June 01, 2015

Planting Seeds of Social Change

Artika Tyner

While attending the 2015 GP|Solo Spring Meeting in Hawaii, I was reminded that the true essence of leadership is interconnectedness. This is a focus on building a shared vision for the future which promotes equity and justice. I found myself walking along Banyan Way to finally have a glimpse of a banyan tree. I had researched the history of the banyan tree for a number of years, and this was my first opportunity to witness this powerful image. This tree serves as a metaphor for leadership rooted in community engagement, which flourishes through strategic partnerships. As I stood in front of a banyan tree, I looked closely at its branches. Unique to this tree is its ability to grow outward by new roots that are formed from the branches. Each community member represents a branch as his or her leadership voice begins to emerge. These branches grow upward together and are intertwined as everyday people exercise their united power and utilize their voices to advocate for social change.

I traveled across the nation to learn from transformational leaders who have fostered community coalitions that mirror the image of the banyan tree. They are working in partnership with community members to promote social change by addressing predatory lending (Bonnie Allen); ending mass incarceration (Nekima Levy-Pounds); eradicating the wealth gap (john a. powell); and fostering community-based advocacy (Edgar Cahn). Through this learning journey, I developed my leadership theory of “Planting People, Growing Justice,” which serves as a practical tool for building and sustaining social change. Planting People recognizes that each person has a measure of influence that can be used positively to affect the world around them. Growing Justice creates an empowerment paradigm where we can work together to promote the common good. ‪

Planting People

Planting people is an organic process, which yields a great harvest over time. It starts from the ground up as a seed is planted until it takes root. This seed represents resistance against marginalization and oppression in order to further the cause of social justice. The seed also signifies a partnership built with key stakeholders. Together, they are able to build a shared vision of a just society and engage in community-building. As the seed begins to germinate, community members start to view themselves as leaders with the capacity to address their own challenges and realize their power to resist oppression. This is an ongoing process of collective engagement, perseverance, teamwork, and diligence. The ultimate result is creating social change, which equates to reaping a harvest of justice and peace.

Growing Justice

Growing justice is the materialization of planting people. Collectively, community members across the world are applying these principles to promote justice and the common good. This process of social change can be envisioned through the continual growth of the banyan tree. The banyan tree as a metaphor illuminates the image of the partnership between transformational leaders and community members working together in solidarity to eradicate marginalization. Collectively, these stakeholders are able to build a shared vision of community-building and establish the key steps for making this vision a reality. The branches are connecting, growing together, and supporting one another. They in turn create new roots that establish a firm foundation for the tree and extend to new growth. The process of social change, like the growth of the banyan tree, symbolizes power and unity.

These quotes explore the transformative power of planting seeds of social change:

  • If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for 10 years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people. Chinese Proverb
  • To see things in the seed, that is genius. Lao Tzu
  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seed you plant. Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. Nelson Henderson
  • The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. Chinese Proverb
  • Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it. Akan proverb
  • Planting trees is planting hope. Wangari Maathai
  • Whatever our dreams, ideas, or projects, we plant a seed, nurture it, and then reap the fruits of our labor. Oprah Winfrey

How will you plant seeds of social change?


Artika Tyner

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a passionate educator, author, sought-after speaker, and advocate for justice. Her upcoming leadership book, The Leader’s Journey: A Guide to Discover the Leader Within, will provide indispensable tools for leadership development (ABA GP|Solo, 2015). At the University of St. Thomas College of Education, Leadership & Counseling, Dr. Tyner serves as a public policy/leadership professor. She trains graduate students to serve as social engineers who create new inroads to justice and freedom.