How I Failed at Community Organizing
BEDA – Day 2 of 31
This project would feel soft and incomplete if I didn’t hit this topic as early as possible in the process. 2016 has been a solid year of highs and very few lows. Luckily we still have 4 more months before the year wraps and I’m already excited to start my year-end review. However, I often struggle with this idea of perfection and success. This idea of completion versus revision. One of the areas that I have long known I’m weak in is my own areas of activism and community organizing.
I love social media because it gives me a curated window into the lives of my mentors and peers. I get to see people that are, at least to me, moving and shaking the world into a better place. If I had to shoot off a quick list of folks I constantly look out for:
- Umi Selah (formerly known as: Phillip Agnew – activist/organizer)
- Marc Lamont Hill (scholar, author, professor, television host)
- Amara Enyia (Chicago political hopeful)
At the beginning of 2016 I was on a mission to push myself to just try different things. I think I had finally gotten to a place where I had enough confidence in myself to ‘play’ around with my skills. Play around and see what I could stumble upon. That manifested itself into a few different workshops and lectures.
The one area that I knew would be a stretch for myself and the community was my push to develop a safe space for Black men to congregate and talk about pressing issues on their chest. Personally, I felt like I had never been invited into a space like this that wasn’t run, supported, or surveillanced by outsiders to the group.
One of my greatest strengths and weaknesses is my Public Relations degree from Indiana State University. That thing really taught me the importance of messaging. But it also sucked all the creativity out of me when it came to publicity and message sharing. I’m too matter of fact these days. The group as a result was called Empowered Black-n-Male. People hated the name. But I couldn’t think of anything else to call it. LoL. I needed folks to know what it was about from the beginning. I wouldn’t have time to explain how The Jump Off was really an opportunity to gather ideate around Black community development.
Empowered Black-n-Male had a February and March gathering. Thanks in large part to being granted free meeting space here at one of the local universities. By the time April came around I was able to change the name to Black Men Building Community. BMBC is now our moniker of choice.
Why is this a failure? Well, because we haven’t met since April. And part of me knew this would happen. I feel like while I was doing some… interesting and valuable work inviting members of my community to gather together, I wasn’t doing anything truly enriching. Our numbers halved each gathering. February was packed with approximately 15 men. March we had roughly 7, and then in April we peaked at 4 members in the room at once.
In the space, as I was facilitating I could feel that I was pulling for the participants participation. As opposed to people pushing in with their thoughts, ideas, and contributions. This mattered because I knew that I had, and continue to have a limited capacity to invest into any movement work. I knew that my strength was perhaps in creating and initiating the space to gather. But that my strength needed to be supported and buttressed by the other strengths of the men in attendance.
Here we are in Summer 2016. I’m returning from a 3 week hiatus from the city, and one of the first things I’m thinking about is how the organizing work has fallen off. Its an awkward feeling, because I think everyone who had attended felt like the space was necessary and with work could help to bring about different attitudes and actions within our communities. However, I don’t think any of us have figured out how to make this stick. How to move the responsibility from one individual to a more communal responsibility with communal play-calling.
On top of sharing the responsibilities for initiating and planning the space(s) I also think its necessary for people of color to think big when they’re together. A few time, when meeting with people of color about issues effecting us as a collective, I feel we are too fearful of what change, justice, happiness really looks like. Part of it is the culture and language we’ve been raised under. We’ve been raised to not know a language of liberation and peace. So we don’t know how to express the feelings and ideas we may truly want to express. Another is perhaps just the discomfort that comes with taking responsibility to moving ones community on one’s own.
I’m disappointed that we haven’t made more progress yet. However, working to facilitate the space showed me that effective and real organizing takes a lot more than just creating the space. The space needs to draw people in. The space needs to have perpetual energy that draws more and more people to come. People need to feel like they’re getting something invaluable from the space.
All is not lost. As many “experts” say, failing helps you get closer to the right answer.
Join the Black Men Building Community Meetup Group to stay informed about our next gathering and to help keep me accountable!
*special thanks to Bach for making the BMBC image above*