Creating community activists

While we may not persuade our children to overtake Union Station, we can teach them how to fight injustices on a daily basis

Opinion

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By China Hill

Contributor

Besides everyday life struggles, there are others that affect our family, careers and community. Racism. Inequities in education. Gender bias. Such societal ills have impacted our lives in small and/or huge ways. Some see such challenges and complain, while others combat or overcome them. So what separates complainers from community activists? Tools.

While injustices do not cease to exist, they can be significantly reduced if we were influenced by the social movements of today and use non-violent strategies to bring awareness and/or resistance to some of the issues that have plagued our community for so long. While we may not persuade our children to overtake Union Station, we can teach them how to fight injustices on a daily basis. Below are just a few ways that you can help your child right wrongs.

Make a phone call

Does your child frequently complain about your neighborhood's broken streetlights or massive potholes? Help your child move beyond complaining with the touch of a few buttons. Inform your child that their taxes help pay for a "working" neighborhood and let them know how they can get their voice heard. Start with 311, the number used to report non-emergency incidents. Model for your child how to speak with 311 reps and report defects in your neighborhood, such as the ones above. Then, allow your child to call back and report the same damage a few hours later.

You child may also phone your ward's alderman. Let your child know that the duties of an alderman include knowing and assessing the needs of his or her community. Then, with your child, call your alderman's office to report such things as nearby abandoned buildings or corner crime. To find your alderman's number, visit the City of Chicago's website and click "I want to … Find/Get."

Write a letter to a public official

Several advocacy organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund, report that personal letters have great influence over politicians, much more than a formulaic email or Facebook inbox. When teaching your child to write a letter to a public official, be sure to follow the guidelines given by many lobbying and/or non-profit organizations: explain who you are and how the issue impacts you and those around you; if you have suggestions, share how you would like the public official to respond to the issue; thank the public official for reading your letter; and ask him or her to respond. Be sure to include your name and return address so that the person (alderman, mayor, state senator, etc.) knows that you are someone he or she represents.

Report a story to local media

The media is persuasive. News stories, especially those televised, have influenced movements of the past and today. Because television can impact people all over the world, your child may use the media to broaden issues that trouble only some. If there is an issue in which your child would like to bring more attention, let them know that they may do so by giving tips to the media. Many local news teams, like ABC-7 and WGN, share with viewers on their website a number, email, or link to report news stories or incidents that may need investigating. For example, your child could give a tip to the news about a local business consistently discriminating against certain customers or the slow response of emergency vehicles in your neighborhood.

Compose protest art

Finally, have your child use creativity to take a stance. First, demonstrate how poetry, music, and visual art have been used to highlight or resist social ills for much of American history. For example, Claude McKay retaliated with his pen when he wrote the poem "We Must Die," a response to the violent acts of racism perpetuated against many African-Americans during the early 1900s. Visual art and music may also be used to depict the injustices experienced by some to the masses. If your child is artistic, have them work within their particular form—music, painting, photography, or creative writing—to highlight or protest an injustice. Then ask them to share it in an arena where it can be seen or heard, such as their classroom, church, or community center.

Community activism sometimes starts with small actions that remind individuals that they have power. Therefore, let your children be empowered by the small steps they take today to better their community for tomorrow.

To learn more, visit cityofchicago.org.

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