I am a relationship builder and connector.
I am inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy.
There are many speeches and quotes from Dr. King. The one I find that fits this moment is;
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Silence means consent and being content with a lack of justice for all.
The path to leading with influence involves listening to the needs of the community you serve. If you are a leader at a table of influence, your collective impact solutions must be culturally responsive.
In 2020, headline news revealed significant contributions to social, racial, and economic justice initiatives. The future challenge will be to ensure that the budget allocations support the values of empowering communities to succeed. It means that funds need to be less restrictive, with funders partnering with organizations doing grassroots work. Additionally, celebrating these grassroots organizations through any media or marketing guidance you can provide.
I have spent the last several years leading initiatives in the nonprofit sector. I have gained insight from being a volunteer, board member, program leader, and executive leader.
The most profound lesson I learned as a leader is from a school partner organization. Leaders must understand that because you have multiple-year grant funding doesn’t mean your partners’ needs will not change. Before COVID-19, school organizations faced the challenges of increased school testing and a lack of transportation for field trips. The school principal mentioned that there would be less engagement in some of our organization’s programs. The choice was to agree on how many programs could work going forward and revisiting priorities within the next school year. There is an impact on meeting grant requirements. Yet, during a global pandemic, constant communication with funders and partners is a continuous path to creating inclusive solutions.
Here are more of the top lessons I have learned while creating connections to empower communities:
Communicate with Empathy
The language that you use when communicating needs to reflect a positive frame of reference. Words like at-risk and underprivileged are not positive assessments of a communities’ real challenges while desiring to succeed. Dig deeper to understand the systemic issues that have led to underfunded programs and a lack of resources in many communities of color.
Dallas Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation provide a great webinar on Why Language Matters: Storytelling for Racial Justice that is featured below.
The Power of the Inner Circle
Access to an inner circle of a community can seem impossible to reach. Yet, it is crucial to know who the key leaders are. Connections to the key leaders through an inner circle is the way to build bridges of connection.
There is an amazing book titled “If Your Back’s Not Bent: The Role of The Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement by Dorothy F. Cotton that provides insight on the power of inner circles.
Dorothy F. Cotton was a civil rights activist and education leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the few women in Dr. King’s inner circle. She was the Educational Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. One of her most significant achievements in the civil rights movement was leading the Citizenship Education Program: a program meant to help Black Americans get registered to vote.
One of the most enlightening excerpts from the book states,
“I concluded that they started to understand that if they really wanted to change the status quo, they needed to see and relate to the whole community and hear the views and concerns of others. Otherwise, they themselves would be isolated. They would create no movement.” (Cotton 2012, 138)
A movement that leads to more equity and inclusion has deep roots in community engagement through education.
The Importance of Addressing Ethical Dilemmas
The right people united in a purpose must also understand that sometimes what seems right to do can lead to ethical dilemmas.
A Pew Research Survey highlights why public confidence in making ethical decisions is critical. The research survey is insightful and a reminder that a public’s trust can change because of a leader’s daily decision making.
A further examination of making tough choices reveals a difference between ethical dilemmas and moral temptations and how it impacts citizens. Furthermore, there is always a need to create a space for leading ethical discussions.
Policy and Advocacy Work is Ongoing
Policy and Advocacy are two essential elements of civic engagement. Leaders who work in the community can share knowledge, skills, and resources to empower communities in understanding how policies impact your daily life.
Representation matters, and training up the community already on the front lines should be at the forefront. Policy and Advocacy leaders must remain proactive in educating people on the importance of voting in local, state, and national elections. The next action is to connect with elected officials responsible for advocating on behalf of the communities.
The upcoming legislative sessions are critical. Visit your state’s legislative websites to sign up for email alerts on the decisions that are going through the approval process.
Policy and Advocacy leaders within nonprofit organizations must also understand the limits of Advocacy in aligning with the nonprofit’s legal designation. Resources like the National Council of Nonprofits provides proof of how Nonprofit Advocacy is legal.
In honor of Dr. King’s legacy, I choose not to remain silent about things that matter. I am thankful for the brilliant women who are trailblazers in the legacy of the civil rights movement. Thank you to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, a civil rights leader, the King Legacy architect, and The King Center’s founder for ensuring Dr. King’s legacy lives on.
The rich history of The King Center inspires people around the world to take action for justice.
I am continuing my journey as a Policy and Advocacy leader committed to community engagement that leads to systemic change. I am a Co-Lead of the Policy and Advocacy Committee of Power in Action.
Power In Action formed in response to the heightened disparities revealed in Black communities by the COVID-19 pandemic. Power In Action is comprised of a collective unit of community leaders with the goal to make a change in Black communities by helping to remove systemic disparities. Ignited by Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew, two African American organizations, HERitage Giving Fund and Men of Honor joined together to form the organization’s strategic direction and platform.
There is still much work to do to ensure social, racial, and economic justice.
Thank you to everyone for using your voice for the greater good. Each day your stories capture a legacy to empower current and future generations as leaders in the community.
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