I recently participated in a panel discussion of Nashville’s past, present and future for Nashville Emerging Leaders. We had a lively conversation, and I came away from the evening convinced our future is in great hands with these rising leaders.

Other panelists for the virtual presentation were Metro Nashville District 30 Councilmember Sandra Sepulveda and Rashed Fakhruddin, director of community partnerships for the Islamic Center of Nashville. Both are smart, energetic leaders helping to shape our city’s future. We joked that I represent the past while Sandra represents the future.

A product of Nashville public schools, Sandra is one of the youngest council members and the first Latina elected to council. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she is diligently working to be a voice for the community she represents, which includes the city’s largest Hispanic population and part of the largest Kurdish population in the U.S.

Rashed is a Vanderbilt University alumnus and an engineering supervisor at NES who has worked tirelessly to build bridges between Muslims in Tennessee, law enforcement, government agencies and other organizations. I have always enjoyed talking with Rashed when events around the city have brought us together.

Our panel discussion was part of NEL’s 11-week training program geared to educate and engage Nashville’s young leaders in issues important to the city. There are 30 members in this year’s class. They represent business and nonprofit, civil servants, educators, and more.

We covered a lot of ground, addressing some turning points in the city’s past — the Plan of Nashville, zoning that allowed residents to populate the downtown core, the 2010 flood and how reinhabiting neighborhoods has come with successes and challenges. (These are all topics I’ve covered in previous blogs, so I won’t expand upon them here.) We also discussed benchmarks for a thriving future, like Plan to Play goals, completing the City Central Greenway, and a comprehensive transportation system. Accomplishments that would make Nashville a safe and healthy city for all its residents.

It was a fun and open discussion, and I gained a lot of insight from the diverse viewpoints. That evening my screen was filled with faces full of concentration and curiosity. I also saw the faces of emerging community builders committed to the success of our city.