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#Changemakers: 2018 Traverse City Advocate Academy

Traverse City Advocate Academy Graduates and Facilitators

You know that feeling you get when you know something incredible is about to happen? Part anticipation, part giddiness, part desire to be part of the movement? The first time I remember feeling this feeling was on November 2, 2008. It was less than 48 hours until election day and I happened to be in Cleveland, Ohio for a Browns game against the Ravens on the same night that Barack Obama would deliver one of his last speeches before being elected the 44th President of the United States. Following the game, my wife and I left the stadium and joined a nearby crowd of 80,000 people and listened to Bruce Springsteen warm up the crowd on Cleveland’s Public Mall.  I honestly don’t remember what songs The Boss sang and I don’t remember what our future President had to say on that cold and drizzly November evening. But I do remember what I felt standing there in the wet grass that night:

Hope. Anticipation. A feeling that something awesome was about to happen and a desire to be part of it.

That also sums up how I’ve felt since last Thursday evening when the first twelve participants of the Traverse City Advocate Academy (TCAA) officially became “graduates.”

The Academy started on a cold night in January downtown Traverse City. Twelve strangers came together to embark on an eight week journey to sharpen their skills to be advocates for a more welcoming Traverse City to walk, bike, and roll. Led by Urban Planner Shawn Winter, TART Trails Staff Kate Lewis and Madison Meter, and Norte Vice President Chris Hinze, the first class aimed to break the ice – literally. Participants engaged in a few fun icebreakers to get to know their classmates and facilitators a little better. The first week wrapped up with learning more about how to share a personal narrative in a public setting. Over the next eight weeks, participants would each share their personal story with the class. These individual stories would serve as the collective fuel that would propel the group forward through the program and beyond.

As the Academy rolled along, guest speakers were invited to share their expertise with course participants. City of Traverse City Planning Director Russ Soyring spoke on “policy and planning tools”, including specific infrastructure elements like bike lanes and sidewalks, as well as policies, such as the City’s Traffic Calming program which aim to make Traverse City a better place to walk, bike, and roll. Christie Minervini shared her experience advocating for people experiencing homelessness through her work with Safe Harbor. Learning about Safe Harbor’s goals and strategies to secure a permanent shelter in Traverse City helped participants realize the effort and persistence necessary to bring a meaningful campaign from an idea to project completion.

Participants then learned more about tactics from Jenn Cameron of Up North Pride, Sarna Salzman of SEEDS, Jamie Kidwell Brix of Earthen Ales, and Gary Howe former TC Commissioner and community advocate. Members of the local media – Nate Payne from the Traverse City Record Eagle, Jeff Smith from Traverse Magazine and Aaron Selbig of IPR – helped participants learn how to share their campaign through various forms of media. City Manager Marty Colburn and City Commissioner Tim Werner shared their expertise on leadership and how to engage with City government and departments to bring problems and potential solutions to the table. The program concluded with an inspirational session where John Lindenmayer, Executive Director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB), gave participants a timely update on important legislative happenings at the State level and TART Executive Director Julie Clark and Norte Executive Director Ty Schmidt reminded participants that they are supported by these two powerful groups moving forward.

A few of our amazing TCAA guest speakers

Academy graduate Shea O’Brien summarized his thoughts on the program:

“I walked away having learned that there are people in our local system fighting really hard to improve the walking and biking infrastructure. It’s not just about giving pedestrians and bicyclists access to our roads, it’s also about protecting them and protecting the people in vehicles from taking part in a collision or worse, a death.”

Throughout the program, participants worked in small groups to address a specific problem they identified in their respective area of the City. Mary Mantei, Shea O’Brien, William White, and Josh Brandt identified Peninsula Drive from Munson Ave to Bryant Park to be particularly unsafe for all road users – especially for people who walk, bike, and roll. Sherry Murray, David Page, Rick Venner, Mitch Treadwell and Chris Wendel realized that Division St. serves as a “great divide” in Traverse City and have been considering options for safer ways for people to cross Division. Last, but certainly not least, Jennifer Yeatts, Andrea Diebler and Michelle Reardon identified a similar divide created by Eighth St. and have been working to identify options to make crossing Eighth a safer and more pleasant experience, especially for people walking, biking and rolling. Academy graduate William White reflects on working with his fellow graduates: “There were so many great ideas that came out of the program for improving Traverse City’s walkability and bikeability! Our class was full of smart, creative people.”

And now comes the exciting part. The part that has left me with that hopeful, giddy excitement for what comes next. Now the Academy graduates, empowered with support from Norte and TART and armed with the knowledge and skills to be successful advocates, will go out into their neighborhoods and into our City and lead.

Academy graduate William White sums it up very well:

“I learned that I have the ability to cause productive change with something I am passionate about, no matter how big/small the issue may be. Now that I know that, I am going to do something about it!”

By Chris Hinze, Norte Vice President and ProWalk/ProBike Traverse City Chair

The Traverse City Advocate Academy, TART Trails and Norte would like that thank all of our program guest speakers listed above for volunteering their time and talents to the program. And a huge thanks to our weekly food sponsors: Oryana, The Filling Station, Raduno, The Blue Tractor, Lucky’s Market, Jimmy Johns, Mama Lu’s, The Little Fleet & Milkweed – your support of the Academy is so appreciated!