GIVE NOW to support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response to the unaccompanied children and border crisis in the United States. Give now

Discomfort zones

Local leaders explain keys to successful community organizing

August 3, 2013

Tad Hopp

Tad Hopp pays close attention at the community organizing workshop at Big Tent. —Danny Bolin

LOUISVILLE

Relationships, collaboration and education are key tools in community organizing, local leaders said at this morning’s (Aug. 3) Compassion, Peace and Justice Big Tent workshop — How to Turn Tables for Jesus: Community Organizing Training.

Big Tent, Aug. 1-3, is a celebration of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission and ministry organized around the theme “Putting God’s First Things First.”  It’s composed of 10 national Presbyterian conferences, more than 160 workshops and special events to mark the 30th anniversary of the formation of the PC(USA) and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Presbyterian Center here.

Community organizers, pastors, seminary students and local Presbyterians gathered to learn from three local leaders: Mikal Forbush, of the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice; Anthony Smith, director for Safe Neighborhoods, Louisville Metro Government; and Ebony O’Rea, of the Network Center for Community Change.

Smith shared some of his philosophies for community organizing: reciprocity, relationships, collective impact and keeping in mind that the work we do today will impact future generations.

Also important is to recognize who is at the table and who is missing.

“We want to make sure that we’re always uncomfortable,” he said. “Because if we’re too comfortable, it means we’re not doing the work” of challenging race, class and power structures.

Participants then engaged in an exercise to challenge their comfort zones: Forbush instructed them to pair up with someone outside of their demographic, sit face to face with their knees nearly touching, look each other in the eye and alternate between talking and listening for three minutes at a time.

Developing relationships can be awkward at first, but it’s important to get over that awkwardness and learn who people really are, Forbush said. 

Leave a comment