Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a federally-recognized holiday to mark the birth of one the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Last year, this national day of volunteerism brought millions of Americans out of their homes and workplaces and into the arms of direct service to commemorate, if only for a day, the spirit of MLK Jr. It is through acts of service that we get to stand up for our vision of community. My vision for community is one of strength: strength in inclusion, strength in partnership, strength in service, strength in provision and strength in opportunity.
Perhaps the number one quality my vision of community has is that of care: where neighbors genuinely come together to take care of each other to the fullest extent of our human experiences, not limited by the journey to find emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and social health.
I believe Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision for a community of strength, but achieving such requires a commitment to the process of work that is communal and reflective. So, how can we as individuals contribute to creating a community of strength? Become an activist!
Here are five tips on developing yourself as an activist in 2016:
- Be passionate. There are a million things that would help make our communities better. Find the one, two or maybe three things you are passionate about: the issues that pull at your heartstrings. Activism is hard; not everyone agrees with you and it can be exhausting work because quick, tangible results are never guaranteed. You need to find your passion because that will sustain you.
- Strengthen your communication skills. The core of activism is community. Community demands that we be in relationship and dialogue with others, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. Strengthening your communication skills will allow you to temper your emotional responses, ask questions to model active listening, speak with kindness while also with a punch and to communicate in a way that others will hear you.
- Do your research. I mean, really do your research. Everyone has their own version of “fact,” so you need to arm yourself not only with passion and communication, but personal story, policy, statistics, theory and real-life examples.
- Find others who share your passion. As shared earlier, the core of activism is community. An individual can have a tremendous impact, but an individual who is supported with the work of another? Amazing.
- Pick and choose your battles, with patience. Even the most dedicated of activists need their rest. Allow yourself the humility and the grace to turn off your activism every now and again to simply exist in the world. Have a look around, see goodness, watch the sunrise, drink some coffee and recharge your soul. Humanity is waiting for a full, healthy and equipped you to make the positive social change you seek.
Activism asks you simply to be a part of the change you see is needed in your community. Create space for each other, create space for yourself, and come together with those around you to build a community that lives up to its name.
For more information about MLK Jr. Day, visit the National Service website.
To find a list of tools and resources for facilitating community and working towards change, visit Everyday Democracy.