This post is the speech that Towson University graduate Angie Hong delivered at Towson University's 10 Year LeaderShape Reunion. Angie, a proud Baltimore native, currently working in D.C. as program coordinator for the National Center for Family Philanthropy, where she supports the development and organization of programs, services, and strategies that advance the practice of family philanthropy. Additionally, she serves as assistant director to the nonprofit organization BULA, Inc., where she assists in the management of programs, organizational development, and communication efforts to secure brighter futures for Ugandan youth. Angie previously served in a variety of international development positions in Uganda and Nicaragua where she assisted with alternative care for children and health development. Before this, she worked at the Office of Civic Engagement at Towson University, encouraging active citizenship within students and the community, including the curation of two TEDx events focused on creating a better world for citizens.
Good morning! I’m Angie Hong and I am a proud 2009 LeaderShape graduate. The type of pride I have in being a Leadershape graduate at TU has developed into something much deeper now than it did five years ago. I also want to mention that saying five years ago only freaks me out just a little bit. But, we’re at the 10 year reunion so I can only imagine how some other alumni are feeling.
Reflecting on five years ago, I remember feeling honored to be chosen as 1 of 60 people toattend Leadershape, I was excited to finally figure out what all the hype was about from leadershapers before me. Five years ago, I was living a week- long Utopian Dream of Visionaries, and my new friends were the visionaries. When we reflect back on our times at Leadershape, it was full of vision, friendship, tears, and this intense feeling that we could make some real change in this world. But, I’d like to remind you all of some of the “tougher” learning moments, ones you may have blocked off from your memory. Remember the star power game where all too much power was given to the Squares and we hurt our fellow circles and triangles. At this point, we even questioned the trust we built from the day before, not only with other people but our own selves- dealing with the consequences of realizing that we too, are humans and leading with integrity is not always easy. Speaking of trust, let’s talk about the challenge course. Noone ever told me that I’d have to help some girl, who was crying to no end over her fear of heights, get over a huge wall. And then later, I’d have to walk on a tightrope with her. But, I’m glad I did because she’s definitely going to be one of my bridesmaids. Now, I’m no where near getting married but we all need some vision to bring into reality, right? On that note, let’s think back to the agony felt over creating our goals and visions, all while using this foreign concept called, a healthy disregard for the impossible. But, we made it through that and found ourselves together in a circle with a glass pebble in hand, representing the ripple effect that we would make into the world. The power of one, the power of all.
Looking back now, Leadershape is not a utopian dream of visionaries, leadershape is a microcosm of the real life. It eased us into scenarios we would face in the future and challenged us to not only maintain our integrity, but to also practice the act of forgiveness. Our world needs more leaders with integrity and a good moral compass. We need people who will do the right thing even when no one’s looking. This reminds me of the time I was in Uganda and discovered that that the children I grew to care about for over 8 years were being abused by their guardian since 2011. Everything that was thrown at me during this time was almost familiar… or something I learned to navigate through. I made connections with the Ugandan government and police, but I was told that cases like these never hold up because of corruption and fear. They told me most westerners would flee the country at this point and that served as a type of warning. But, leaving never even crossed my mind. I worked with the police with limited resources, went on numerous investigations and interviews of the kids, and ended up getting the children out of an abusive home. As he went to jail, the government granted me temporary guardianship of all 24 children. During this, time I had to find a home to care for all the children, trace their family members in the village, and prepare them for the biggest change of their lives. Most nights, I was crippled with fear for the next day. I endured threatening phone calls from people I never event met because a man they respected so much was put into jail- and eventually prison. They accused me of buying off the police. I won’t deny that the temptation was there. But, you see, even though this man committed heinous acts, I still believed in a fair trial. Even though he made my life and others’ a living hell and I felt like I never hated anyone more, he was still a person and I needed to remember that. Before the children moved back home to their families, we organized a retreat for them. This was my glass pebble moment. From setting up a learning community for the children to facebag (which I believe is a generational leadershape thing) to action planning for the future, we did what we could to make sure the kids were ready to tell their story as they wanted it to be told. That was unknowingly, a step towards reaching my vision- giving a voice to those who had theirs taken away.
My second story, much briefer, was when I came home from an international development job. The difference in the stories is in Uganda, I stayed and Nicaragua, I chose to leave. I had no problem with the living conditions and in fact, I loved living there. But I felt myself deterioriating on the inside and losing myself little by little. Each day, as I walked to work or did an errand, I would get cat-called. I’d hear kissy noises, unwelcomed nicknames for me and marriage proposals. One day, a man even ran up from behind me and ran his fingers through my hair. I had never felt so disgusted and low in my life. So, even though this job was a goal of mine since I was 16, I came to the realization that I wasn’t that same 16 year old girl and it was no longer a goal of mine, which by the way, is a very frightening thing- to be so sure of your path for so long and then changing it instantly. I worked on my vision so passionately and for so long that I decided that it was now time to work on my inner- self. So, I left. I never felt more empowered than I did when I put in a request to leave. Even though I was coming back to the states with no plan, I knew that this was right for me. And since then, I’ve thought to myself, “how fascinating.”