If you really knew me…you would know that volunteering is in my blood. Working within my hometown community of Gainesville, Florida to ensure a positive and collaborative change is what was instilled in me as a young child. I remember waking up early on Saturday mornings and going with my father to volunteer at neighborhood health rallies, street clean ups, voter registration drives and various events. I met so many people who shared how our volunteering made a difference. That made me feel empowered and made my parents proud. Fast forward to becoming a professional educator in “at promise schools” within Leon County. I sponsored clubs, exposed scholars to cultural experiences, and pushed them beyond what they thought was their academic limits. I also worked within my Tallahassee community in the church, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and other community groups. Yes, I would enlist the assistance of my sons and husband along the way, especially on Saturday mornings! I thought that I was doing a good job and making a positive difference within Tallahassee.
In my present role as the Leon County Schools’ Assistant Superintendent of Professional, Intervention and Community Services, I have the honor of working with all of our scholars, schools, parents, and community members. I was constantly searching for ways that the community could be a part of our public-school system. Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna (LT 31) and I had a conversation one day that really focused on meaningful and sustained community engagement. He encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and learn more about Leadership Tallahassee. Not long after my conversation with the Superintendent, I had a detailed dialogue with School Board Chair Darryl Jones (LT 20) who challenged me to go beyond the borders that I knew so well. He, and countless another LT Alumnus (Carmen Conner/LT 34, Heather Thomas /LT 36, and Marcus Nicholas/LT 37) encouraged me to apply for LT 38 and that is what I did.
If you really knew me… you would know that I thought I knew Tallahassee. I thought I knew people who had a servant’s heart like mine. Well, I do, but I have gained a new family of diverse servant leaders who really care about our community. To sit and talk with members of LT is to experience innovative leadership, community collaboration, and problem-solving experts who are second to none. LT has afforded me opportunities to engage in diverse community activism, additional leadership trainings and the chance to work with others to ensure a legacy of positive change.
My Leadership Tallahassee experience took place in the midst of COVID (2020-2021). My class members and I all felt like the Brady Bunch at the beginning of our program year because we had to do everything via Zoom. However, even during those uncertain times and challenging conditions, I knew that I had been blessed with being able to go through this experience with a team of servant leaders who knew how to make things happen. We took advantage of every Program Day by getting to know each other well. We had Zoom coffee dates as well as the traditional gatherings after the program dates. We found similarities and those distinct differences which have served to make us stronger. We are definitely in this for life!
One of my favorite program days was our Public Safety Day. I don’t think that our community realizes the wealth of resources that are in place to make sure that we are all safe. I know that public safety is often overshadowed by the evening news proclaiming another act of violence. However, there are so many things that are going on to counteract that violence and ensure that our community is safe.
Our Leadership Tallahassee Class 38 projects, that’s right – I did say projects – will allow our legacy to live on well past each of us. We carefully worked to make sure that we addressed clearly identified community needs for all of our stakeholders. We presented, collaborated, went back to the drawing board until we came up with projects that would leave a lasting and impactful legacy.
In short, most say that our class was the BEST class ever. Leadership Tallahassee Class 38 defies that trend and says that we are the Freshest Class ever! We continue to keep our connection strong and challenge each other to stay involved in the efforts that make our community great. We push each other into spaces and provide the support to ensure success. We laugh, tell inside jokes, and continue to cheer each other on in our respective roles all while improving our community.
If you really knew me…you would know that I am Michelle Gayle, a proud member of Leadership Tallahassee! I would encourage and support anyone who is committed to improving our community to join us.