Sometimes being a leader isn’t about leadership at all. To me leadership is about loving what you do, doing what you want, and having people fall in love with the ideas you’re passionate about.

So I’ll tell you a little story.

A few weeks into the semester I was assigned the Death of Dawn Branchu at Sea World as my group project topic for my crisis communication class.

Being the whale lover and animal rights activist that I am I was thrilled to cover the topic because I knew that I would be able to tie my favorite movie Blackfish into the project presentation.

After seeing the movie, I wanted to do something to raise awareness about the issue of captive marine mammals but I didn’t quite know where to start. With a little direction from my crisis class, and knowing that I would have a group to support me, I started brainstorming.

I already knew that I could mimic the social media campaign I created on Facebook last semester for UNF Supports Catty Shack Ranch, but I also knew I needed more information and support from somewhere.

I went online to the Blackfish website and started exploring the different websites listed for users to “take action.” I found myself deep into a website called  Voice of the Orcas is created and updated by several of Sea World’s former trainers. At the time the trainers had their personal emails listed, so I started emailing them with this message:

I’m interested in raising awareness for your website by creating a social media campaign something along the lines of “UNF supports voice of the Orcas” or “UNF supports Blackfish.” I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to be active or how to start one of these groups?

Best,  Christine McFaul

 With in just a few days after sending out the email I was communicating ideas back and fourth with ex-Sea World trainers who wanted to help me.

I got really excited. That was the spark that started my fire.

The next day I was in my crisis teachers office and I started to tell her all the ideas that I had and asked her how I could tie everything in with the project. She advised me to just ask my peers for feedback.  Right after the meeting I went home and created a short Orca Media Survey that I passed out that night to my pre-internship class.

After tallying the results  the name of the page, “ UNF Gives Voice to the Orcas” was chosen and wa-la I had an awareness page up and running.

Now, I bet thus far you think that this is a story about me and my whale page? No, no, that was just the beginning.

I continued emailing the trainers for content for the page and that’s when I learned that one of the trainers, Carol Ray, is actually from Jacksonville and took some of her masters courses at UNF! #swoop.

Carol Ray invited me to a protest the following weekend at Sea World and told me that she would be visiting her family in Jacksonville in January so that we could plan a day to meet up and chat about the whales.

I got so excited, again.

I started inviting all of my anti-SeaWorld friends to the protest. Immediately called my best friend Nicole Rowbotham, a pre-vet student at Emory, who was fired-up and ready save the orcas! I’m laughing as I write this because we’re both such whale freaks, but seriously, she was going to drive 7 hours from Emory in Atlanta immediately after a flight home from Connecticut to come protest with me. I say “was” because the protest ended up being canceled because it was to close to the holidays and there wasn’t enough support. However, I believe that everything is a blessing in disguise.

After talking to Nicole that day I think we both added more sparks to each other’s fire. Nicole had never even seen Blackfish before and later that week when she got the chance to see it she realized that she knew the orca brain neurologist, Lori Marino. Marino, who works at Emory, had come to talk to Nicole’s vet club earlier in the year about whales and dolphins in captivity.

I told Nicole that for the sake of our love for whales she needed to make an appointment to meet with Marino and find a way to take action. So she did. She called me after the meeting teary-eyed, she was so excited because she now had an outlet to express her passion and help save the whales. With the help of Marino, Nicole is now in the planning process of creating a club at Emory to raise awareness and conduct research on marine mammals in captivity.

Writing this, I’m getting teary-eyed because, from a leadership perspective, this is all I’ve ever wanted. Forget my whale page, the emails, Carol Ray, and the protest. What really motivates me as a leader is seeing the little ideas that I’ve shared with others come together to create something bigger that will be around for years to come. Nicole, you are my first follower, you’ve transformed this lone nut into a leader! xoxo love you.

Growing as a leader, and sprouting new leaders along the way.

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