I used to be a skeptic. I would hear others share stories about moments that literally changed the paths of their lives and doubted their legitimate impact. I would wonder, really though? Was that that big of a deal? And then it happened to me – I made a choice that literally changed my life. I applied to Leadership Tallahassee Class 28.

I remember it like it was yesterday – I was in the process of getting divorced and was making plans to rejoin Teach for America and move to Baltimore. I was 25, recently graduated with my Masters, working at The Oasis Center for Women and Girls, and beyond my profound relationship with Kelly Otte (LT 21), I didn’t feel I had much tying me to Tallahassee. I was surrounded by peers eager to leave Tallahassee; they never had anything nice to say and often made comments implying that those who chose to stay were inadequate somehow. I was young, full of potential, and eager for the next big thing. Kelly recommended I submit an application, apply for scholarship assistance, and wait until the acceptance letters went out to make a decision.

And then, I got in. The youngest member of my class – I made a commitment to stay and learn more about Tallahassee before relocating elsewhere. (Spoiler alert: Life-changing moment.) I don’t know if I was ready for the year that I experienced; and I don’t know if my classmates were ready for the sassy, rebellious Cubana that showed up to LT Retreat dressed as Salt from Salt-N-Pepa for our bus introductions (oh, yes I did). But I do know that it changed my life.

LT introduced me to people in the community, from all sectors, I would never have crossed paths with; who challenged me, infuriated me, delighted me, and cared for me. It challenged the way I thought of businesses, servant leadership, elected officials, and the list goes on. From my classmates alone, I gained two mentors, a bridesmaid, two business partners, and a handful of friends for life. Real talk though (you knew this was coming) – there are a couple of folks I haven’t spoken to since graduation. Not intentionally – it’s just life. But here’s the thing – even if we don’t talk everyday, I gained people who are now part of my safety net – I know if I ever need anything, I can call them up and they’ll be there. And (I hope) they know they have that in me.

LT surrounded me with people who changed the narrative of Tallahassee being a pitstop to being a place I can call home. I met all kinds of people who love this community and want to be a part of its growth, impact, and success. I realized – I wanted that, too.

The most surprising impact of LT was, when recently presented with an opportunity to switch from the nonprofit sector to the private sector, I felt ready because of all I had gained from LT and those folks involved. I knew that having established my entire professional career in the nonprofit sector did not make me any less capable of being successful in the private sector; especially working for a private company with a public mission like RedEye Coffee. Those skills were transferrable. It made me confident and capable in the direction I was about to head into leading a social impact company. LT opened my eyes to the ways that we all participate in making our community thrive, the manner in which our sectors support each other, and all the varying ways in which leadership manifests itself. Like a kaleidoscope, shifting and changing, reflecting beauty all the same.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a critical aspect of LT that has brought me great joy: Youth Leadership Tallahassee. Being an LT28 graduate afforded me the opportunity to continue giving back as an alum. For the past 8 years, I have participated with YLT and this year was beyond honored to serve as YLT15 Curriculum Chair. I know each class is the best – but, LT20 struck gold with their class project. Thank you for creating this opportunity of growth and access to our youth. Not only do they get to experience a different side of Tallahassee, they get to see us – adults- who don’t look, sound, or think the same engage in meaningful ways that promote community. Representation matters and YLT is a real-life manifestation of our motto: Leaders Create Leaders.

Between us, I feel bad for my friends who moved away. They missed out, y’all. And let me be clear, I do not feel inadequate nor do I think I settled. I’m out here living my #BestLifeEver because I got to be a part of the #BestClassEver. I know I made the choice to choose Tallahassee; but, really… Tallahassee chose me thanks to LT, YLT, and the ever-amazing Barbara Boone.

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