Patricia McCray, LT 33, November ENews

Butterflies are some of nature’s most wonderful and amazing creatures. A butterfly’s beauty belies the painful transformation it takes to turn into the magnificent inspiration that flutters by us, reminding us of our own strength and capacity for growth. I believe all people are like butterflies – God made us to grow and change throughout our lives. For a long time I felt like a caterpillar, gathering strength to prepare for the metamorphosis into a butterfly.

When my friends, Dr. Gabrielle Gabrielli, LT Class 23, and Glenda Thornton, LT Class 9 told me about Leadership Tallahassee, I was hesitant. You see, at that time I didn’t view myself as a leader. They thought that I was crazy, because they both said I’m exactly the type of person that should be part of this leadership program. After all I’d been through, I had gotten used to viewing myself as less valuable than other people.

When I applied to Leadership Tallahassee, I knew the selection process was competitive and I didn’t feel worthy of sharing the time and space of so many incredible leaders in our community. I felt ashamed of my past and worried that I would not be accepted as a formerly incarcerated woman. Yes, I was scared. Yes, I compared myself to others. I would work on my application, but then stop. The self-doubt crept in, telling me I wasn’t worthy to be accepted.

Even after I was accepted, my fear persisted. My friend, Denise Wilson, LT Class 29, who was the curriculum chair for Tallahassee Leadership 33, said she remembered how timid I was on the first day of the retreat to Jacksonville. My uncertainty soon faded as we went through the weekend’s activities, learning and experiencing together as peers. I felt no judgment from my classmates, but instead felt as though we were lifting each other up. As we met for the next twelve months, I gained more confidence as a leader and felt more connected.

One of the many important attributes Leadership Tallahassee taught me, is that we forget that we are all unique and that we bring authenticity to the world with our experiences. Like butterflies, we go through various challenges and changes before we can become our best selves. Personal and professional transformation requires courage to overcome the fear of change in which pain will sometimes be inevitable. Many of us are afraid of change, but we can learn to embrace the pain and overcome our fears.

Leadership Tallahassee created a positive and long-lasting change in my personal and professional growth and development as a leader. And this is what Leadership Tallahassee does for each one of its graduates. During the twelve months of monthly meetings, Leadership Tallahassee provided us nurturing and caring support and facilitated interactions between team members while reminding us of our common goal of service as leaders to our community. We were exposed to various leadership styles, our strengths and decision-making skills are challenged, we are taught to be more mindful and focused in our service as leaders, to have greater capacity to stay open to new ideas, creativity and innovation of leadership at all levels.

Fast-forward to today, two years later. The leadership skills gained from Leadership Tallahassee has also led to amazing success for my non-profit, Butterfly Life Journeys and for my personal life. I was featured on the cover of Tallahassee Woman Magazine 2017 April/May issue, received the 2017 Trail Blazer from the Oasis Center for Women and Girls, one of the 25 Women You Need To Know in Tallahassee, FL, a graduate of Just Leadership USA 2017 Cohort and most recently, the 2017 Pinnacle Award from the 850 Magazine. I serve on the ECHO Board, Big Bend After Reentry Coalition, Tallahassee Leon County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, and the Tallahassee Federal Correctional Institution Community Relations Board.

My experiences and lessons learned from Leadership Tallahassee have greatly impacted my work with incarcerated women, many of whom suffer from the same doubt, shame and fear that has plagued me. I share with them many of my experiences and lessons learned from Leadership Tallahassee. It’s been three years now that I’ve been teaching the faith-based Threshold class at FCI-Tallahassee, the same prison where I was once incarcerated. More than five hundred women have taken my twelve-week class. I am the face and voice of hope and faith for a successful life when returning home from incarceration.

I have established long term relationships with many great leaders in our community. These relationships have developed into strategic partnerships, continued professional growth and lifelong personal friendships. All of which have allowed me to create an amazing support system that provides positivity in times of adversity and celebration in times of success.

THANK YOU, Leadership Tallahassee, my amazing LT 33 classmates (the BEST Class Ever) for embracing me and helping me to grow and spread my wings. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

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