Empowering a Neighborhood

I usually try to explain something in my blog posts, and then ask for additional information. This time though, I’m just looking for advice because I’ve suddenly been thrown into pulling together a project and I’m not sure how to approach it.

In the neighborhood where I work, there has been a surge in violence. Over the past few weeks, there has been a beating, a homicide and a rape; all three victims were teenaged girls. The teenagers we work with are scared, their parents are scared, and there seems to be an overall sense of despair and hopelessness. Petty crimes have always been present, but for all of this to happen in such a small community in such a short time and for the targeted individuals to be so young is both new and unacceptable.

There has been some effort by local authorities to create a neighborhood watch, but they gave up after they tried to held one meeting and it wasn’t attended. Instead of coming at it from that angle, I personally would like to just be able to facilitate a gathering where concerned community members of all types can have an open dialogue. At the least, it may be therapeutic to share fears and at the best we can engage community members to make a difference. What that difference will be, I don’t know but I definitely want to listen what it is that people who live in this neighborhood think needs to happen, and then go about and get things done. I can even see eventually organizing a neighborhood watch, but I think that the dialogue needs to happen first and we need to identify those who are willing and able to help us out.

We have a group of middle school kids who meets regularly in our space, and I’m trying to figure out how to empower them, too. The difficulty there is that I don’t want to scare anyone. My executive director’s thought is that we should focus on safety around issues we can ourselves control. Random acts of violence are going to happen, and is there really any way to prepare? Crossing roads safely, walking in groups and knowing emergency contact numbers are much more tangible and every day. We’re hoping to bring about a sense of control over our own lives through focusing on the things we can prevent and change.

As I said, this is all new to me and it’s probably a project that I’ll dive into without researching a whole lot or having set outcomes (for once). Does anyone reading this have experience or resources regarding community organizing? I feel that my organization is in a great position to bring together a wide variety of those concerned with our neighborhood and I want to make sure that I use that position well.

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