We are living in a time of significant community challenges. Between economic uncertainty and navigating the public health crisis arising from COVID-19, there is an increased need to engage with our neighbors and offer assistance where we can. However, while we may be more than willing to offer whatever we can, it’s not always clear how we can best approach this.
There are certainly lessons we can learn from our current health emergency, not the least of which is the realization that there is not always immediate, consistent, or effective government aid or response. It is therefore important to start taking steps as individuals and communities. With preparation, organization, and local investment, we can have a holistic effect upon our communities that can help us mitigate the damage caused by crises, both now and in the future.
Let’s take a look at a few of the key areas in which we can make a difference. What are the challenges, and how can we best address them? Are there resources available that can help us meet the changing needs of our community in a robust and flexible way?
Educating the Community
One of the needs of any community is quality education. This helps to ensure that we are strengthening our population with a diverse range of experts, each offering skill sets that can make for a robust, flexible neighborhood. We are already seeing that during our COVID-19 crisis, black communities are being disproportionately affected, in part due to additional risk of exposure of those from minority communities in low-paid, “essential” retail and service jobs.
It is also important for educators themselves to gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the communities they serve. Training to become a teacher can be a valuable way to ensure community members can give back to their own neighborhoods. This allows them to contribute to local education systems, utilizing their deep understanding of the unique cultural factors that can affect learning. In this way, educators can also be a powerful source of positive influence and inspiration to young people in their communities.
We shouldn’t mistake education as only viable in an academic sense. There are opportunities to teach skills that are practical and invaluable in a crisis. Ron Finley, a pioneer in the organization of community gardening projects in urban areas often asserts that teaching these skills has a meaningful effect as well. As he told California State University, Northridge, “If you learn what a true resource is — not just money — it changes your mindset. You can utilize the resources around you to change your life.” Community members can pass on knowledge in a way that empowers their neighbors to make a difference.
Engaging with Your Neighbors
In any time of crisis, it is the duty of the community to make sure that those who need help are receiving it. Certainly, our first step is to ascertain our own safety and the safety of our family, but from there, we must assert vigilance to protect the most vulnerable.
While the surgeon general made seriously inappropriate remarks regarding how black folks should act during our current crisis, his advice to keep in contact with family members is a good start. But we need to go further. This begins with talking to our neighbors and building relationships that allow us to gain an understanding of who needs help during a crisis and how we can provide it. We can band together to make emergency plans, to check in on vulnerable neighbors, and to implement an effective course of action.
Social media can also be important to community engagement. During emergencies, clear and widespread communicating of advice can be key to mitigating the worst effects of a crisis. Highly visual social media, such as Snapchat or Instagram, can be used to post and share concise information about actions being taken or sources of assistance. However, it’s also important to be wary about the accuracy of the information that is being shared, and that it is coming from reliable sources. Our current crisis has been an exercise in how the sharing of misinformation by social media and members of our government can have detrimental effects.
Political Action and Awareness
Our ability to overcome the challenges posed by a crisis is often dependent upon the caliber of our leadership. Whether this is during a general election or local voting, the political decisions we make can affect the response to emergency situations. It is a vital form of crisis preparation for communities to become politically engaged.
Whatever our political leanings, candidates that best represent and understand the needs of our community are important. At the most basic level, we can research and support which candidate most closely matches the needs of ourselves and our neighborhood. Voting is a good start, but using social media tools, knocking on doors, and calling the electorate can add to the impact that each of us can have to ensure that the right candidate to meet our needs is elected.
In addition, it’s always worth considering that we don’t have to just accept the established candidates as our only option. Selecting and helping members of our own communities enter local or national politics can be rewarding and a way to ensure we are accurately and effectively represented. Part of our efforts should include making certain that every member of the community is fully aware of their voting rights and are provided with information on available assistance should they require it.
Helping our community navigate a crisis can take a variety of forms, but to have the best impact we must think beyond the reactionary. We must invest in the education of our children and forge relationships with our neighbors that help us strengthen our response and protect the vulnerable. We also need to pay close attention to the leaders we choose to represent us. Those who closely understand our communities are better able to address our challenges in times of need.