Why Climate Leadership Must Be Personal


A guest blog from an SCA Alumni Council Member, Nancy Fernandez

Climate change is a polarizing turn of phrase.

I learned about the Al Gore Climate Reality Leadership training through the SCA Alumni network. A gentle nudge encouraged me to apply and I’m so glad I did! This was an amazing opportunity step back from the politics of the phrase and learn with over 2,000 participants from 40 different countries what it means to really connect and how we can all empower each other to find solutions for the lives and lands affected by our changing climate. Because in three days I saw that it isn’t political, it is personal. It must be personal.

Photo of Nancy Fernandez, member of SCA Alumni Council

During my three days I took part in different sessions and trainings and left with a brain full of new skills and ideas, but most of all a heart filled with inspiration at the power of these 2,000+ voices all saying the same thing. Here are some of the moments and lessons that really struck a chord for me.


Everyone has a story. Everyone can tell a story, and that is one of the most powerful communication tools. An authentic voice is never wrong. Stories help us all identify shared values and build relationships. A personal story brings out what people care about, the experiences that make the issue real to the individual, makes people think how they can help to solve this issue, connects to the local reality of this issues’ impact, and emphasizes solutions. The logical structure of storytelling starts by pointing out what is impacting an individual today, answers what choices has society made to get to that point, followed by a vision for the future, and working on getting there – we all need a call to action! We need to share our personal stories on how climate change is affecting our lives but we also need to share success stories on how others have tackled or are fighting this issue and empowering people to action. This leadership training emphasized that climate change is not a political issue, but a call to action for us to connect to people and empower ourselves to make change.

Group of people at Climate Reality Project Training

Alliances are Everywhere

One session was lead by Al Gore and Bishop William J. Barber II and focused on fusion. They discussed the need to build cross-issue, multi-faith, multi-racial movements to solve the climate crisis. Like many problems, the key will be to build alliances across all the divisions among us. Many historical movements would not have been possible without people of all racial backgrounds coming together. The abolitionist movement was blacks and whites coming together. The farm workers movement involved Filipinos and Mexicans. If we want true unity, it must be rooted in truth. We must re-learn our history and reshape the narrative by working as a collective force. Being in Atlanta for this training, and right at the doorstep of the pastoral home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was reminded that just as he believed people of all ethnicities must come together to achieve a goal, so must the modern climate activists bring all voices, stories, and people together.

We need to include people who are different from ourselves while finding common ground. One session, “Ensuring Climate Reality” invited people whose voices are not usually heard. These stories are not hard to reach; they are members of our communities already, but as this session asked – are you listening?

Michelle Suarez, the Orlando Regional Director of Organize Florida, shared examples of what justice and equity look like. “Our communities know their solutions. They know what it takes for their own liberation and the control of their own destiny.” Talking about community organizers after hurricane Maria, Suarez said “There is a lot of trauma in the work that we do… The leadership of women, that leadership not only looked like policy or right advocating. Leadership also looked like grandmothers doing cookouts. That leadership also looked like holding space for one another, holding space for the family, translating for the families. It also looked like babysitting. It really looked like community love, like a labor of love and community wealth.”

Interfaith Gathering at Climate Reality Project Training

Cherry Foytlin, an indigenous organizer, writer, speaker, and mother of six also had very powerful words.

“As I stand here and I look at your beautiful faces I only have really one fear and that is that where ever we are in this we are not really understanding what it really is going to take to win this battle. Building on the back of ancestors, upon ancestors behind us that have already been fighting this fight this isn’t anything new. But I will say that the people in this room right here who are going to be the greater burden of that will be black, brown, poor people, and I need the people here who are not those people to get real about what you are going to do to protect us… It’s super important that people get real about what’s happening in these low-income communities and that the civil rights era where we saw people drugged, beaten, imprisoned, that that is happening right now in those low-income communities. .. I want to know how the people with privilege and the white folks in this room are going to stand up in that time and protect us from these other spaces.”

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center added “We use this word a lot (equity) that means a lot of different things. What equity is not is just inclusion. What equity is not is just a diversity of voices at a table that you get to invite folks to. Equity is not just representation. Not all the black people that call themselves leader in the climate justice or environmental justice movement speak for me. ..Equity is about accountability. So who are you accountable to climate reality project?”

We need to invest in our communities. We need to listen to the stories right in front of us, we need to seek that knowledge out to inspire our solutions. I know I’m listening more after hearing these powerful stories.

Obama Quote in brick

The Beginning is the Biggest Leap

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training created a space where I learned first hand how climate change is affecting people from all over the world. What resonated most with me was hearing the unfiltered stories of people from all ethnic backgrounds, ages, abilities, genders, and sexual orientation. Every voice here was heard, valued, and encouraged to speak the reality that we are all facing. What I saw and felt was deep solidarity, true love, and a real determination to create a sustainable future for the Earth. I arrived at this training as a leader in my own right but left with a wider support network and a stronger commitment to make a difference.

This is not the end but only the beginning.

Are you an SCA Alumni with your own story to share? Tell us! We love to hear from our alumni!