10 Ways You Can Make Your Community Great Again
5 Ways to Disrupt Racism
1. Do Not Attack--React.
If you're angry right now it is easy to want to yell at and hurt those you think are to blame. That is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to stop and say, "no" to hate. If you're upset right now it is probably because you believe that hatred has won, but it hasn't as long as you don't let it. If people post or say hateful things, ignore them. Chances are you will not change the opinions of those you do not agree with--especially if you approach them aggressively. So, for now, leave them be--as long as they are not actively harming others, their hate can't hurt anyone.
Be alert and be ready. You may be called to action. If you see someone being attacked, that's when it's time to spring in--but be mindful of how you approach the situation. The goal should be to protect and help the victim--not to attack and destroy the attacker.
I recently saw a comic drawn by an artist named Maeril describing how to handle islamophobia. She illustrates a method that parents are often encouraged to use to handle aggressive children. Focus on the victim, not the attacker--in fact--ignore the attacker all together. Make sure the victim feels safe, that their feelings and concerns are heard, and that they know they are not alone. When someone is attacked, they may be very afraid. If they are a part of a marginalized group, they may even feel like their attacker represents all the people standing by--especially if no one is standing up for them. However, if a fight breaks out because someone does stand up for them by targeting the attacker, they may be embarrassed or feel guilty for someone else getting hurt or involved. This isn't fair. By snubbing the attacker you send the message that what they're saying is irrelevant without actually having to stoop to their level of hate.
Responding to hate only fuels the fire of hatred. Acting with love, smothers the flame.
2. For Every 1, Make 3.
I work in SoHo, NYC. Every summer there is a man who sits in the park by my office and spends his free time blowing big bubbles. I enjoy watching them float by during my lunch breaks and sometimes they even make it pass my office window. Though it is a simple act, it brightens the day of everyone who passes by.
For every 1 mean thing you witness, hear happen, or see posted online, commit to doing a minimum of 3 random acts of kindness. There are countless things you can do to make someone's day just a bit brighter and unfortunately, there is a lot of hate floating around, so we all have our work cut out for us.
Here are some ideas of things you can do. If you would like to add suggestions to the list, feel free to post in the comments!
- Donate to a local charity or non-profit organization.
- Volunteer your time to help clean up a park or work a community event.
- Cheer up a crying child or offer to help a parent that seems to be struggling.
- Blow bubbles in the street.
- Buy someone lunch.
- Make cookies and give them to your neighbors or co-workers.
- Volunteer at your local animal shelter or adopt a shelter animal.
- Dress up as your favorite superhero and share messages of positivity with your friends online.
- If you like what something's wearing--let them know they have style!
- If someone seems frustrated, listen to what's bothering them.
- Hand out balloons to kids on the street.
- Invite someone you know lives alone to dinner.
- Offer to babysit for free for parents that really seem to need a break.
- Hug anyone who will let you.
- Tell any girl you see looking at her reflection in frustration that she is beautiful.
- Join community organizations that fight for social justice or improving the community.
- Send a letter, an actual letter--like in an envelope with a stamp and everything.
- Better yet, make it a card.
- For every negative comment you see on a post or video write enough positive comments to push the bad ones out of sight.
- Fill your IG with funny, unglamorous faces.
- Start a group to support the underrepresented in your community.
- Use art of any form to promote messages of peace and hope.
- Share a song you think someone could benefit from hearing.
- Give your to-go bag to someone who really needs it.
- Read books to children at the library or bookstore.
- Visit an elderly relative whom you know doesn't get much company.
- Donate to a kickstarter, indiegogo, or other crowdsourcing project you believe in.
3. Get Involved.
Nowadays, when people are upset they jump online, rant about it a bit, and that's that. This may be an effective way to vent, but it isn't very effective in enacting change. If you are scared, angry, or unsatisfied with the way things are then you need to get involved with organizations and groups that are working towards improving the situation--or create a new group if one doesn't currently exist.
My mother, Susan Rodriguez, founded SMART University at the height of the AIDS epidemic to support women affected by the disease. SMART was founded because, at that time, women were not receiving the support and acknowledgement they needed to cope with the disease. Today the mission has grown to address prominent issues affecting their community today; nutrition, healthcare, social justice, and engaging the youth.
If you are aware of an issue in your community that is not being addressed, you have the power to change that as long as you take the initiative to do so.
Write to your local politicians about issues that matter to you and that you hope they will take seriously.
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Whether people choose to admit it or not, or wasteful nature is causing problems for our planet. Politicians will come and go, but we only have one planet to live on, so we need to make sure it is taken care of.
What does it mean to reduce? Reducing can mean an array of things. Perhaps, when you go food shopping do not buy as much as you usually do if you know you often throw a lot of groceries away. Plan meals ahead so you only buy items that you know you will lose in a timely manner. Buy products in glass jars or packaging that can be reused or recycled instead of just thrown away. Bring your own bag to the supermarket so you don't have to use their plastic ones. Opt out of using disposable plates and utensils, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and even paper towels. Opt in to greener alternatives like glass cookware and cloth napkins.
Reduce at work by creating digital files, printing only when needed, and reusing paper to take notes instead of sticky pads. Bring in your own utensils, coffee cup, and plates to prevent having to use throw-away ones.
Reuse glass jars or certain plastics to store things. Get creative and reuse materials to make art or functional items. Before you trash it, try to discover a way to use it.
Recycle whatever items you can. You can even get paid for recycling, so why not? Many supermarkets now have machines to recycle bottles and cans--but did you know you can recycle plastic bags too? If your supermarket doesn't have machines to recycle search for a reclaim center near you.
Clothing and textiles can be recycled too. In fact, if you bring a bag of clothing or fabrics to H&M they will even give you a discount when you buy new clothes!
5. Broaden your horizons.
A big reason we have found ourselves in the state we're in now is because we are surrounded by diversity and yet don't understand it at all. Right now, many groups feel marginalized, ostracized, underrepresented, and unwanted. Whether people choose to believe it or not, racism exists, sexism exists, xenophobia exists, prejudices exist. These things are fueled by ignorance and so, the only way to combat them is through education. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Take time to learn about and understand a culture that is different from yours. Learn about the history of people that were underrepresented in your history class.
Talk to people who are different from you, but be respectful. If you are curious about another person's culture or heritage, but are afraid you might offend them start by saying something along the lines of, "Excuse me if I'm being intrusive, and I completely understand if you are not interested in answering me, but I there are some things I was curious about and I was hoping you could explain them to me." I believe it's important to start off this way because constant questions about a person's culture, orientation, or background can often come off as microagressions. They are reminders that a person is not seen as average, but "other." Some people enjoy talking, but others just want to be left alone. Furthermore, shallow questions can make people feel like goldfish in a fishbowl; something to be viewed, but not necessarily respected as an equal or understood. Your questions should be thoughtful with the intention of truly understanding someone who is different from you.
When we come to understand each other better we go from being "you" and "me" to "we." This is essential if we are going to grow and heal as a nation. So much despair has been caused by dividing people by group and label when we should have been embracing and loving our differences all along. Diversity is not a curse or something to be feared, it is a gift to be nurtured and treasured. Through it we will be able to create things the world has never seen before.
"One way of solving a lot of problems that we've got is letting a person feel that they're important. And a man can't get himself together until he knows who he is, and be proud of what and who he is and where he come from..."— James Brown
6. Spread Knowledge.
People of color, women, lgbtqa people, and non-Christians are greatly underrepresented in American history courses. Their heroes, accomplishments, and stories are almost always swept under the rug unless directly related in some way to the cis/white/male/Christian population. The quote above from James Brown clearly illustrates what that does to people. If you don't know who you are, if you don't know where you come from, if all you ever hear about your people and your culture is that you are bad or merely perpetual victims--how can you ever be proud? How can you ever stand tall? Diving into history and sharing what you find with those around you can drastically change all that. #5 and #6 go hand in hand. As you learn more about other cultures and your own, share what you find.
Eunique Jones, a mother and photographer, has succeeded in spreading knowledge and awareness in a moving and inspirational way through her "Because of Them We Can" campaign. Pairing children with great leaders she reminds us that each passing generation will be stronger and better, thanks to those who came before them.
"The Because of Them, We Can campaign was birthed out of my desire to share our rich history and promising future through images that would refute stereotypes and build the esteem of our children." Jones states on her campaign's Facebook page. Because of them has over 350,000 likes and share daily. It has also motivated those that follow to share their own stories about trailblazers in their lives.
7. Postive Affirmations
This election left many people feeling dejected, afraid, worthless, and unwanted in their own country. No one should ever be made to feel like they do not belong in their own home. We must make it a point to fight against xenophobia every day and remind those that are in despair that they matter. It is important to stand up for more than just your group and the issues that affect you. You must stand up for everyone and all groups. Everyone's voice must be heard. Everyone's voice must be respected. We all deserve to be treated equally. We all deserve to feel safe in our own homes. Let others know every day that you see them, you appreciate them, you love them, they matter, and they belong here. It may not seem like much, but when faced with adversity, positive thoughts can make a difference.
"Those who expect to reap the blessing of freedom must undertake to support it."— Thomas Paine
8. Fight the System by Being the System.
If you are currently looking for employment and are uncertain of what you want to do or be in the future, consider a profession that will enable you to change our current system. Law enforcement and politics are obvious ways you can enact change. However, teachers/educators, lawyers, civil service workers, scientists/researchers, and religious/non-profit members all have the power to change the system as well. The point is, the system will never improve if the people who feel wronged and oppressed by it always avoid it. It will continue to be more of the same and resentment and misunderstandings will only continue to grow and grow.
If your goal is to work in the arts or entertainment, remain socially conscious and aware of the issues and what's happening in the world around you. Use your talent to inform others. Don't simply point figures, but offer solutions to the disillusioned masses. Appreciate how powerful your work is; art can incite rage, hope, hate, and love. Be careful about what you inspire in others.
What is Suspended Coffee?
9. Use Your Business for Good.
If you don't own a business try and encourage local business owners to try some of these ideas, or come up with creative ways to implement these ideas in your housing complexes, clubs, and other organizations.
If you are a business owner, there are many things you can do to improve your community. If you have storefront windows use them to displace messages of positivity, hope, love, encouragement. Make it clear that xenophobia is not something you, as a business, support.
Indicate that you are a safe haven, not only for children but anyone who may feel threatened or uncomfortable. Chances are, if someone is being harassed, the perpetrators won't want an audience and if they continue you have the right and power to call the authorities to protect the victim--and your shop!
During regular slow periods, consider organizing community events. These can be for pure entertainment; cookouts, block parties, workshops, or other ways to engage people in the community. Or with a clear purpose; community forums to discuss issues that are affecting your community and brainstorm ways you can work together to make things better.
As a business, you most likely receive customers from all backgrounds. This puts you in a unique position to bring people in the community together.
Depending on the nature of your business, consider offering goods to those in need or implement a pay it forward/suspended coffee system in your establishment. Though the suspended coffee movement started in cafes, it's been adopted in other establishments, such as pizzerias. Consider how you can adopt it into your own business. Or you could offer products whose profit goes to a local non-profit or charity that helps the community or even to a local school or club. Or you could just offer free coffee/tea and cookies to customers.
10. Stay Positive, Believe in Your Power.
Lastly, just do your best to wake up every morning with a positive attitude. There are many, many terrible things happening in the world, but we have the power to make it better. Each and every one of us has the power to make things better. I promise that it's true. It all starts with a positive attitude.
Do not be quick to judge others. Do not be quick to place blame. If you see a problem, brainstorm a solution instead of pointing fingers. Finger pointing is what has made a mess of our world. It's time to clean up.
If people don't agree with your way of thinking, do not belittle them, this will definitely not change their mind. State your opinions clearly and concisely. If it is obvious neither of you will change your mind, what's the point in continuing? Even if you feel in your heart that they are wrong, just agree to disagree and look for a more productive way to spread your message. Don't waste your time on one person with a hardened heart, when there are ten others who need to hear what you have to say.
With positivity come ambition, with ambition comes creativity, with creativity comes progress, and with progress comes change. Keep your mind open and your heart pure to make room for the thoughts and ideas needed to enact positive change.
Be safe my friends and love each other with all of your hearts.