April 15, 2024

Both a Journey and a Home: What I Discovered about Learning in Community


I didn’t just start a new job. I started a journey, when I was hired as a Program Assistant by SVP Cleveland seven years ago. Since then, my role has evolved several times, and so did the organization. Today, I am the Director of Equity & Engagement, and SVP Cleveland is Collaborate Cleveland.

At the heart of these transformations is a shared belief that we—individually, collectively, and societally—can be better, do better, and help build a better world. Not just can, must. There’s also an understanding that “better” doesn’t just happen because we want it to. It takes listening, introspection, vulnerability, granting grace, taking risks ,and a commitment to act on what is learned. It requires a willingness to interrogate our long-held ways of thinking, to acknowledge our intent didn’t always align with our impact, to show up better, and to show up.

Thinking back to when I started in 2017, I recall a lot of organizational conversations around, “What is ‘equity’?” It was a new term for me and many of our partners, but from our glimmer of initial understanding, we knew we needed to learn more. So, from 2017-2021 we learned about racial equity. We collectively discussed books, movies, podcasts, and other resources. We attended events and conferences. We brought in speakers. We formed small groups to learn about power, privilege, and racial justice. We developed our organizational values. We learned a lot. I learned a lot, and I was deeply supported and held accountable in my learning.

Of course, there’s a lot more background I could give about our organizational and my individual learning journeys. I could add many more high points. I could talk about where we fell short. I could talk about how this journey didn’t resonate with everyone. I could talk about how we finally became Collaborate Cleveland: For Women. For Community. For All. However, an organizational history isn’t my intention. This piece is about finding a place to grow. It’s about how people can be that place. 

Collaborate Cleveland’s people are a home that welcomes me to be my authentic self while learning and growing. Our partners and my colleagues have encouraged me, challenged me, and held me accountable. They’ve celebrated my wins and helped me back on my feet when I’ve stumbled. They’ve shown me the power of learning in community.

When I was asked to take on the title of Director of Equity & Engagement for the organization, I was terrified I’d disappoint and let the partners and community down. I felt like I still had so much to learn. I did. And I do. However, for an organization like Collaborate Cleveland, being the Director of Equity is about a passion for learning, sharing that love of learning, encouraging learning in others, accountability, and a commitment to shift learning into action.

None of this is easy. It shouldn’t be. This learning requires dismantling, bridging, and rebuilding. There’s a lot to build. At times, I struggle with hope. But I’ve found a home in the growth journey I’ve been on with partners and this organization over this past seven years. They say, “Home is where the heart is.” My heart is this work—learning, growing, and building in community. My home is this community of learners. Watch us grow. And, when you’re ready, join us.

Emily Troia Collaborate Cleveland Director of Equity and Engagement

Emily Troia
Director of Equity & Engagement
Collaborate Cleveland

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