Feeling disempowered by events in your life, our nation and our world? Looking to learn how to help make positive, impactful change in a way that reflects the values of our faith? Let me introduce you to some of the folks I’ve been spending time with this week.
Arlene, a woman in her mid-twenties with an exuberant smile, is a former public high school teacher. She became increasingly frustrated knowing the overwhelming challenges her students faced outside of school and her own limited power as a classroom teacher to help them. A career counselor informed her of a fellowship in community organizing, which Arlene applied for and successfully obtained. She now works on the staff of WIN (Washington Interfaith Network) to organize and empower the Latino community in DC.
Shanize, also in her twenties, has a similar story, finding her way to organizing disempowered youth in Louisiana after having first been a classroom teacher. And Percy, a retired postal worker from Little Rock, AK, has come upon community organizing in his retirement. Sporting a sharp bow tie and shirt yesterday at lunch, he relayed that his wife had packed these for him to wear.
Arlene, Shanize and Percy are among 60 leaders and community organizers from around the country who are here in Baltimore until next Tuesday for a week-long training sponsored by The Industrial Areas Foundation, our nation’s largest and longest standing network of local faith and community-based organizations, of which we at Redeemer, via BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development), are now a part
This past Tuesday, Day 1 of our training, we studied the Melian dialogue from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and engaged in some entertaining role play as Athenians and Melians on opposite sides of an imaginary negotiating table.
Yesterday we reflected on the concept of power. What is it? Where did we first learn about power? What is our relationship to it? Are we comfortable with the idea of power? Why or why not? Most of us shared how we first learned about power in our families of origin, from our parents, as well as from our teachers and bosses. What about you?
Today we will head to a church in Anne Arundel County where we will be among 500 people gathered for a community organizing action (details forthcoming!).
It is energizing and empowering to be surrounded by people so devoted and determined to be effective, strategic agents of positive transformation in their communities, in the areas of education, policing, affordable housing, immigration, employment, health care, among others. Hearing one another’s stories, learning from “masters” who have been in the trenches for a long time, and building relationships that plant seeds for future partnership and collaboration help to point a way forward, through what often feels insurmountable and impossible.
I will leave you with notes I took from one of our training sessions yesterday, capturing ideas of justice, love and power as articulated by Christian theologian Paul Tillich and also Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Works of justice require the use of love. Power without love is brutality. Love without power is sentimentality. You need the right balance of both.”
May we together at Redeemer find just the right balance of both, to do what is ours to do and to be who God calls us to be, right here in our city of Baltimore.