“Challenge Is the Crucible for Greatness”

This month’s Leadership Kenosha session focused on equity and diversity, and the criminal justice system and law enforcement – as well as alternatives in Kenosha. Throughout our conversations, a leadership truth from The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner stuck in my mind: Challenge is the crucible for greatness. A leader’s greatest growth and achievement happen during challenging situations: “All significant and meaningful accomplishments involve adversity, difficulty, change, and challenge. No one ever got anything extraordinary done by keeping things the same.”

We began our day at Herzing University in downtown Kenosha, where we had our second session on leadership and inclusion with Marvin Bembry. We explored unconscious bias, with the take-away that every individual has biases. The point is to take time to uncover your biases, and then put yourself in situations where you can challenge your biases and grow. We ended our session with the challenge to think about what each of us individually can do to help our organizations foster a high diversity, high inclusion environment, and to reflect on how we can act with courage as leaders for diversity and inclusion.

For our Kenosha community, one of the most challenging recent events was the shooting of Jacob Blake and the unrest that followed in August 2020. Leaders from Kenosha Coalition Organizing Resolution (KCOR) spoke with our class about how this event was a catalyst for their organization, which works to prevent violence in the community through a positive presence and violence interruption techniques, with a longer-term purpose of reducing recidivism and racial disparities in Kenosha. Minister Caliph Muab-El (executive director of KCOR), Brianna Nelson (first vice president), and Nick Dennis (president) emphasized that their organizers are highly trained and are from the same neighborhoods and experiences as the people they work with, giving them the skills and credibility needed to be effective violence interrupters. KCOR works with law enforcement to resolve issues without violence and to build bridges between the community and the police.

Our day continued at the Kenosha Correctional Center with an exploration of the systems for law enforcement and criminal justice in Kenosha. A panel of representatives from the district attorney’s office and public defender’s office, judge, Kenosha Police Department, and Kenosha Sheriff’s Department spoke about their work. It was useful to learn about the programs they operate to prevent and reduce crime, as well as their leadership philosophies.

After a tour of the correctional center, we heard from a panel of four persons in care about their experiences in the justice system. Despite the challenges of being incarcerated, each of them has taken time to learn, to strengthen their mental and emotional health, and to find employment so they’ll be prepared for better futures after their release. Their commitment to growth – and their openness to share really challenging experiences with a group of strangers – was inspiring.

All of the individuals we heard from today demonstrated their commitment to change and to making their lives and the community better. It was a powerful illustration that challenge leads to growth, achievement, and ultimately – greatness.

-Hannah Wallisch

Leadership Kenosha — January 2022