Leadership, Vision and Courage Speaker Series


Posted in News Story

October 9, 2013 – the Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership hosted Lois Gibbs for the first segment of this year’s “Leadership, Vision and Courage” speaker series.

Lois Gibbs’s career in activism and community organizing began in 1978 when she realized her community, Love Canal, was built on a toxic waste dump that put her family and hundreds of others in serious danger. Wearied by this information, Lois became an integral contributor in the effort to evacuate these families. The discussion with Lois was intimate and started with screening a portion of “A Fierce Green Fire: A Battle for a Living Planet”, a poignant CBS documentary that outlines the events at Love Canal.

Lois explained that choosing to be a leader took courage. “Knocking on the first door was the most frightening thing I have ever done”, Lois recalled, but she decided that she needed to do it for her children because “no one was knocking on my door”. Lois found strength in numbers and surrounded herself with a community of leaders who made decisions as a group.

There was a two year struggle between Lois’s first knock and government intervention in Love Canal. Lois explained that the collaborative leadership model fostered widespread participation and ultimately led to the victory. To Lois, an effective community organizer gives everyone a say; they are able to use everyone to advance the work of the organization. The first segment of the “Leadership, Vision, and Courage” speaker series closed with a short, but impactful final comment. “You can’t do it alone”, Lois proclaims. Collaborative leadership is an integral component of activism and community organizing.