If You Want to Change Your Community, You Need to Know Who You Are

Building stronger communities through innovative work can only happen if you tell the truth about who you are.

The sixth week of the Pathfinder Fellowship brought us to the HUB LA, which is a loft space in Downtown Los Angeles that's been redesigned into a creative work space where individuals can go and collaborate. While there, we participated in two separate workshops designed to support and expand our newly developed communication skills.

When we arrived, we were welcomed by Tani Ikeda. Tani co-founded imMEDIAte Justice, which is a community outreach program devoted to empowering young women with the tools for radical documentary filmmaking. Ikeda kicked things off with a writing exercise where we were asked to start our sentence with the prompt, "the truth is." People are usually reserved when sharing personal feelings but we have become like a family, a second family, so no one is scared to share their personal stories.

After we shared our writing prompt, we all felt strong, passionate, powerful, respected, motivated and slightly surprised because people were sharing a lot more than they did in the beginning of the program. Ikeda praised our ability to turn our truths into real raw emotions. The exercise was real, to the point that the adults even participated and got to express their feelings and emotions. Ikeda directed us to explore a second prompt, "there was a time," which forced us to go even more in depth.

We then combined excerpts of our responses into mini-monologues, like this:

The truth is I try to project my voice but get turned down.
Where my voice tries to echo yet there is no sound.
There was a time when my audience would listen.
There was a time I would travel through a tunnel until I had a clear straight vision.

We each filmed our monologues and learned how to operate all the equipment you need to make a film—like a video camera, boom mic, a slate, and lighting.

It was inspiring to know that we can communicate truthfully and open up to one another without being judged by our peers. It also felt good knowing that we have people around us that have such similar backgrounds compared to people who just complain about life's daily routines. Life is real and it's what you make of it at the end. Just like Kelly Clarkson sings, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Our individual truths that we wrote in the morning lead to the collective truths of the group in the afternoon, which lead us into the second workshop led by Rudy Espinoza. Espinoza is the Executive Director of LURN, which is a nonprofit dedicated to building stronger communities through innovative work. Before teaching us how to address the collective truths we revealed in the morning workshop, Espinoza shared his own story. He was extremely truthful about his family history—both parents were immigrants with limited education and he was affected by abuse in his home environment. We were all inspired by his eventual achievements in education. He earned both bachelor's and master's degrees from top universities. It reminded us that no matter how dark or painful our pasts are, the future still holds promise.

Espinoza's session focused on helping us see ourselves as advocates for our communities who are able to address the problems in them. He led us through brainstorming the kinds of problems we could solve. We came up with several problems in our community, such as racial profiling, immigration, gang violence, drug use, and overall racism. The group took a vote on which problem to tackle, and we decided that racism was a factor in many of the issues we were talking about. So, we began to discuss solutions to address the racism in our communities.

We quickly realized that Espinoza was not just trying to get us thinking about these issues. He had a technique that we could use to assist us in finding solutions called the "Design Thinking Process." The process has three steps, and it begins with observing the community and the social environment we come from. The next step is the design of a solution, focusing on making sure that it’s rooted in our observation and the needs of the people that are impacted. Last, but not least, is implementation—setting a timeline and finding allies for your design. Surprisingly, the most important part of this process, said Espinoza, is that even if you fail that's okay. Through failure you become an expert because you're trying new things.

Spending the day at The Hub with Ikeda, Espinoza, and the other fellows, we learned how important it is to talk to other people, to learn about their stories, get feedback, and be supportive. After all, that's what family is about.

Want to mentor a student from a low income community? Click here to say you'll do it.

Desiray Figueroa and Airren Kirk are two members of the Pathfinder Fellowship, a joint effort of GOOD/Corps and The California Endowment. They're working as interns with GOOD's community team.

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