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A Community Organizer enjoys the task of connecting people and politics. Senator Barack Obama comes from a long line of honorable men and women, who devoted their lives for the better of the neighborhoods, their community, city, state and their country. They literally put their nation first.
When the community needs to connect with its public officials or seeks empowerment to confront relevant issues or energize the electorate, the work of the community organizer becomes of paramount importance. It is an honorable job that calls for commitment and dedication from those who attempt this monumental feat. Such a feat cannot be undertaken by cowards or the faint of heart. The well-being of the people must be upper-most and speaking truth to power is commonplace. The list of community organizers in the Black community is inextricably tied to the progress that the community has made and those that labor must not be forgotten or relegated to the footnotes of history. The roll of honor of community organizers includes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Johnnie Tillmon Blackston, Walter Bremond, A. Phillip Randolph, Speaker Karen Bass and Senator Barack Obama.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, the co-chair of Obama’s California campaign and former community organizer, has risen as the first Black woman in the nation to become an Assembly Speaker. She said, “Community organizers have been in the forefront of every historical movement that has helped our country move forward. And, in our community particularly, organizing has been the cornerstone of our efforts to break down barriers of discrimination and oppression.” Bass came from the tradition that saw community organizing as an honorable service and it has taken her to the highest reaches of state government. “We understand that change takes place from the bottom up and that those who are most affected by an issue are the ones who should determine what the solution should be,” she commented.
Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization founded by Dr. King, serves his community in the tradition of its founder. In his response to the Republican’s assertion that community organizers did not have the responsibilities of people or executives in political positions, Lee said, “We (community organizers), in fact, have greater responsibilities because our responsibilities are for the uplifting of those that are negatively impacted by policies, particularly governmental policies, that continue to prohibit people from obtaining a quality of life that speaks to dignity, respect and equality.”
As one who understands the anguish of joblessness and hopelessness, Lee continued, “And we do our work with less resources than the government. This is what is key to me since community organizers have far less economic and political resources, yet accomplish more in providing a better quality of life for the people we serve.”
Kwesi Kamau of Project Vote worked as a community organizer along with Obama in Chicago, and witnessed the tragedy that befell many impacted by the closure of steel mills that Obama often spoke about in reference to his community work. Kamau said, “Community Organizing is about empowering people and helping them make proper decisions, and then take action as opposed to what we call carrying out activity. The difference between action and activity is the substance of the work itself.” As someone who labored in the community with the Senator, Kamau is well qualified to define and describe Obama’s credentials as a candidate for the people. “We want to be able to see people have consistent and substantive change in their lives. We want them to have better wages, better opportunities to be with their families and make sure that they can take care of the basic needs of life, and enjoy the American Dream. Barack Obama has been a part of that struggle since he came to Chicago and I have had the opportunity of knowing him and working with him.”
Willis Edwards, member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and who a prominent fixture in the community for over 35 years, said, “Nobody can really define community organizing; it’s what we do for ourselves and for our community. We have been taught to organize through our churches and wherever we can. And if it were not for community organizers, we would not be where we are today. It is a true form of leadership.” As a community organizer, he has worked with presidents, governors and mayors on behalf of the community. “Some people get paid to do it and some do not. Some people believe in an issue and pursue it; that’s how we become leaders in the community,” he concluded.
As a union leader, Faith Culbreath is on the frontline of community organizing, helping people to obtain better wages and working conditions. She said, “Community organizing is very important; it is focused on ensuring that people have the necessary things that they need to get social and economic justice because without it, the situation would be worse than it is right now. All the facets of community organizing shape our lives and make our community better. There is no real money involved, and those who dedicate themselves to that level of social and economic justice, are really the people we ought to look to shape our society, and change the current situation.”
In the latest salvo against Senator Barack Obama, there has been a fundamental skewing of his record and an attempt to belittle his accomplishments as a community organizer. Those misrepresenting his accomplishments do not realize his record speaks volumes about who he is, his character and his vision for the country. It appears that Obama’s theme about change has been snatched by the other party and they are using the words to recycle the past eight years. Finally, it is Obama’s tenure as a community organizer that gave him the skill he used to out-campaign many of those who are being critical about his leadership. As demonstrated throughout his campaign, he has been able to involve more people at the grassroots level than any other presidential candidate in American history.