For the past the past 10 months, I have had the privilege of participating in the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program. As a Raleigh native, I have a passion for the city and have seen much growth and change over the years. Leadership Raleigh allowed me a back stage, all access pass into the inter-working’s of local government, the issues the city is facing, and the chance to interact with key community leaders both in government and business.

The class kicked off with an initial out of town weekend retreat where professionally conducted funny, serious, thought provoking, and sometimes awkward activities brought the class together from day one. My class, class 35, was made up of fifty professionals and designed such that there is little to no overlap in the occupations of the participants. Participants were from businesses both public and private, from national and regional, to local small businesses, higher education, as well as non-profit groups. This array of people and backgrounds allowed for comprehensive, in depth conversations on issues our community is facing. These open and ongoing conversations let me see viewpoints that I would likely not have considered and opened my eyes to the impact and complexity of our quickly growing region.

Each month of the program had a theme–quality of life, law enforcement, human services, local economy, education, healthcare, and local government to name a few. Each month consisted of at least one unique full day session that was planned by a small group from the previous Leadership Raleigh class. Many of these days included behind the scenes tours such as the local WRAL news studio, Duke Raleigh Hospital, and local substance abuse rehabilitation facilities. Many sessions also included panel interviews with top officials and business executives which provided a platform to ask them questions on tough topics and have a two-way conversation.

The most memorable month for me personally was law enforcement. As part of this month I did a ride along with the Raleigh Police Department in the busiest police district of the city. Through my interaction with the Senior Officer and with the multiple people that we arrested that shift, I got to see the issues officers face and the quick decisions they have to make that could mean life or death. I got a glimpse of an area of Raleigh that is so close to my home, yet so much different from where I live—truly an eye-opening experience. The day session took the class to central prison, touring the facility and talking with the Warden and staff, to understanding the impacts of having the states largest prison in our city. We also interviewed inmates, DEA agents, and officers of the Raleigh Police Department’s gang unit that day and visited the North Carolina Highway Patrol training center.

I thoroughly enjoyed the class and getting to experience sides of Raleigh that I would have been detached from otherwise as I go about my day to day. I graduated with forty-nine new friends that I look forward to continuing relationships with. We have been charged with helping grow Raleigh in a direction that continues to make it one of the top places to live in the country and I know class 35 is up to the task!