Any initiative that actively engages adolescents to take control of their lives by illustrating how they can actively and positively participate in their social environment instead of being a victim of it, is powerful. Wallerstein, Sanchez-Merki & Dow (2006) explore a program that utilized at its heart Freirian empowerment education methods and Ronald Rogers (1984 in Wallerstein, Sanchez-Merki & Dow, 2006) protection-motivation behavior change theory and applied it to a health education intervention program in New Mexico public schools, the Adolescent Social Action Program. Unfortunately, due to funding issues, the program has since closed. While this may be a simplistic rendering of the program, the adolescent participants in the program actively engaged one another, were taught how to apply critical thinking to their own lives and their actions and the actions of others. Instead of letting life happen to them, they took an active role in their own lives and, through Rogers’ social change model, they began social and health projects for the schools and communities where they live. Those projects included an exploration of social-legal policies, community resources, and prevention strategies for risky behaviors.
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While I am very enthusiastically in support of participatory action research as well as asset-based community development (ABCD) I am also in favor of combining methods to use, whatever is most effective. In this case, neither of the above seemed to work for the Tenderloin Senior Outreach Project but a combination of methods utilizing adaptations of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and ABCD did accomplish the task. Addressing a specific issue was not as effective as addressing the overall situation and engaging the community members in contributing solutions that included them in the process. Given what I have researched, it is infinitely more effective to engage the community (top and bottom) in a combined approach that brings about effective change.
While this article was written in 2006, and Klitzman, et al (2006) discuss lead poisoning in the water system of New York City, I have to ask, why there is no initiative federally to eliminate the poisons in our water, when, albeit only limitedly, unfortunately, the 14th amendment was used to break down some Jim Crow laws based on the interstate commerce clause. And in 2016, there is still an ongoing problem in Flint, Michigan and several other cities that no agency seems to want to deal with or fix. What then? How do we fix this? There are water filters that can and will work, and yet states and cities are not stepping forward to provide these solutions or any others.
Gutiérrez and Lewis (2006) discuss a topic close to my heart and one that will be an aspect of my participatory action research in the future, community organizing in communities of color, especially with women and girls of color since societally they are the most oppressed and taken for granted and forgotten by the larger society of the United States. What is key here is what I will be faced with when I begin my community psychology “to help others help themselves” that I have to confront myself with every day: my level of involvement as a white appearing man in a community of people of color, especially women of color without interfering, stepping on, or silencing their voices while attempting to empower them collectively and individually.
Roe et al (2006) offer an intriguing commentary on community in this country and a unique counterpoint on how it should function. The United States is seen as stereotypically individualistic, which is, unfortunately, a reality in a majority of this country, while AIDS is seen as an area where “effective prevention must be community-based, ecologically dispersed, locally relevant, adequately funded, responsive to change, and sustained over time.” Roe, et, al, 2006). In ways that are economically as well as socially constructed, these realities had been generally met with unrealistic barriers until mandated by the CDC in communities across the country that utilized community planning initiatives that were remnants of 1960s through 1980s activism and planning initiatives. The authors look at this initiative in depth, viewing it as a possible model to organize communities through similar social planning. Key here is the inclusion of parity, inclusion, and social representation which allowed for what the authors call mobilizing of subcommittee organizing combined with empowering evaluation (taking stock, setting goals, developing strategies, and documenting the process and repeat where necessary).
While not exactly asset-based community development, the parameters of inclusion were mutable enough to allow equitable participation in community planning, allowing them to evaluate, correct and evolve as they progressed. I see possibilities in this, allowing for applications to other areas of community development where flexibility is wise and necessary. For this initiative, diversity was necessary and key to reflect the makeup of the local community, but in the event that certain cities and groups were not interested in allowing that necessary diversity, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) mandated diversity, which could be viewed as intrusive by some and necessary to others. The mandate recalls a community radio station in Texas where I volunteered briefly that began with the promise to reflect the makeup of the overall community, but in the end the staff, the board, and the radio show hosts were and are primarily White and Male.
As an anti-authoritarian, I bristle at even the suggestion of control, but with White Patriarchy and, especially, institutionalized racism, there are laws and beliefs on the books that privilege certain groups of individuals that those individuals don’t see. If one is not affected, there is little that one is going to look for. Men are not going to see the disadvantages thrust upon women daily through microagressions and will cry out that women are being too sensitive. The same can be said for White Gay Men where they don’t consider the inclusion of Black and Latinx Gay Men as valid because they are not affected by racism and prejudice (in the same way). Because of the historical precedence of the above, guidelines and rules are necessary, and in this case, they proved to be valid and effective. This planning initiative can be used to apply to other programs that require groups within communities to work together effectively to solve an overarching issue. I also believe that planning elements can be incorporated into other methodologies designed to incorporate the individuals of a community into a evolutionary problem-solving group.
Roe, K. M., Berenstein, C., Goette, C., & Roe, K. (2006). Community building through empowering evaluation: A case study of HIV prevention community planning. In M. Minkler (Ed.), Community organizing and community building for health (2nd ed., pp. 386-402). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Kretzmann & McKnight (1993) provide us with the equivalent of a bible, one to implement asset-based community (or capacity-focused) development from the ground up. This isn’t about assessing needs, deficiencies, and problems, but discovering a community’s capacities and assets. This is an important distinction because it takes the standard way of solving community problems with bureaucracy and a band-aid and puts that power into the hands of community to help themselves and utilize their already present resources.