The Oikos Institute of Social Impact’s (Oikos’) "Fishing Differently™ Conference 2023" was a powerful gathering ground for a diverse assembly of faith-inspired lay and clergy leaders who converged with a shared mission to delve into innovative strategies for generating enduring social impact. Spanning three days, from September 20th to 22nd, 2023, this conference stood as a remarkable testament to the unswerving dedication of individuals resolute in making a meaningful difference in their communities and the world.
The Fishing Differently™ Conference 2023 provided an invaluable platform for leaders to explore innovative ideas, deepen their commitment to social impact, and connect with like-minded individuals. It was a resounding testament to the unwavering dedication of faith-inspired leaders who stand determined to impact the world in a positive and lasting manner.
Our journey was inaugurated by an exclusive Pre-Conference Lunch and Learn, graced by the presence of approximately 50 esteemed invitees. Among the esteemed guests were the honorable Rev. Jesse Jackson and his senior advisor, Rev. Jeanette Wilson. Rev. Jackson proclaimed that he supported our mission and came to the “We Fish Differently” luncheon the following day to further show his solidarity. The primary objective of this session was to nurture a deeper comprehension of the dynamics of social impact and illuminate the Oikos Institute’s mission. The keynote address, delivered by the Revered Bishop John R. Bryant, provided profound insights into the essence of the conference's overarching theme. Dr. David Kresta reviewed his Fishing Differently™ case study of Bethel AME Church Morristown, commissioned by Duke Divinity. The church, where our Co-Founder, Rev. Dr. Sidney Williams, also the author of "Fishing Differently: Ministry Formation in the Marketplace," serves as pastor. His engaging session culminated with a dynamic Q&A, fostering active involvement and inspiring participants to imbue their newfound knowledge with transformative power in their lives.
Masterfully led by Rev. Traci Blackmon at the serene Fellowship Baptist Church, the inaugural worship service cast a spiritually uplifting aura over the entire conference. As attendees crossed the threshold, they were greeted by the soothing melodies of music, setting the stage for a sacred ambiance. The service encompassed elements of praise and worship, a stirring call to worship, invocations, libations, and a potent sermon delivered by the indomitable Rev. Traci Blackmon. The proceedings concluded with a heartfelt invitation to "F.I.S.H. Differently," a poignant call extended by Rev. Dr. Hanna Broome and gracefully wrapped up with announcements and a benediction.
Following the opening worship service, a VIP Reception unfolded at the VU Rooftop, marking an occasion with musical interludes, and providing a distinguished platform for networking and the acknowledgment of esteemed guests.
Each morning throughout the conference, participants were welcomed to "Morning Manna," a spiritually enriching gathering that featured invocations, reflections, and soulful musical performances. The rousing Rev. Jeanette Wilson led the Morning Manna services.
The overarching theme of the opening plenary session revolved around "Reimagining Social Justice," featuring dynamic speakers who illuminated this critical subject. The speakers were founders of Oikos, Rev. Dr. Reginald Blount, Rev. Dr. Sidney Williams, and Fishing Differently™ advisor Devin Murphy. Attendees engaged fervently in discussions and a Q&A session, allowing for an in-depth exploration of the nuances of this vital topic.
The conference offered design labs focused on "Imagination" and "Pivot." These sessions were purposefully designed to encourage participants to approach the daunting societal challenges creatively and strategically, ultimately fostering innovative solutions.
One of the design Labs, a collaborative effort led by John Wilson, the former President of Morehouse College, and President Roslyn Artis of Benedict College, brought together HBCU Presidents and Cabinet Leaders. Its primary focus was on social impact and HBCUs, aiming to build trust and familiarity between Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The lab sought to devise a robust, HBCU-backed theory of change, emphasizing the need to translate social and knowledge capital into collateral for capital markets. Furthermore, it encouraged collaboration across various sectors to address HBCUs' unique challenges and opportunities. One of its core objectives was to develop student revenue support through external projects and development efforts, ultimately striving to empower and uplift HBCUs through strategic partnerships and innovative solutions.
A pivotal conference moment was the "We FISH Differently Luncheon," featuring Dr. Shawn Ginwright, which provided an invaluable platform for exchanging insights and fostered thought-provoking discussions. Dr. Ginwright is the author of, “The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves”.
The zenith of the event arrived with the Impact Awards ceremony; a momentous occasion dedicated to honoring individuals whose contributions have left an indelible mark on the realm of social change. Those honored were Rev. Dr. Abdul Knox, Rev. Dr. C. Denise Pickett, Rev. Dr. Joseph Daniels, Rev. Demetrius Davis, Rev. Lisa Williamson, and Richard Townsell. A special tribute was paid to Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, presented by the eloquent Dr. Otis Moss III and the Trinity Church of Christ. This ceremony seamlessly blended the melodic talents of Kirk Whalum with moving speeches and heartfelt acknowledgments.
The final day commenced with another inspiring Morning Manna gathering with Rev. Reginald Williams from Trinity United Church of Christ, incorporating invocations, reflections, and soulful musical performances. This was followed by the last design lab, which delved into the concept of "Impact" and how faith-inspired leaders could translate their vision into tangible outcomes for their communities.
The conference culminated with a powerful closing plenary masterfully led by Dr. Roslyn Artis. This session included a Q&A segment, a call to commitment, closing remarks that resonated deeply, and an empowering sending-off message that left an indelible mark on every participant. Dr. Artis is the President of Benedict College, SC.
In the reflective aftermath of the Fishing Differently™ Conference 2023, participants were moved to express their profound gratitude and acknowledge the life-changing impact of the event. Rev. Dr. Amy Ciceron, a participant from the NC Cohort, voiced her appreciation, labeling the experience as nothing short of "life changing." Joyce Moy, Oikos Board Member, encapsulated the essence of the conference's transformative power, articulating the shift from mere aspiration to profound inspiration, asserting, "Before it was aspirational, but after this, I am inspired, and I know it will be." Frances Johnson, another NC Cohort participant, painted her experience as a "Wow moment" that commenced during her flight to the conference and continued to reverberate throughout its duration. She applauded the meticulous planning, organization, and profound spiritual depth that characterized the event. Frances singled out the empowering question posed during the conference: "Who do I become to create the outcome I want?" This question, she noted, resonated profoundly and catalyzed profound personal transformation.
Cofounder Dr. Sidney Williams exclaimed, “The inaugural Fishing Differently conference was a truly enlightening and inspiring experience. I am deeply grateful for the chance to convene so many brilliant faith-inspired leaders.
The conference provided a platform for the Oikos Institute for Social Impact to explore and discuss the critical role that Black Churches and HBCUs have played and continue to play in shaping our society. The diverse range of sermons, plenary discussions, and intimate conversations highlighted the multifaceted ways these anchor institutions have contributed to our social fabric. It was encouraging to witness the commitment of conference participants to fostering collaboration and exploring future strategies to enhance their social impact. I look forward to continuing the conversations and collaborations initiated during the conference. As we move forward, I am confident that the social impact of Black Churches and HBCUs will only continue to grow, further contributing to bettering our communities and nation.”
In summation, the Fishing Differently Conference 2023 left an indelible mark on its participants, serving as a crucible of inspiration, empowerment, and profound transformation. The event, which rekindled and strengthened the commitment of its attendees to drive positive change within themselves and their external communities, stands as a powerful testament to the immense potential of faith-inspired leaders when united in their resolute pursuit of meaningful social impact. The legacy of this extraordinary conference will undoubtedly continue to inspire and catalyze change in the years to come, resonating as a beacon of hope and progress in our ever-evolving world.
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