Why is Trinity throwing a party for “community organizers” as our official observance of the 2009 presidential inauguration?
President-elect Barack Obama started his professional career after college as a community organizer in Chicago. During the election season, some people mocked this experience, conveying a sense that work as a community organizer is somehow not “real” work, or something suspiciously subversive, or a plot by aging lefties to destabilize the government.
In fact, community organizing has a long and proud history as the means by which citizens come together to shape plans for community improvement, policy change and social action. True, some of the work is political and partisan, but most of the work is at the grassroots level of conversations, argumentation, organizing meetings of neighbors, hammering out plans and coming to consensus on the best ways to address neighborhood and community challenges.
The phrase “community organizing” is often associated with movements that seek to empower people who have been disenfranchised by law or in fact — the poor, people of color, people who suffer discrimination of various types. The Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Rights Movement and other similar movements find their roots and their ongoing life in the small meetings and associations that occur through community organizing. The sociologist Robert Bellah and his co-authors termed this kind of work the “Habits of the Heart” that are part of our common longing to create “The Good Society.”
Trinity’s century-old tradition of educating students for service and leadership in the community, with an emphasis on action for social justice that we inherit from the Sisters of Notre Dame, is the source of many lifelong careers in community organizing among our graduates. The Catholic commitment to social justice, rooted in the Gospels, includes the central religious and moral principles of protecting the life and dignity of the human person; strengthening the family and fully participating in the larger community for the common good; exercising and protecting human rights and responsibilities; solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need; addressing the needs of those who are poor and vulnerable; upholding the dignity of work and the rights of workers; and care for God’s creation, i.e., protection of the environment. Whether heading a public interest group, or running for the school board, or conducting a neighborhood cleanup, or volunteering at a local women’s shelter, or leading a petition drive to improve environmental safety, or becoming an ANC commissioner, or organizing the farmworkers in Apopka, Trinity graduates have lived this mission robustly, influencing their neighbors and organizing communities to work for the common good across the generations.
On Thursday, January 15, the Trinity community will gather at the Trinity Center for lunch with a group of more than 100 leaders of nonprofit, civic and business organizations all working in some way to improve our community. We welcome all of these partners and friends as fellow “community organizers” who share our common purpose to make this city, nation and global village a better place for all people.
Our keynote speaker Marian Wright Edelman founded the Childrens Defense Fund, one of the great organizations working to improve conditions for children. Mrs. Edelman is an exemplar of the idea of the community organizer whose vision and drive are so compelling that she is able to bring other talented people together to collaborate on social change.
Our goal for the January 15 luncheon is to strengthen Trinity’s partnerships with a wide range of organizations who serve the common good, and to introduce our students to these organizational leaders so that students can network for community service and internship opportunities, and perhaps longer-term careers.
By having this event with the very specific purpose of linking Trinity students with organizations that work to advance the good of the community, Trinity’s observance of the inauguration of President Obama will have an impact long beyond inauguration day. I hope that all students will take advantage of this opportunity.
Participating community partner organizations — nonprofit and civic associations as well as corporate businesses supporting the public good — include the following (list as of January 13):
ACS State & Local Solutions
Anti-Racism Team, Sisters of Notre Dame
Archdiocese of Washington
Boys Town Washington, D.C.
Building Bridges Across the River/THEARC
Center for Inspired Teaching
Children’s Defense Fund
Children’s Medical Center in DC
Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area
D.C. College Access Program
D.C. Public Charter School Board
DC College Success Foundation
DC State Board of Education
Dinner Program for Homeless Women
DS State Board of Education
Education for Parish Service
Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Foundation
Fort Lincoln New Town Corp.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP
Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital
Goodwill of Greater Washington
Guillory & Hjort, PLLC
Hearts & Homes for Youth
Higher Education Financial Services & Preparatory Programs
House of Mercy’s Rosemount Center
Human Rights Campaign Foundation
Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies
Institute of World Politics
Kemoh Wellness Center
Kid Power, Inc
L&L Consulting, LLC
Leftwich & Ludaway PLLC
Literacy Volunteers and Advocates
Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
National Alliance of Community Develop Associations
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
National Naval Medical Center
New Leaders for New Schools
NRH @ Washington Hospital Center
Pepco, District of Columbia Region
Perry School Community Services Center
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville
Prince George’s Child Resource Center
Safe Kids Worldwide
Safe Shores: DC Children’s Advocacy Center
SPG & Associates
SportsChallenge Leadership and Education Alliance
Strategic Philanthropy Advisors
SunTrust Investment Services, Inc
The Calvert Group
The Catholic University of America
The Washington Ballet @ THEARC
The Washington Middle School for Girls
The Washington Post
The Women’s Center
Tranium, Snowdon, & Deane
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
USCCB / Justice Peace and Human Development
Venture Philanthropy Partners
Washington Area Women’s Foundation
Washington Business Journal
Washington Hospital Center