Are You Tired of Talking about Community Engagement?
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a community discussion with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and former Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, to discuss confederate monuments and the efforts each have made to get them taken down in their cities. While many saw Landrieu’s decision to remove confederate statues from New Orleans as extremely courageous, he acknowledges how much the city struggled in dealing with an issue that brought to surface the deep racial tension that exists within the city. He admitted that before he and City Council could make a thoughtful decision about what to do regarding the monuments, they spent 2 years engaging in discussions with community members, working with The Winter Institute to better understand racial and social inequities throughout the city, and deciding the best way to reconcile the city’s racist history. It was after this two-year process that the Mayor and City Council made the decision to remove New Orleans’s four confederate monuments, declaring them a public nuisance. The process was messy, sometimes violent, and extremely contentious. But in a place where 60 percent of residents are African-American, it was necessary.
Chances are, if you answered yes to the aforementioned question then you are someone who may view community engagement as a means to an end instead of a process that should be deeply embedded throughout your organization’s culture. Community engagement takes thoughtfulness and intentionality as well as a deep understanding of its value as a tool to create meaningful and long lasting change.
If an additive approach is taken, then the impact will be short-lived because the community is not truly guiding the process and therefore will not be invested in the outcome. As with other aspects of your organization, rich community engagement takes time, money, and resources; but if you are willing to do the work, your organization can cultivate authentic relationships with individuals and communities.
In a few weeks (May 8th), I will be leading a workshop on best practice for co-leadership within communities as part of our Spark Studio series. We will discuss the community engagement spectrum, and what it means to move forward along that spectrum, the value of co-leading, and tools you can utilize to engage community voices. There will also be an opportunity to hear from local organizations that can speak to their investment in community engagement and how it has impacted their work.
If you want to attend, register here. If you can’t make it, let’s chat about what it means to do thoughtful community engagement work.