh and get some fresh air. Refresh. When I say I use my sense of humor to get by, I mean that I use it to refresh my mind.

BOP: What about your mentors? You’re gaining a couple of them through the program. What are you hoping to get out of your relationship with them?

JK: I would want my mentor to ask me my flaws and help me improve on them. I want knowledge and understanding. I grew up without a father. Now my mentors are two grown men who can show me what it means to be a man, what responsibilities we have as men to help make the next generation see their responsibilities.

Thank you to Joevonte for stepping up to the challenge! Look our for more updates on Joevonte’s development on our blog.

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