On June 27, Next Stage will present its fifth and final webinar on the power of community voice, with this one focused on its essential role in advocacy (Sign up here!). Of all the topics covered as a part of the series thus far, this one holds special interest for Helen Hope Kimbrough and Josh Jacobson, the team that has been presenting this content over the last three months.

Advocacy is defined as public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. Advocacy is also the opportunity to:

  • Present a case for support through methods of data-gathering, comparative analysis and trend research, and storytelling to inform the process
  • Build and cultivate relationships, engaging partners in the community, giving them action steps and tools to join the conversation
  • Make a clear case of what you hope to achieve, outlining funding support, resources and next steps to impact the community

It seems everywhere we look these days, the voices of people who are being left out of public discourse are finding opportunities to be heard – the very definition of community voice. Helen and Josh are excited to share their enthusiasm for the topic in today’s two-part blog.

Inspired by the Foot Soldiers of Change
by Helen Hope Kimbrough

In the Charlotte community, there has been a movement of advocacy stemming from social justice – the act of right-sizing access and opportunities that should exist for everyone, not just a select few.

If you’ve ever attended a public forum or civic meeting, there are so many individuals and organizations coming forth to present matters and concerns that pain residents in our community. For instance, a mom who needs an affordable place to live for herself and two young children in a safe area, a family that needs quality and affordable childcare to work to pay their bills, an aging senior who needs a selection of healthy food options that are better suited for his healthcare needs. The stories go on and on.

Fortunately, we have foot soldiers who are on the ground and ready to carry the mantle (and message) to get folks the help and support they need. They are trusted advocates amplifying their voices to make a difference in the lives of others with evidence, data, compassion, and resources.

A Community Organizing Renaissance

In preparation for our next webinar on Community Voice and Advocacy, Josh and I almost didn’t include it. Yet, the more we talked about the collective community voices and their ability to disrupt systems in thoughtful, consistent, and innovative ways, we were inspired to examine it further and feature it as a part of our webinar series as a deepened approach.

And what we’ve witnessed is how trusted advocates have built and cultivated relationships with community leaders, public officials, and individuals while being diligent in earmarking time to meet with city, county, and state officials, learn more about grant opportunities and financial investment, ask the tough questions, plan follow-up discussions, and educate supporters on ways to engage and participate in the process. Plus, they’ve optimized tools such as thought leadership, social media, convenings, and public meetings to get their message across, leveraging community voice and advocacy.

We are witnessing a renaissance in community organizing by service providers who are proximate to the need, channeling a powerful message of advocacy that is in turn leading to policy change. It inspires me personally. I look forward to sharing these stories during our webinar next week.

Tackling the Monster Upstream
by Josh Jacobson

As I talk about the changes at Next Stage of late, I find myself summoning the metaphor of “bailing babies from the river.” Health and human service providers often describe their intervention work in this way – of being on the banks of a rushing river, rescuing drowning children as they pass heading downstream.

One’s career can be defined in this way, with success measured in the number of individuals one has “saved” from the rushing river. It takes doing that for a while before even thinking to look upstream, where if you squint, you can see a monster who is dumping children in the river. But whereas there are many of you downstream to try to save those children, it appears there are few upstream where the monster is causing the crisis in the first place.

This is the analogy often presented about advocacy and systems change, and it was one I had heard many times before. The monster is depicted as “the system” that allows some sort of policy – either public or corporate – that creates a negative downstream impact. But I will admit, it took a decade of doing this work at Next Stage for it to sink in. And now I feel called to make the main thrust of my work systemic in nature. It is no longer sufficient to bask in the “warm fuzzy” of downstream victories.

Disruption vs Status Quo

I had a conversation with a colleague recently where I tried to explain how this has manifested in my life, and why I feel so drawn to systems work. For the person downstream, there comes a point where you begin to question whether you are actually contributing to the problem – if in “bailing babies from the river,” you are also maintaining a status quo that helps to shift attention away from the monster creating the problem in the first place. You know that it is a life worth saving, but if you continue in your work, will the situation ever get better?

The fact that I am struggling with this more than two decades into a career in social good only serves to highlight my privilege. For the community leaders at the frontlines of this work, this trade off is a daily struggle. It is why the shift toward service providers building expressions of advocacy has been such an amazing trend to observe. Who better to amplify the voices of the oppressed than those who have direct knowledge from providing them services?

It is a space where community voice is the fuel that powers the disruptive efforts that lead to change. Helen and I look forward to sharing how your organization can participate in the movement when we get together next week.

Did you hear? Next Stage has made webinars a big part of its work. This spring, Helen Hope Kimbrough and Josh Jacobson originated a five-part series on the role of community voice to inform all aspects of the social good business model including program development, marketing, human resources management and advocacy.

Did you miss the memo? Don’t fret! Helen and Josh are repeating the series live this summer. Check them out here and sign up for the second wave of the series running through September.