Showing up for Your Community

By: Valerie Christopher
Jan 1, 2019
By: Valerie Christopher
Jan 1, 2019
Become an agent of change within your community through volunteerism, mentorship and more.

The desire to surround ourselves with other people is embedded in our DNA. Being part of a community can make us feel happier and more secure. With all the challenges we face – black lives lost, skyrocketing unemployment rates and barriers to quality healthcare and education, just to name a few – it’s time for us to become agents of change in our own communities.

Tamika Mallory responded to a terrible tragedy in her own life by becoming an activist working to equip young members of the black community with vital knowledge and guidance. After listening to Tamika’s message, I was inspired to be a voice in my community as well.

Volunteering is a great place to start if you’re looking to get more involved in your community, but there are so many more unique opportunities available. Could your artistic skills be put to good use painting large murals as part of a neighborhood beautifying effort? Can you work with your local library or civic center to offer professional development services like interview practice and resumé editing? Could you host a toy drive and assemble care packages for children at women’s shelters?

When our communities are stronger, people are better connected, and we can all move forward together. How can you serve as an agent of change in your community? Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. Get to Know People of Different Backgrounds
A great way to strengthen your community is to start talking to the people in it. Take time to get to know people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Often, segregation stems from our lack of understanding. You can help change this by creating a local forum or planning a neighborhood social. You’ll be surprised by how many unfamiliar faces you see. Take advantage of the opportunity to turn these strangers into friends.

2. Participate in Community Events and Take on a Leadership Role
With so many senseless acts of violence happening in our society, now is the time to step up. Consider serving on a school or community board in your district or neighborhood; communities benefit from diverse points of view that ensure the interests of all people in a community are heard and protected. You might think you need a certain level of education or experience to participate on a board like this, but oftentimes you just need to show a genuine interest to be invited to serve.

You can also take the lead in organizing an event that brings people together, whether that’s a block party or a neighborhood cleanup. Many cities and towns have nonprofit neighborhood outreach or community-building groups already in place; search online to find out if you live in an area that has one. Often, these groups plan regular neighborhood events – and they can always use more help. Or, if you’re looking to spearhead a large community effort, chances are these groups would be interested in coordinating with you.

3. Build a Community Online
After getting to know the people in your community, stay connected with them on a social media page where members can share anything from events to changes that may affect the neighborhood. Whether someone needs help – or a local child needs a tutor, you can post it here. You can volunteer to start it up and serve as the facilitator.

4. Become a Mentor
A U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights report showed that black children are more likely to be suspended at school compared with white students, have less access to high-level math and science courses and attend schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers. That’s why a strong community mentorship program is key. If black children aren’t getting valuable adult guidance in school or at home, a mentor can step in to provide support, encouragement and an empathetic ear. If you want to become a mentor, contact local after-school groups, mentor/mentee programs and church youth programs, and ask for their requirements and application process.

5. Ask Yourself How You Can Build a Better Community
Tamika turned personal tragedy into fuel for community outreach and activism. How can you use your experiences as inspiration for bettering your community? For instance, if you struggled with maintaining a healthy body weight as a child, could you organize a walking or jogging club that meets a few times a week? Could you host a monthly healthy-eating cooking class for local children? Look to your hobbies for ideas, too. Gardening, reading, cooking, sports – all of these could bring a neighborhood event or program to life.

Whatever you feel needs to happen in your community, you can be that voice of change to make it happen. It takes baby steps to bring people closer together and to create a safer environment. Now is the time to be that agent of change.

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