by Dr. Auset Ali, School Launcher Fellow and Executive Artistic Director of the Visions Performing Arts company
I finished the inaugural Explore Stage of the Moonshot edVenture School Launcher Fellowship in the Fall of 2017. When asked to contribute my account of the experience, the first thing I thought was, “it is impossible to share everything in a few paragraphs.” Some things were such a sacred experience that I selfishly do not want to share, because the Fellows are a trusted tribe and I don’t want to violate that trust. I sat in front of my computer prepping this and was reminded of the very reason I chose to apply for Moonshot in the first place – I am passionate about being a pioneer. I hope to take you on my personal journey and get you excited enough to hold me accountable for my next steps.
“You HAVE to meet CDL!” I heard this a few times in one week and, just as the Universe works, I found myself at a School Launcher Fellowship info session in the Spring of 2017. Everyone was pretty cool, but only two of us were selected to participate in the program. (Shout out to Keely!)
I remember preparing for the fellowship application video submission. I had sticky notes on my computer reminding me that being authentic is the priority for me. I had quotes from our students that reminded me they are longing for a safe space to show up exactly as who they are and identify with their gifts. I recorded and deleted the video multiple times and after the third one, I let my reservations go and recorded the video. I remembered my student performers and realized this was for them. I had launched Visions Performing Arts Company 13 years ago and had hit the ceiling on what I could do alone. As an Afro-Cuban American woman, I realized I would have to heal from my own biases and deeply rooted hurt, and instead be open to receiving in a way that I typically avoided due to the fear of rejection. I had to learn how to trust white men and women with money and power and trust their genuine care to empower us to expand and impact students more. And to do that without compromising exactly who I am. WHEW!
I had no idea what to expect from this fellowship. However, you never even know how dynamic and powerful the opportunity to unleash your genius is until you are open to trusting others and a new opportunity. From workshops to raw conversations during the Fellowship, I became empowered and challenged in ways I thought only my community could do for me. Through tools and exposure to various players in our ecosystem, I became familiar with resources and left every session in awe of the whole healing that transpired by Christine DeLeon’s facilitation skills. My leadership was developing and my spirit was healing; as a result, I felt full about taking the task of opening Visions Performing Arts School, which will serve grades 6 through 12. I can now brag about how much administrative and executive leadership I attained, the access to funders and how they think, and the robust rubric we used to keep me on track. But I know that’s what Moonshot had in mind.
More importantly, and somewhat unexpectedly, we developed a village and family of innovative educators dedicated to collectively changing the way we impact students. We are bound to each other in ways we didn’t expect. The Fellowship kept us all vulnerable to the sensitive space that students are constantly in and our collective genius was unleashed in order for us to choose our next steps. To keep us moving forward into the Cultivate Stage this spring, we were provided with the options to join various tracks personalized to our own professional journeys.
VPAC explored every single possibility thanks to the Explore Stage and we confidently decided to move forward in the Cultivate Stage on the track that will give us the time and space to launch an intentionally designed school for our students in 2020. This also gives me the opportunity to support the Fellows committed to launching in 2019, rather than competing with them for a spot in Aurora. Our challenge is to balance the confidence in our skills and talents without being overindulged in ego and pride, and I knew our whole cohort’s success could be made stronger by VPAC waiting one more year. That is what family does for family.
People ask me all the time to explain the Moonshot School Launcher Fellowship, and I am pretty good at the elevator speech. Then the follow-up question is, “WHY the Moonshot School Launcher Fellowship?” And I always pause. Because here, authentic genius can happen with no oppressive tactics that make you second guess if you really are a genius or not. And that is the type of schooling we should be striving to provide for our students. You never even know how dynamic and powerful the fellowship experience is until you go through it yourself.
If you are reading this, I hope you hold me accountable…and thank you Christine DeLeon for creating the spacecraft that got us to the moon..the stars…Venus…Jupiter…and Mars.