Civic Engagement - Part 1
by Jonathan Judge, Forefront Brooklyn Community Member
Growing up in Brooklyn, I had a difficult time finding a summer job. I wanted to get involved in something real, something meaningful. The only problem was that no one wanted to deal with a teenager when there were plenty of adults in need of jobs.
That’s when my father suggested I contact the District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 14. I went to look this community board up online to see if they could be a reliable lead for finding something to do that summer, but no website. How could they not have a website!? It was 2003! I had been programming applications and building websites since I was 9, so I thought if I offered to build them a website for free, how could they say no to that?
I've been involved with Brooklyn Community Board 14 ever since. I've moved from volunteer to intern to Community Coordinator on staff and now volunteer Board Member, where I currently serve as co-chair of the Youth Services Committee, which plans CB14’s annual Youth Conference for teens seeking jobs, internships, and other after-school activities and opportunities.
There’s one thing I’ve learned for sure working with CB14: there's a severe lack of participation in civic and political life by Brooklyn's younger, and especially newer, residents. And yet, most of the positive change I've seen come out of civic activism was initiated by passionate people incorporating new perspectives and energy in cooperation with experienced, tried-and-true civic activist veterans. It’s how things really get done.
If you want to start making a difference, it must start at the local level and it starts at meetings. Attending meetings of community boards and their committees creates ownership, accountability, and lasting change.
How do we start? Take the courageous first step and simply show up. Check out the link to resources at the end of this blog post to find a meeting in your community and consider the following advice...
Step 1: Listen and learn
While attending a local meeting you'd be wise to listen carefully to what is being said, paying attention to who's in charge, who gets to speak and who nods approvingly or disapprovingly on any given matter. Find out who works for whom, and who represents whom. Listen to public comment or open floor announcements, where many other organizations' representatives announce events or opportunities for people to get involved. By listening to these people at meetings, you'll start getting a sense of what's going on in your community, what the hot issues are, and the people addressing the issues. Choose a meeting to attend and be consistent. Then, at some point over time, awareness of the goings-on in your neighborhood will suddenly transform into a palpable consciousness of the inner workings of what makes your community tick. At this point, it's a good idea to start speaking up and find an opportunity to get involved…
Step 2: Speak up and get involved
Our city and the quality of life Jesus calls us to depends on many perspectives and interests being actively represented in the affairs of our communities. After you've gotten a preliminary sense of what's going on locally, start looking for meaningful opportunities to get involved. Many organizations have committees where community residents can join, even if you're not a member. Becoming a member of an organization whose vision and mission align with your interests and your faith is the best way to invest and to find even more opportunities to make a difference.
Step 3: Take charge and do something
The advantage to speaking up and getting involved is making something personally meaningful and satisfying to you happen with others who share your vision and passion. Whether it's cleaning up a park or organizing residents to petition someone to do something, get your hands dirty and make something happen that you initiated. Maybe even assume a leadership role in the organization, a committee chair or an officer-level position, and perhaps really make the organization do something amazing. Why not?
If you start getting involved, knowing what you would like to see changed in your community, and finding a good group of people who share your vision, dedication, and passion for improving your community, then good fruit will come from it, and I truly believe the sky's the limit as to what we can make happen together.
Forefront now hosts a webpage of civic engagement resources to help you take the first step in learning more about the various meetings offered in NYC. Click the button below to learn how you can get involved in your local community.