ACLF: Building better community leaders

Melissa Atalig, a recent graduate of the 2012 Community Leaders Program (CLP), shared her thoughts about the program.  The following article was first published at Seattle Gay News.  Thanks Melissa!  

CLP 2012

Melissa, leftmost middle row, with the 2012 Community Leaders Program participants.

by M.C. Atalig – Special to the SG.

Recently I attended the 13th Community Leaders Program (CLP) graduation for the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF). Truth be told, I’m one of 12 graduates of this year’s CLP.

The program teaches participants about the significant contributions of Asian/Pacific Islanders and other minorities in the Northwest and the United States. It’s an intensive curriculum that provides training and mentorship to adults with an interest in leadership and the potential to step into a leadership role.

This year’s graduation dinner, held November 17 at South Seattle Community College, was not only a celebration of completing our leadership program curriculum and community project – which involved partnering with Washington Asian Pacific Islander (WAPI) Community Services to reopen a safe space for youth in the International District – but it was also an evening of community celebration of API leaders dedicated to social justice and giving back to the community.

My journey with the CLP began six months ago, after having lived in the Seattle area for a little over a year and having spent much of my life not feeling a deep connection to either of my parents’ cultures. My father is of Chamorro decent and my mother is German. I grew up in a rural town of 3,500 in the Midwest. To add to the mix, I’m Lesbian. So I guess you could say I struggled for some time with understanding the cultures of both my parents, how being Gay might affect my ability to connect with those cultures, and how to consolidate that within my own identity.

At our first community leaders’ retreat, we were asked to take a self-inventory: Who are you? Where do you come from? How do you want to change and grow? And I’ve discovered this year has been all about pushing my boundaries and challenging myself to a more authentic way of living and leading. Whether it was in my personal life in reaching out to a community I feared could reject me if they knew I was Gay, being vulnerable in leadership, or fighting for equal rights and same-sex marriage here in Washington, I wanted to be a part of a program that would propel me to step into a role as a leader with transparency, honesty, and vulnerability.

For me, 2012 was a time of firsts and forward movement. For the first time ever, voters said yes to marriage equality here in Washington state. Though civil rights should not be up for popular vote, we witnessed broad coalitions mobilizing for equal rights and those results favoring full equality. We saw emerging alliances between racial justice and LGBT organizations on a range of issues. I can only imagine the power wielded from partnerships at the place where racial justice and LGBT rights meet.

For the first time ever, I have the ability to let go of who I thought I should be in order to be who I really am. I’ve experienced the power of vulnerability in leadership and letting myself be seen – ‘vulnerably seen.’ ACLF’s Community Leaders Program allowed my fellow API participants and me to create a safe space to share individual processes, journeys, and challenges with one another, creating an environment that was authentic and conducive for individual and collective growth.

With the New Year approaching on the heels of major political and civil rights victories, I have one question: Do you want to become a better leader?

For more information on ACLF and the Community Leaders Program, visit


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