Like you, I’m concerned about the future of America; that’s why I co-founded Forge in 2015 – to mentor, train, and propel young conservatives who will carry the torch of freedom for years to come.
It’s not enough to have a great idea or good intentions – we have to make sure that what we do actually works. How do we know that Forge is working? I could tell you how the number of students who were very likely to be actively engaged in politics more than doubled after attending the Forge Summit. I could also tell you that we now have 500 alumni representing 41 states and 167 campuses and that we have over 50 grads working on Capitol Hill and eight who serve in elected offices.
But instead, I’d like to have Bess Blackburn, a 2020-2021 Academy member, tell you in her own words how Forge works on a personal level.
Changing The World Is Not A Pipe Dream
When I was a child, the story of William Wilberforce captivated me. His determination to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain was no small task, and amid his passionate pleas to parliament, it was his faith and his friends that both grounded and sustained him.
And by the grace of God, he did it. But not without his faith or his friends—his Clapham Saints.
Wilberforce has always inspired me to change the world. But I never imagined I would experience an ounce of the community that Wilberforce did as he faithfully fought for justice. Thankfully, I was wrong.
The year was 2020. A global pandemic had hit, and I had just finished my first year of graduate school. During that time, I found Forge Leadership Network’s website, I decided to apply almost on a whim.
Later that summer after getting accepted to Forge’s Summit, I made the trek to Deer Creek Lodge & Conference Center—where the summit was held that year due to ongoing Covid restrictions.
I learned so much during that summit, but my favorite memories from that experience were the discussions about changing the world and the people I met—faithful, driven, and hungry, just like I was. It was that summer I decided to go to law school.
Bess with her Campaign-In-A-Day team during the 2020 Forge Leadership Summit
When we met again in Washington, D.C., our excitement over our callings and each other had only deepened. We had not seen each other in almost a year, and it felt as if it had been forever. We took in the sights, but we even more so took in time with one another.
I will never forget our last night in Washington, D.C. on that trip. A group of us met to pray together as we all headed our separate ways. I was about to start law school, others were about to start graduate school, be deployed, or continue to be promoted in their professional jobs. We prayed that each of us would be courageous and that we would be faithful, even while we were apart. To this day, that night lives on in my memory as a beautiful reminder of what the body of Christ should be like—whether next to each other or apart, striving together, side by side, for the Gospel.
Those people I met at a state lodge during a pandemic one summer remain among my first calls when I need advice or encouragement, and they are some of the first people I want to see when I get a chance to travel.
Indeed, if the story of Wilberforce taught the world anything, it is that we change the world best when we change it on our knees and that we cannot change the world alone. Those principles still ring true.
and deep friendships were
never supposed to be
separated—in fact, Forge is what it is
because the two are hand in hand.
Bess with fellow Academy members at the Lincoln Memorial during Forge D.C. in 2021
During the summer of 2022, Adam Josefczyk, the President of Forge, asked me to share my Forge story with the Forge Board. At the time, I was completing two summer externships— which I had acquired in large part due to a mentor I had met through Forge. The first externship was with the Office of Governor Bill Lee working with the Governor’s Chief Counsel, and the second was as a Law Clerk for the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, in the Public Interest Division.
I happily skyped in for the meeting.
As I began to tell my Forge story, I realized I couldn’t structure the story as I had planned. I meant to talk first about what Forge had meant to me professionally, then second about what Forge had given me socially and spiritually.
In a moment of wonder, I realized I could never bifurcate the two like that. Why?
Well, that is the brilliance of Forge. The two were never supposed to be separated—in fact, Forge is at its best when the two are hand in hand. Just like Wilberforce’s model. We must strive together for the Gospel.
Thanks to Forge, I know two things. First, changing the world is not a pipe dream, but a worthy calling. Second, I will never have to change the world without my own Forge Saints—and I am profoundly grateful for that.
As we come to the end of 2022, would you consider making a year-end gift to Forge so that more young leaders like Bess can experience life-changing friendships and world-class training?