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Reciprocity – Across Lines of Class

Posted by frankieblackburn on May 30, 2009

From the very beginning of IMPACT Silver Spring and throughout our effort to build a diverse civic network, we have kept the issue of class differences front and present in our dialogue and in our practices.  To no one’s surprise, it is our area of greatest struggle. As mentioned earlier, I recently attended a gathering of the Leadership Learning Community in Oakland, California and helped promote the concept of Network Centric Organizing, a term of art coined by our friends at Lawrence Community Works – a term which captures our work and our mission here at IMPACT Silver Spring. During this gathering of 60 or so community practitioners, I convened a smaller discussion around the issue of class divides. See the advice I received from this helpful dialogue.

Tips for Engaging Upper and Middle Class Folks in the Network

Tips for Engaging Upper and Middle Class Folks in the Network

Even though my colleagues can point to many successes in network building within a context where most residents are of lower income, I have yet to find examples of true bridge building across class – except for some of our early efforts in working to bring immigrant parents and teachers together and our initiative to link property managers and lower income tenants.  I raise this core issue of class –  in the context of the Neighbors Campaign –  because we have a chance to approach this huge challenge differently, on so many levels.

Here’s my dream – we recruit middle class door knockers to help approach residents in lower income communities and support them in approaching these doors from a core belief in Reciprocity….do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What does this mean exactly – in the context of linking people to emergency services? It means that these door knockers approach those of the other side of the door, anticipating that there is as much chance that their lives will be enriched and supported by these individuals as the chance that they will be able to help them to secure emergency services….AND that as their hearts and minds open up to this possibility of benefiting from these new friends, they take the follow up steps needed to build a few relationships of trust across these lines and begin to carry the message of reciprocity to others…to others who are very well intended but who, in their zeal to help, miss the opportunity to receive the gifts of others.

Below is a video interview I conducted of my two colleagues Judith Rosenberg and Bill Traynor – as I ask them to talk more about Reciprocity and review the conversation we held about class divides at the Leadership Learning Community gathering.

Also embedded below is my favorite statement highlighting the importance of reciprocity, called the Embrace of Community.

The Embrace of Community

by Sobonfu E. Somé,

the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, from

The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Way of Relationships

Community is the spirit, the guiding light of the tribe, whereby people come together in order to fulfill a specific purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another. The goal of the community is to make sure that each member of the community is heard and is properly giving the gifts that they have brought to this world. Without this giving, the community dies. And without the community, the individual is left without a place where they can contribute. And so the community is that grounding place where people come and share their gifts and receive from others.

When you don’t have community, your are not listened to; you don’t have a place you can go to and feel that you really belong. You don’t have people to affirm who you are and to support you in bringing forward your gifts. What this does to a person’s psyche is that it disempowers it, making the person vulnerable to consumerism and all the things that come along with it.

Also, it leaves many people who have wonderful gifts, wonderful contributions to make, holding back their gifts, not knowing where to put them. And without the unloading of our gifts we experience a blockage inside, and this blockages effects us spiritually, mentally and physically in many different ways. We are left without a home, a home to go to when we need to be seen.


One Response to “Reciprocity – Across Lines of Class”

  1. wjtraynor said

    Hey Frankie…this is a really thoughtful application…its really great. makes me reflect back on some of our work at LCW related to class, and helping me think about work I need to do with national conference of volunterism and service this month. Would like to stay close to it if that is possible. It is such a wonderful thing to be your colleage and in partnership with all you great IMPACT folks.

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