Urban Education Expert Christopher Emdin, Ph.D and New Jersey Mayor Corey Booker understand that to truly engage a community you must first understand the community - without judging them - and then engage them where they are.
Years ago Corey Booker spent time living in the projects of Newark to gain a better understanding of the realities of the residents he didn't understand. What he realized during that time is that while there was much change the residents had to do, there were also policy changes that needed to be made to ensure residents would fully function in society.
With a new found understanding Booker was able to go back and charge is staff to implement changes and create policies that allowed people to live (insert Beyonce's picture from earlier this year where she asked: "Can I live?"),
Dr. Christopher Emdin understands the other crucial point in community engagement. You have to develop trust and meet people where they are to affect change.
The June 2013, issue of Essence Magazine tells the story of how Dr. Emdin has teamed with GZA from the legendary Wu-Tang Clan to launch a Science Genius BATTLES, a pilot project that teaches science through the art of hip-hop. The program is currently in ten New York City public schools. In short, Dr. Edmin is using hip-hop to develop a long-term interest in science in students. He's using, as many others have, hip hop to give kids an opportunity to learn more about the discipline and help them envision new possibilities. What's even more important is he is developing a level of credibility with the students because he has enlisted the help of GZA from Wu-Tang. Please note that not just any rap icon would work here. GZA has street credibility and is particularly important to the NYC hip hop scene.
Pick up a copy of the May 2012 for the full story.
The lesson. We have to move beyond what is comfortable for us and move into what is comfortable for the people we are trying to reach. Ask yourself, what is important to them? What do they value? Who do they find credible? How can I authentically incorporate that into what I am doing to influence change that originates from them (they have to own the change)? When you have the answer, implement and watch your advocate group grow.