NBA | November 12, 2019
By Eric Lesure, 2019 SENT Seminar Participant
The NBA SENT Seminar equips Social ENTrepreneurs for leadership and change and is a primary component of our Incubate Initiative. The four-day seminar is designed for Disciples-affiliated leaders and leadership teams who are starting new health and social services ministries. SENT covers the basics of nonprofit ministry startups, as well as skills for leadership and innovation across inter-connected, cross-cultural, and faith-based communities. This year’s SENT Seminar took place in Scottsdale, Arizona, at The Casa Franciscan Renewal Center from September 11-14, 2019.
I initially heard about SENT Seminar in 2015, shortly after joining the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was encouraged to attend several times, but for one reason or another three years passed and I still hadn’t applied. When the opportunity to apply was presented again in 2019 I started not to once again because my organization has been around since 2013 and honestly, I didn’t think I would gain much from attending. However, after speaking to Rev. Larry Morris, Incubate Program Associate, I decided to apply and I’m so glad I did.
I launched Red Elephant AIDS Awareness & Prevention (REAAP), a 501(c)(3) organization in March of 2013 during the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. The mission, duty and purpose of REAAP is to engage and mobilize Black leaders, faith-based institutions and community members in an effort to publicly confront and end HIV/AIDS related stigma and silence in the Black community through social awareness, advocacy, education, mentorship and leadership development. When it comes to the Black community and faith-based institutions the topic of HIV/AIDS tends to be one of the many “elephants in the room.” HIV/AIDS is an issue that everyone knows is there, but few want to address or acknowledge. REAAP is committed to giving the Red Elephant a voice and “Exposing the TRUTH, Confronting the STIGMA, Breaking the SILENCE” that surrounds HIV and AIDS in the Black community.
Prior to arriving in Scottsdale, Arizona, I was considering the dissolution of REAAP. I was defeated, discouraged, tired, angry and ready to give up. Leading a nonprofit organization can at times feel like a daunting task, especially when you have limited financial resources, no staff and very little support. However, I was hopeful that SENT Seminar would provide me with some much-needed inspiration. By the end of the seminar I was motivated again. After being in community with other visionaries and social entrepreneurs as we brainstormed, discerned, prayed for one another, imagining new and inventive ways to maximize our resources and potential I received the second wind I so desperately needed.
One of my most memorable and life-giving moments from SENT Seminar was a conversation I had with Rev. Darnell Fennell, Director of Social Entrepreneurship. As we discussed some of the challenges I’ve been facing with a few local HIV funders, he suggested that I put my community organizer training to good use and perform a power analysis. His encouraging charge confirmed what I had been thinking and feeling. In that moment, God started planting the vision for what I now call the Black Lives AIDS Collective (BLAC). BLAC is a collective of local activists, advocates, artists, clergy and community leaders. Through BLAC we endeavor to work across state, religious and political lines to advocate for equitable access to HIV testing, care and funding for Black lives in Indiana. We want HIV funders to know that BLACK HIV LIVES MATTER too!
God’s timing is flawless! “Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.” I truly believe I was supposed to be part of the 2019 SENT Seminar cohort. I am thankful to NBA for believing in me, their continued support of REAAP and for granting me a scholarship to attend SENT. I arrived in Scottsdale, AZ feeling defeated; however, I left feeling like I could change the world.
LOVE. LIFE. LIBERATION.
As the health and social services general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the National Benevolent Association partners with congregations, regions, general ministries, and a variety of Disciples-related health and social service providers to create communities of compassion and care. Founded in 1887 by six women responding to the needs of the day and on their doorsteps, for more than 130 years the NBA has continued to serve "the least of these." Learn more at www.nbacares.org.