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'Uncomfortable but necessary conversations' | Young Leaders Collective hopes to turn dialogue into action

United Way's 'Young Leaders Collective' is hoping to spotlight issues across the city by starting a conversation and then turning that dialogue into action.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — The Young Leader Collective group at United Way is looking to pull back layers across Knoxville, exposing the roots of some of the city's issues. The group hopes to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations about homelessness, education, gun violence and more.

They are hoping to answer one question about all those issues — how do you address the fundamental infrastructure holding you back?

Board member Craig Pickett Jr. said you start with a conversation.

"Whatever impacts one region impacts us all. So, we're looking at ways we can address everything from homelessness, racism, educational issues and gun violence," he said. 

The group plans to host those discussions even if they are unsettling and take participants out of their comfort zones. 

"Let's hold these uncomfortable but necessary conversations to make you squirm, and to make you think, and to make you ask questions but to also figure out what can I do," said Pickett Jr. 

The Young Leaders Collective is trying to find ways they can organize and solve some of the city's biggest issues. Their conversations are designed to always be productive, and no conversation will ever be random. The group hopes to always discuss an important, pressing issue and find solutions.

"Through intentional mentorship, through intentional programming,  to us being strategic in the way in which we're giving funds or in the way in which we're spending our time," said Pickett Jr.

And while the group focuses on hosting tough discussions, they do not just speak over Zoom. The ideas exchanged during their meetings are meant to find footing on the streets, becoming action.

Anna Moseley of United Way said that the talking matters, but in the end the walking will speak louder. They hope to invite as many people as possible to events, taking a boots-on-the-ground approach towards implementing solutions and hoping to address issues at their roots.

"Those that are doing the groundwork, oftentimes you'll find the biggest level of impact and the biggest level of influence and the biggest level of success," said Pickett Jr. 

The most important discussion the Young Leaders Collective hopes to have is how to make sure the community has each others' backs. They said when people see each other respect and act to support one another, problems will be solved.

"When one person struggles, we all struggle," he said. "So how do we, as a collective unit, pull our passions, our skills and our talents together for these issues?"