In the past couple of weeks, I have been watching with great interest the news coverage of the protests of the two recent grand jury decisions in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri. In at least the local coverage of Chicago protests immediately after both decisions, the visual images I saw were of a lot of white people – mostly young – involved in the protests.
My immediate, personal reaction to that was, quite frankly, mixed. On the one hand, I am delighted to see that white Americans see that this is an issue of justice for all. History has shown that issues like this often get lost and ignored without involvement of the dominant class in our society. On the other hand, I hope that my observation about the amount of white faces I saw in the coverage of these protests doesn’t mean that the whites involved were in complete control of the agenda and tactics of this protest response.
One source of my concern here stems from the details news coverage I saw of the Chicago protest the day after the Staten Island grand jury decision. The local media interviewed three people – all of them women – as to why they were involved in the protest. While the two African-American women gave the most personal and compelling response as to why they were protesting that evening, I found the response from the one young white women to be vague, impersonal and unconvincing. It was almost as if she saw this as just the “popular” thing for her and her colleagues to do right now.
I believe that our response to travesties of justice must be the same as our responses to long-term, sustainable community development. While these issues need the engagement of compassionate people in power, it ultimately does no good for us to solely determine the agenda or enter into the conversation convinced we [Ma1] have “the solution” for those most affected by the problem.
This is what I like about the work of Become: Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. Our strategies for organizational and community development and program evaluation takes a participatory and asset-based approach from the beginning and assume that the community in which we engage already has the resources it needs to thrive around the table before we even start, and that nobody knows better what is needed than community members.
Please take a look at this video by @Chescaleigh on being an ally.^(
Stuart Barnes Jamieson is the Leadership Development Specialist for Become, Inc. and available for leadership coaching and faith community consulting. He has worked for 14 years with Habitat for Humanity International as Affiliate Support Manager for Illinois, and as Organizational Development Consultant with the Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity program. Stuart is an ordained Presbyterian pastor with a Masters degree in Nonprofit Administration from North Park University in Chicago.