We throw this word around a lot in the nonprofit sector. Community can refer to a geographic place; a particular subset of the population, or a loosely-affiliated network of folks with some commonality.
As I reflect on what role I can help play in dismantling systemic racism and infusing our world with love and compassion, I want to ensure that I am fulfilling my obligations to this idea of community. What I mean by that is: who is in my community? Who is not? How am I nurturing my community?
For instance, do you know the names of all of your neighbors? Have you broken bread together? I know some, but not all. And why is that? Sure, we wave as we drive in, drive out. But, that’s all surface level. We don’t all have to be best friends but certainly we can become stronger allies together in this shared space.
Who do I spend time with? The truth is: most of my friends are white. Thanks to YNPN and my job, people with different racial, religious, and gender identifies have entered into my life, allowing me to have a richer human experience. Yet, there are still voices that I want (and need) to draw from in order to help me become a better, more understanding human. This requires me to be intentional in seeking out opportunities to engage with more diverse perspectives. This is not easy. It takes time. It could take a sense of feeling uncomfortable. Oh, and how we love to avoid discomfort!
I remember the first time I was the only white person in a room. It was during my first year teaching, and one of my students invited me to her baby shower. This was one of those transformative experiences as I had lived the previous 22+ years of my life with not even an inkling of how it feels to be “the only” in such a visibly telling way. While this event was prior to my own learning and growth in racial equity and social justice, it was part of my broader awakening. I am so grateful for my student wanting me to be a part of her community. I hope I conveyed my appreciation fully.
In this digital age, community takes on a whole new meaning. We forge connections with folks that we don’t really “know” in the traditional sense and may never meet. But, we have found a commonality that has drawn us together. These shape our opinions and our reference points. But, the question is: are these online relationships broadening our ideas of community and humanity? Or do we only plug into what is safe? Building out our choirs isn’t necessarily a negative. Yet, if we refuse to stretch ourselves, we end up becoming more and more inflexible, wound up tight – no yoga pose will change that.
My goal is to be thoughtful in cultivating deeper relationships within my current communities, by taking simple steps like inviting our neighbors over for a beer or backyard meal. I also commit to finding new communities to listen to, learn from, and grow with. If I want to see such change in the world, I need to be at the frontlines of living it.
Are you with me?
How you define your communities? What ways have you sought to grow those? In what ways do you still need to grow?