Back in 2015, I was still trying to get my life back together after being homeless and out of work for the last 3 years. Things had started to look up though. I had steady employment; I had affordable housing; and I made many connections with people who had helped me in my greatest time of need, in the community that I have come to call home. This was great for me, but I wanted to work on my passions of helping people in a community to build themselves up more. I wanted to organize and help affect positive change for the betterment of the whole.
It was because of that passion a new friend of mine introduced me to Andrae Hash. He was the new organizer working to build a Virginia Organizing Chapter in the New River Valley. For those who don’t know, Virginia Organizing is a non-profit, statewide, grassroots organization that helps members to build friendships and relationships in the community, pick issues that affect the quality of people’s lives, and then develop strategies to improve the lives of folks directly affected.
At first, I only joined because they were nonpartisan, meaning they didn’t associate themselves with any political party, but also because I wanted to be a politician. I thought being elected would be the best way to serve my community and, in a way, give back to those who helped get me on my feet. The group changed my mind over time though.
The very first issue the group decided to work on was an issue that affects families and anyone connected to the education system locally. The issue was the school-to-prison pipeline and how it relates to diversity and inclusion among other things. Now I hadn’t been a student in the local school system, nor did I have children attending public schools, but I did want to learn what affects my community the most. This issue, I learned, affected everyone in some way.
We, as leaders and members of Virginia Organizing, sat down with community members, got their stories, and presented them over what seemed like a very long process, to the local school board. The goal was simply to get the school board to issue a statement supportive of diversity and inclusion. Not only would such a statement help a majority white school district understand the priorities of inclusion and equity, but it would also help families of color understand that they are not alone, and their school district aims to support inclusive policies and practices.
In the end, after all the talking to community members, going to the school board, and being persistent in our strategy, we won our first issue campaign! And as a group we were proud. It was also then I decided that organizing at a grassroots level was the best way to help bring positive change to my community and to help those living in it.