Bob’s Blog – A Love Letter To Our Community Organizers
TO: Community Organizers
FROM: Robert K. Ross, President & CEO
RE: A Love Letter
In an ideal world I should have sent this letter to you on Valentine’s Day, or perhaps during the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday celebration. My apologies for being late, but I just wanted to take an opportunity to express appreciation, joy, and love for those of you who devote your life to organizing for social justice.
I suspect that if a poll went out to Americans asking to list the top ten most important jobs for the future of the nation, “community organizer” wouldn’t crack the list (probably not even if you asked for the top 20 most important jobs). You would see teachers, nurses (especially now), firefighters, and others, but organizers probably wouldn’t appear.
But you, community organizer, would be on at the very top of my list. I believe that at this very pivotal time for America, this is the nation’s most important work.
I utilize the term “community organizer” in a broad frame than the narrower, purist definition. I am speaking to those of you who reach out to, engage, and organize human capital – particularly those most negatively impacted by injustice and the effects of structural racism – as a calling to drive positive social change. This would include the important but nuanced field of “base builders”, as well as those who help amplify the voices at the grassroots level to advocate for policy and systems change.
As our nation emerges from an extraordinarily challenging year, it is critically important to keep the pain and suffering of this past year front and center – not just “what” happened, but “why” and “how” it happened. We simply cannot and must not allow the hurt of the most vulnerable among us to fade from view, and why it happened. This is what you as organizers do.
You are performing the nation’s most important work. We witnessed and experienced a trifecta of racial and structural inequality this past year – Covid 19, the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (and others) killings by law enforcement, and a White House that steered our nation down a dangerously, racially divisive path. All manner of structural and racial inequality was unmasked over the past year in health care, public health, public education, economic inclusion and economic development, affordable housing, law enforcement reform, civic participation and voting.
Your work as community organizers brings our nation three powerful, badly needed benefits: spiritual, moral, and strategic. First, through your inclusive outreach and engagement of people and communities most negatively impacted by structural inequality and racism, you give people hope. The work you conduct, and how you conduct it, is fundamentally spiritual and inclusive in orientation: immigrants, farmworkers, the incarcerated, LGBTQ-and-Trans communities, young people of color.…you are our nation’s inclusive civic healers. You let folks know that they and their lives matter and have meaning.
Secondly, your work directly elevates and confronts our nation’s moral challenges, and at their root cause. Your work goes beyond asking how we get more shelter beds to house the homeless, but why do we have so many homeless human beings in the first place? Your work goes beyond how to get a sixth grader access to wireless technology or an I-Pad, but why do school districts in economically distressed communities lack equitable funding? Your work goes beyond asking how to get our nation’s incarcerated more mental health services while in jail, but why does our nation incarcerate so many human beings in the first place – and further, why they are disproportionately black and brown? These are policy questions with moral underpinnings for a nation who aspires to be the greatest on earth.
And finally, your work – by establishing a direct connection from the experiences and the voices of the most impacted and the most vulnerable to needed policy and systems solutions – provides impactful, strategic policy benefits as well. Whether it’s fighting to divert resources from the voracious prison pipeline into community mental health services, or more inclusive and equitable land use and planning decisions, or enhancing public investments in early childhood and child care, or raising the minimum wage for workers – your work brings our communities real, tangible, meaningful value. Your work also benefits the nurse in a community hospital, the teacher or counselor in a school district, the social worker at juvenile hall, the pastor at the neighborhood church, and the front line employee at a community restaurant – by addressing structural inequality at its root causes.
Who has a more compelling and critically important job description than that?
Love your work. And love you, too, for doing it.