A Central Component of Our Work

A Central Component of Our Work

July 2016
Van Hardy

Community organizing changes lives, as individuals and for communities. It gives voice to those that have been marginalized. Like many of our members, my first encounter with Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) staff was as a client desperately seeking help.

Following a medical crisis, I lost my income and began preparing myself to become homeless. I had lost all purpose in life beyond survival. My life had gone from coping to crisis. I spent a considerable amount of energy trying to contain the panic that threatens to overwhelm. Depression was a luxury I could not afford.

Yet, alone I felt helpless, small and vulnerable. I could flail about shouting about injustice giving voice to my anger, but this made me feel insignificant. I felt incapable of addressing the issues holding me victim. Embarrassed by my own impotence, I minimized contact with others, isolating myself.

Cynicism became a coping mechanism, rationalized as the “smart” choice. I internalized the self-anger that comes with injustice. I ask myself, “What did I do wrong?” Confronting the realization that my life had amounted to nothing, I had no purpose. 

Addressing Problems Together

From the point I walked through SCC’s doors, my life began to change. A decade later, my life has stability and purpose. But first, I had to let go of my pride, listen to others and trust. 

When staff suggested I participate in a Financial Literacy class, I thought it was a bad joke. I didn’t have any finances or a future. I did it anyway. During an exercise, I told the members of the class where, despite present circumstances, I would like to be in six months – teaching. The following class a woman handed me a phone number that lead to a part-time teaching job. Her action made me realize the importance of being part of a group. 

This happens everyday when people walk through the doors at SCC. Together, we can solve our problems. 

This is why community organizing is vital to the mission of SCC.

SCC didn’t just put me “back on my feet.” SCC has provided the means to address the problem. As I began to feel secure and regain confidence, like many at SCC, my gratitude found expression in action. I felt less a victim, more the activist.

At first, it was all I could do to show up. Eventually, I could speak up – in meetings, then in public. Through the Leadership Development Institute, I learned about the political terrain in Somerville and what we could do to influence decisions made by city hall and the state. We discussed the systemic injustice affecting our lives and futures. In a society that has institutionalized the victimization of the many for the benefit of the few, individuals feel atomized, deprived of meaningful ties to others, which leaves you weak, vulnerable and easily disempowered.

From Hopelessness to Hope to Action

SCC’s community organizing program provides an understanding of people’s shared interest in systemic change. Organizers bring people together to identify their problems and craft solutions. Whether it’s through the trainings, or the committees, organizers provide the skills and tools needed to turn ideas into action.

Hopelessness and inaction are transformed into hope and action. Cynicism and atomization and give way to constructive social engagement. Together we have the power to change the systemic injustices that once held us victim. As we change our communities, we change ourselves.

I’m proud to be an active member of an organization that has succeeded in increasing affordable housing and providing jobs for local people, and addresses the issues confronting Somerville residents. And, I’m honored to be the president of SCC’s Board of Directors.

SCC’s community organizing is more than theoretical to me. It has been a lifesaving personal experience.