The Leading From Lived Experience fellowship brought together over 30 staff members, alumni, and participants from partner organizations in 15 countries across the Teach For All network, who have all personally experienced various forms of inequity, marginalization, and discrimination in their own contexts. The fellowship’s aim is to explore how its members can draw on their lived experience to collectively build power, heal, resist, and create change locally and globally.
The fellowship chose Medellin, Colombia as a place to come together because it is a city that is in the middle of an incredibly difficult and yet inspiring journey of healing and transformation, driven by community-rooted collectives dedicated to reimagining a different future by honoring both the pain and richness of their past.
However, Medellin is a city still fighting to break free from narrow narratives that have often been imposed from outside—and sometimes from within, too. One of the stories the global media likes to tell focuses only on drug trafficking, violence, crime, corruption, and war. And while it is true that all of these factors have shaped the city’s past and present—still today, many young people living in marginalized communities endure routine violence and struggle to survive stark inequality and poverty while caught in the middle of conflicts between powerful interests beyond their control—this narrative alone does not acknowledge the incredible energy, resilience, and creativity of the members of Medellin’s communities who are working to shape a different path forward.
There is also another single story told about Medellin, the “Medellin miracle,” in which progressive government action is credited for turning what was once known as the most dangerous city on Earth into “the city of innovation.” And while local government investment and innovation in infrastructure, education, and culture (often designed in partnership with community leaders) have had significant impact towards equity, expanding access, and opportunity, this narrative is often used to gloss over historic and enduring forms of systemic injustice and deep-rooted social inequalities, and at the same time erase or tokenize the contribution of the community collectives that continue to be a driving force behind the city’s progress.
In Medellin, the group spent time with some of the community collectives across the city that are working to reclaim and reimagine their own stories and who, in honor of their lost ones, are crafting new narratives and realities grounded in truth, hope, culture, creativity, healing, and resistance.
The following is a reflection by Teach For Uganda Fellow Charles Obore on his visit with the Agroarte collective: