The Alabama Organizing Project (AOP) is a unique collaboration of six organizations: Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, Alabama Coalition Against Hunger, Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Greater Birmingham Ministries, and Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. AOP organizations work collaboratively in educating and mobilizing low-income families to advocate on their own behalf for policy and community change. An essential program of AOP is the Grassroots Leadership Development (GLD) program.

The Grassroots Leadership Development (GLD) Program is a leadership training program that helps people become better, more effective leaders in their communities. Participants come from across the state, representing diverse communities, backgrounds, interests, and abilities. GLD brings them together for training that is designed to enhance their existing skills, teach new skills, and facilitate constructive work for change in communities and organizations back home.

On July 19, sixteen energetic and hard-working emerging leaders graduated from the Alabama Organizing Project’s Grassroots Leadership Development (GLD) program held at the Double Tree Hotel in Montgomery. FOCAL sponsored four graduates. To complete the program, grassroots leaders were charged to attend six weekend training sessions and assemble a portfolio of their work. Interviews with elected officials, community leaders, holding community meetings on current issues, writing op-eds, appearing on radio programs were just a few of the activities grassroots leaders participated in. FOCAL graduates are: Yawntreshia Coleman, Clarice Davis, Myisha Davis and Alice Evans. Over 40 participants sat in awe as keynote speaker Scott Douglas, Executive Director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries gave the commencement speech. His message to the graduates was, “It all begins with a vision, and with that vision is where you will find your passion and work”. T. Marie King, a former FOCAL GLD graduate, gave the Charge to Graduates. King stated “You are never too old to start over, never too old to achieve your goals”. Recruitment and applications will be available in the Fall and the next GLD cycle will begin in January 2015.


Who participates?

The 2011 graduates came from all over Alabama, representing communities as diverse as Triana, Mobile, Forkland and Birmingham. All GLD participants are either members of low-wealth communities or closely bonded to low-wealth communities. They are also proponents of specific public policy agendas affecting low-wealth people and communities such as tax and immigration reform. As Earl Tarver of the Alabama Council on Human Relations notes, “The GLD program transforms persons from attenders at meetings to people who stand up and speak and organize in communities.”

What is the program like?

The GLD program lasts for seven months. To graduate, participants must fulfill two major requirements:

  • Attend a series of participatory weekend workshops
  • Complete a sequence of tasks to apply learning in the community

Participants learn to challenge external and internalized oppression, make persuasive presentations, plan and carry out effective issue campaigns, communicate effectively with the media, and work constructively in their communities. All participants receive thorough training in rationales and strategies for tax and immigration reform, and have the opportunity to work with some of Alabama’s leading advocates and organizers in these areas. Here’s what some of our 2011 graduates said about the program:

  • “I felt a personal connection to how the issues affect my neighborhood and community.”
  • “It built my confidence and knowledge about Alabama and the community I was working with.”
  • “It allowed me to step out knowing I had developed tools to manage crowds and lead the people.”
  • “Before this program I had some discriminatory beliefs that were based on ignorance. This program has allowed me to become more educated so that I can make more informed decisions and avoid stereotyping.”
  • “I learned how to be a better presenter and was encouraged to be more active in our political process.”

Alabama is fortunate to have a wealth of closely knit communities, each with their own leadership, strengths, and challenges. Through the Grassroots Leadership Development program, the Alabama Organizing Project brings community leaders together for collaboration, training, and enrichment. Only by developing a network of highly competent leaders across the highways and rural roads of the state alike can we hope to harness the power of the people to effect change from the grassroots to the statehouse.

How Much Does it Cost?

Program costs include lodging, food and travel expenses for participants. AOP also offers children’s activities for participants who need to bring their children. AOP works hard to secure funding to allow us to offer full and partial scholarships to those applicants in need. In order to help cover some of the expenses, we ask all applicants who are accepted to pay a $25.00 registration fee. We also ask participants to contribute in other ways as described in the GLD Program Policy. In general, the cost per participant in GLD is $1,000. Most participants receive full or partial scholarships depending on their ability to pay and the ability of their sponsoring organization to help them.

How Do I Apply?

Although the program is open, interested participants must secure the sponsorship of an AOP member organization to be eligible to apply. If you are not already a member of an AOP member organization, research them on your own to decide which might be the best fit for you. If you need help, call the AOP office or contact AOP member organizations directly. We are interested in recruiting a diverse and active pool of candidates for upcoming classes.

Recruitment for the class of 2015 has already ended.

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