NYC and WWBC (Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community) by Tom Kohler
I wanted to share few impressions and reflections after being in New York for a few days sharing the Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community story and looking for allies and innovation… oh, and eating lox and bagels!
The story of Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community captured all three audiences we met. The characters, Mr. Welcome, Ms. Reeves, Lester Johnson, Debra Selman and others, speak to people in powerful ways. New York City is a big place, but the neighborhoods are strong and dense and full of interesting people who see each other every day on the streets rather than driving in cars.
New Yorkers know about community, and they know about being with people who don’t look just like they do. New Yorkers got Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community. It slowed them down and gave them a chance to think deeply. One young administrator said, “I think my attention deficit would be cured if I just listened to soft Southern voices.” Savannah offers insight and inspiration to New York.
The organizations we visited were huge by Savannah standards. The smallest agency had a $7,000,000 budget and the larger agency had a $250,000,000 budget. In both organizations innovation was being created by a small group of people who were letting go of the status quo and finding a new way to go. These were very small efforts, fragile, but clearly intentional. Intentional, as in people having to make calculated and heart-felt decisions about how to invest in community engagement amidst the soul crushing pressure of the state’s Medicaid regulations and limitations.
One example of this was a shift away from thinking about community inclusion toward the idea of community engagement. Community inclusion is an important and proper goal. People with disability labels have been excluded and expected to “be with their own kind” in many ways for many decades. Folks working on community inclusion have often felt like they were standing outside shouting, “Let us come to the party. Let us in.”
A small group of people in New York have shifted their focus toward community engagement. Here’s the difference. A group of people created an event called IMAGINE A WORLD THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE where they invite all sorts of gardening, neighborhood, artistic, civic, teen, and other groups to come together and co host a big celebration. As people work together to plan and create the celebration, something that benefits the entire community, they notice that they are working side by side with some people who tend to be excluded because of how we have excluded people with disability labels.
The people in the organization focus on creating spaces where people engage with one another rather than solely looking for ways to include/insert a person into an existing group. These folks are saying, “We ARE the party!” New York offers insight and inspiration to Savannah.
This is interesting to think about in terms of people who are involved in citizen advocacy matches. There are two big questions that guide our work in citizen advocacy:
- What can people come to mean to one another? A question that goes to the heart of relationship… and those of you who are involved in citizen advocacy matches each answer this question in your own way.
- What can people come to mean to the common good? A question that asks people to look for ways to participate in and contribute to civic life and our trip to New York helped us see some examples of people working together for the good of the larger community.
Can we imagine…
- An advocate and a protégé organizing a Study Team to look at accessibility issues here in Savannah?
- An advocate and a protégé working together to develop a Neighborhood Newsletter for the building that the protégé lives in?
- An advocate and a protégé who live near one another getting a few folks from each neighborhood together to work on creating a Tool Bank for everyone in the neighborhood?
Here are a couple of new questions that New York and Savannah can share as we look toward the future:
- How do we move toward valuing difference, to create a different and better world for all of us?
- How do we move from collecting people as clients to connecting people to the opportunities and obligations of shared citizenship?
Happy to brew up some coffee or crack open a beer or two to think about this together!