How many kids do you know by name in your neighborhood?
In early August of this year, in the Dorchester area of Boston, 4 young women sitting in a parked car were shot. Three of them died. At a funeral for one of the victims, Sharrice Perkins, Bishop John Borders of Morning Star church said this.."Violent Criminals are not afraid of police, of politicians, of jail. They are afraid of only one thing..the light. We have to expose the darkness. We must call names!"
The "light" that Bishop Borders refers to is about more than reporting criminals to authorities. It is about a community acting like a community.
In at least 90% of the meetings I participate in - be they community gatherings, task forces or staff teams - the dominate feeling in the room is fear. The fear ranges in levels of intensity and types for sure and includes fear of rejection, fear of losing, fear of domination, fear of looking stupid, fear of boredom, fear of losing control, fear of not understanding someone different than me. The list goes on and on.
But one result is common to all rooms filled with fear. They do not produce an abundance of creative ideas or spur on collaborative problem solving or joint action towards a shared goal. For most of my 30 year career in community development, I have been on a search for small, practical ways - ways that do not require a paid consultant or expert - to reduce the fear in rooms in order to support the development of a shared vision and action plan, one that sticks when the going gets rough.
While there is never a silver bullet strategy that works in every context, I do believe I have found a practical, simple way for sparking a shift in a fear-based social dynamic.
I am a long time community builder and I am afraid to walk up and talk to a stranger on the streets. It is only human to feel afraid. What if the person ignores me or even worse, gets angry at me? What if the person needs something I cannot provide? What does this person think about people of my color and age and gender? What will they think when they find out that I do not live in this community?
Lots of organizations and institutions struggle with how to do effective "community engagement." And almost everywhere we go, the most common attitude we encounter is FRUSTRATION. Often times, we work to help our partners get in touch with the "WHY" of community engagement. We know that its generally a good idea to get folks involved in your stuff, but what are you really after? And is the 'community engagement' approach you are using really designed to get you those things?