Building Community across Language Barriers

Quotes and sayings that reference the importance of non-verbal communications are common, i.e., actions speak louder than words. However, in communities where large numbers of people speak different languages, finding solutions for communicating effectively across language barriers is important.

East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI), Old East Durham Communities in Partnership (CIP) and other East Durham-focused groups are working toward building community among and English- and Spanish-speaking children and families. Continue Reading

Citizen Participation at the Local Level: Elected Officials, Advisory Board positions

In American media outlets, there is no shortage of news about politics at the national level. Candidates for high-profile offices do their best to be noticed by news and opinion outlets, and those outlets are happy to oblige. This symbiotic relationship leads many media consumers to pick a side and cheer for a team, much like sports fans. Positions are often painted as absolutes with few nuances.

While national politics demands much of our attention, it arguably has less effect on us than we might think. Local issues are much more likely to affect us directly.

We as residents have several opportunities to learn more, be heard, and to shape the communities in which we live.

Running for local office or sitting on a decision-making board may be the perfect way to serve as a public official.

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Conflicting Views on Confederate Flag, Memorials, Symbols: What to do in a “Post-Charleston” Environment?

There are strong feelings and many ideas about what to do with Confederate flags and memorials in the aftermath of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murders. The Confederate battle flag and flagpole were removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds on July 10th, after emotional debate in the S.C. Legislature.

North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory believes the state should stop issuing Sons of Confederate Veterans car license plates which feature the Confederate battle flag. One writer calls for taking down the NC Capitol Confederate Memorial. Some other local flashpoints have included the Salisbury Confederate Statue, the use of the Fayetteville Market House as a town symbol, and several reports of vandalism of Confederate statues and memorials.

On the other hand, the N.C. Legislature seeks to preserve a range of memorials and markers by restricting what state agencies and local governments can do about current statues, memorials or monuments on public property (S.B. 22 – Historic Artifact Mgt. and Patriotism Act).  [Update – on July 23, 2015, Governor McCrory signed S.B. 22 into law.

Having the “Right Conversation”

While the Confederate flag is a potent symbol, an equally important way to express community values is to seek respect and understanding as a city or state decides what to do about local memorials and displays of the Confederate flag at government institutions.

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Active Engagement for a Common Cause

Engagement and commitment are intangibles; they come from within. It’s the culmination of the psychological, social and intellectual connection one has with matters that affect their communities.

This connection is what motivates and is ultimately the driving force behind productive, progressive change. Giving people freedom to make decisions engages and empowers them and within the local community this has to occur through mutual respect, caring and group participation. The process of empowerment does not happen alone; it’s accomplished with others. So as citizens collectively engage, change becomes a part of the culture rather than temporary solutions to permanent problems.

Active community engagement represents a certain optimism that one’s effort and dedication can and will improve the social and economic infrastructure necessary for communal stability. Continue Reading

Variety is the Spice of Government: Diversity & Inclusion

I believe that including a diversity of opinions in the decision making process leads to better outcomes for governments and their citizens.  And, I think that many of my colleagues share this belief. The challenge arises when we try to define “diversity” and set performance measures to determine if we have been successful in reaching and engaging our diverse residents.

When I talk with people about diversity, I hear a lot of questions.

  • Do we limit ourselves to the standards of age, gender and ethnicity?
  • Do we expand our understanding to include sexual orientation, income levels, and marital status? Is it important to have a mixture of parents and non-parents?
  • What participation ratio is desirable for each group?
  • Can a person represent more than one category?
  • How do we avoid tokenism?

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Impacting the Community One Haircut at a Time

When we think about community engagement, many times we immediately go to the lighter side of engagement-parks, area plans, trails, and things most communities would love to discuss. But what happens when there is a need to tackle a tough and sensitive issue? Are we just as committed to engaging the community? Well, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) is certainly showing this commitment. With the recent initiative, Cops & Barbers, CMPD created a forum for open, honest dialogue on police and race relations in the African American community. The idea was simple. Meet people where they are and where they routinely go (the barber shop) and start a conversation between officers and people of all ages in the community. The response was overwhelming and exemplified community engagement at its best.

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The University as Community Partner: Translating Research

Several months ago I wrote about some of the opportunities and challenges that exist in university efforts to engage with the public and with public issues. Around the same time fellow blogger Shawn Colvin wrote about the importance of being able to translate academic research into what he called “results-oriented solutions.”

This post continues that conversation. I see rich opportunities for us to explore, across sectors, how to improve our communities by improving our communication with each other. I will also reflect on how we might overcome the barriers that get in the way of that communication.

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Community Organizing Meets Local Government Engagement

As a community organizer part of my responsibility is keeping the community updated of job opportunities that might come available for them. In order to do that, I must have the best information out there about the jobs, the applications and the hiring process. I must rely on city and county employees to give me the information and know that information is correct. I also must, when working with them, depend on them to do what they say and mean what they say. An example: There are some job opportunities coming to Northeast Central Durham with the construction of the East End Connector. I was told of the process and that there would be some help with the application process along with some screening for these jobs. I carried this information to the community in Northeast Central Durham and invited people to this event.

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More Engagement Than We Give Credit For: The Case of Citizen Co-Producers

There is a somewhat widespread notion that citizens by-and-large just aren’t that engaged in community affairs, particularly local government affairs. I often hear local government observe that when they try to engage citizens they only see a small handful of people and that there is a “silent majority” that they rarely, if ever, see. But what if engagement is more widespread than we think? I’d like to suggest that perhaps that is the case, particularly when you stop to consider co-production as a form of deep community engagement with local government.

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Engaging Youth with Deliberative Problem-Solving

The importance of engaged and informed citizenry in a democracy is undeniable. Throughout the last several years, there has been a push for more deliberative problem-solving tactics in communities across the country. Some in the deliberative community  have had conversations about helping to build a collection of what we call “super citizens”; folks who have a clear sense of what deliberation is and are energized and passionate about making democracy work on a community level.

I have been part of a faculty-college student deliberation research and action group at Colorado State University. I’m pleased that in the last year we have worked with high school students to build their interest and skills in deliberation and democracy. Continue Reading