How The UCC & TLP shaped me

December 15, 2023

How The UCC and TLP helped me transform who I am and what I do

I can’t think about my personal development and the trajectory of my life without also thinking about The Urban Core Collective. My experience with The UCC began when I started to search for a place that would allow me to be my whole-self. If you are a person of color in Grand Rapids, Michigan; you know that this city has a duality and has even been written about in “The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan” and “A City Within a City”. There are other cities in Michigan and the Midwest that have similar microcosms of oppression. Many major cities bear the scars of redlining and drastic disparities between neighborhoods. I found The Urban Core Collective at the 2019 Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit. I participated in a workshop facilitated by TLP Alumni, who later would become my friends, peers, and family. Unbeknownst to me, this was a turning point for me. I started to collaborate with The UCC for a project that came out of the summit workshop. The timing wasn’t right for that project but during that time, I learned that the team at The UCC was small but mighty. I also learned when you center humanity, the work looks different and the people doing the work function differently. I am so grateful to have found a place where we not only center humanity in our work but we honor our humanity and others while we work. 

I was interested in what The UCC was doing, how they were doing it, and I had so many questions. I applied, interviewed, and was accepted to the 2019-2020 Transformational Leadership Program (TLP) Cohort. The year of the pivot (we joke, but it’s true). 2019 held so many lessons for me, it truly was the start of so many new things. I also started Graduate School at GVSU; ultimately earning my M.A. in Social Innovation (a program that started January 2019), I was a graduate assistant through my tenure in grad school, as well as a Fellow at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy. I was fully immersed in philanthropy, social justice, and finding my growth edges. I sought information and learning everywhere, including myself and my community. I would go on to have my internship requirement filled through the work I did during 2020 at The Urban Core Collective. 

“Our radical imagination is a tool for decolonization, for reclaiming our right to shape our lived reality.” ― Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

TLP provided me a safe place to learn, unlearn, question social norms, and be myself fully… something I hadn’t experienced before at the schools, institutions, and companies I previously worked for or attended. I made such deep and authentic connections—our monthly sessions were soul food for me… those TLP sessions fed my soul. During the 2020 Global Pandemic shutdown we had to pivot to online and didn’t exactly know what would happen in the world, but we entered that uncertainty as a group that went through a transformational interpersonal journey together. Though my cohort and I graduated from the program and don’t meet regularly, we are still connected—our shared experience over the course of 10 months really allowed us to build bonds that would last a lifetime. 

My role at The UCC has transformed over the last three years, and what I do now was seeded when I worked on my internship. I would often wish that I could work at The UCC after I graduated with my master’s and I am so grateful that I’m able to. I want to thank Kelsey Purdue and Beca Velazquez-Publes because they saw in me—things that I hadn’t seen in myself and could envision me in a role where I can use the most powerful tool I have; my voice. So, as much as I would love to stay in the background and give credit to the entire UCC team—I do have to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Naomi Silas, and I am the Brand + Communications Strategist for The Urban Core Collective, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of my first tasks was building out my team. Jessa Challa joined as our Web Developer, and Octavia Mingerink started as the first ever Creative Designer for The Urban Core Collective. I can’t wait to share all of the things we’ve been working on as a team. I hope you stay tuned and follow us, because we will be sharing so much in the coming months. 

Some of the projects I’ve worked on in the past for The UCC have been: 2020 Know Your Voting Rights Campaign, 2020 Get Out the Vote Campaign, 2021 The Coalition for Community Owned Safety strategic planning, and 2022-23 (Re)invest in GR Campaign.  

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