Creating A Movement: The Difference Makers Social Impact Summit

Group photo of Difference Makers participants

How does a group of 18 adult community leaders and 18 CIS high school students come together to create a movement? That was the ultimate goal behind a very special trip to Washington, D.C. in August, which was conceived and organized by Communities In Schools in partnership with The Gambrell Foundation.

The idea for the trip took shape last spring in a meeting between CIS-Charlotte President and CEO Molly Shaw and Laura Shepard with The Gambrell Foundation. CIS’s vision to empower youth voice and create opportunities for economic mobility resonated with The Gambrell Foundation’s focus on breaking down barriers and building bridges. Shaw and Shepard agreed that a trip to Washington, D.C. could be a transformational experience for adults and students alike, and pulled together a team to begin planning.

Over the next several months, while travel arrangements, consent forms, and all the myriad logistical details were ironed out, the idea developed into a jam-packed three-day adventure that participants described afterwards as “inspirational,” “catalyzing,” and “life-changing.”

While for many of the students the trip would mean their first airplane flight and first hotel stay, this was no ordinary “sight-seeing tour.” CIS-Charlotte and The Gambrell Foundation envisioned a student-centered experience that would help energize a social movement created and led by young people. The trip was soon dubbed, “The Difference Makers Social Impact Summit.”

Over the three-day trip, the group participated in a private tour of the National African American History Museum, visited Howard University and the Communities In Schools National office, and took a walking tour of the city’s historical monuments. They dined together and heard presentations of various perspectives on important issues.

One session centered on the words “hope” and “destiny,” while a “Fireside Chat” challenged the group to create a “New Deal” in our society that mends broken links and regains interracial trust and reconciliation. The final presentation on Day 3 was centered on Creating Movements, with lessons from past social movements and the tools needed to galvanize a movement. Most importantly, the trip provided a unique opportunity for adult community leaders to spend substantial time with students, with both groups learning new perspectives from the other.

Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs with ROI Impact Consulting, said the trip was a “flawless three days of pure inspiration.” She was especially impressed with the students, stating: “I was blown away by their insights, vision for their own future, poise, and leadership skills already in evidence. More than once, I pondered what I could possibly offer them, in the way of mentoring. In truth, they inspired the adults to stand a little taller in the face of our community’s challenges, and to model leadership when it is neither popular nor comfortable for others. I look forward to remaining connected to this little community that we built in three short days. Thanks for a life-changing experience!”

CIS Board member Suzanne Morrison, who was also on the trip, echoed Allison-Jacobs comments about the student participants: “Our students amaze, motivate and inspire me! Our time together was filled with open, candid and real conversations about our past, what we can do in the present and how we can alter the course of the future. We focused on opportunities, connecting, and actions we can all take. The experience, our students, and our CIS team really shifted my center of gravity – I am so grateful to have been a part of it.”

Mikayla Gaston, a CIS senior at Vance High School, said, “Everyone was so welcoming and open. Every hour I spent on the trip was better than the last. The experience and memories I made on the
trip could never be matched.”

Trip organizers say the trip was just the beginning of what they hope will continue to grow into a true student-led movement here in Charlotte, with a focus on increasing opportunity and economic
mobility for young people and their families. Stay tuned as these young leaders help shape the future of Charlotte!

quotes from students