Where do we go from here ? This is the question asked when you are lost or have a decision to make. You took a wrong turn or have been impacted in a way that caused you to lose your sense of direction.
There’s no smart phone with a global positioning system. It’s just you or you and those in your traveling party. You don’t ask the person who was asleep during most of the trip. You don’t ask the person in a panic who thinks you’re all going to die now. The faithful may look to the sky and ask for a sign which may or may not come. So what do you do? Secure your position, inventory your provisions and then think about where you’ve been, what you’ve seen. See what worked and isolate where you went wrong.
The universe’s favorite shape is the circle. Pay attention to circles. We all have them. I focus on 2 in particular.
My circle of concern: since Quincy Jones put all my favorite singers in the room in 1985, my circle of concern grew to a global size at the age of 9. As time passed, it included apartheid, human rights, etc…I quickly found that I could only influence these things in small ways. Not buying gas at Shell until they divested. Making a small donation of my allowance to the Salvation Army during the holidays. It bothered me that I couldn’t do more. It wasn’t until I was introduced to community organizing that I got a new circle…
My circle of influence: I learned I could influence teens, my peers, my neighbors. I could influence what party we went to, what that vacant lot should be, how to get a park cleaned, etc. I could see the results of my work in almost real-time. It got good to me. I wanted more. I organized more. Fast forward to 2005 I took a job with a city councilor. Learned local city politics. Organized more. Ran afterschool programs in the community for youth. Learned about their needs and development. Organized more. Ran for city council, lost, organized more. Ran again, lost again, you guessed it…organized more. Each endeavor taught me more. Each effort grew my circle of influence. 3rd time running was a charm. Let the smile in the picture be evidence of that. I found myself making changes where it mattered most. Locally. My circle of influence was growing and I could now have greater impact on my circle of concern. I could organize better. I could advocate for youth development and for those most needing support. I could motivate peers, teens, neighbors to believe that their local action made a difference. Hell, I won that primary by 41 votes, no electoral college, just every vote counting.
4 years later, I found myself lost. Falsely accused, wrong fully convicted and illegally and unconstitutionally expelled from the 5th Suffolk State Representative seat. Lost, wondering what mistakes I made. Should I have expected a woman to set me up ? Could my outspokenness on certain issues made me a target ? Was I being used as a distraction from larger, systemic legal issues playing out in the State House ? I was lost. My circle I had worked so hard to build with so many involved was shrinking again. My influence diminished. My reputation, tarnished. Lost. For the first time in my life wondering how I would find work, what kind of work it would be.
So many thoughts and concerns, my circles were crossed and I was lost. I had to retrace my steps. I had to shut out those who were asleep for the journey. I had to ignore the rubberneckers who slowed down enough to watch the wreck but not get out and help. I spoke to those who were with me riding shotgun. Those who showed love when my influence was just what party we went to as kids. I got my bearings. Figured out where I was on the road and started doing what I knew. Organizing. Growing my circle of influence. Continuing the commitment I made to my community.
So as i watch members of my community for months fight each other over national party candidates and even local ballot questions, as I watch people share their sadness about the realities of our country and our political system, I ask that you check your circles. Separate concern from influence. Start local, organize, grow until influence begins to gain on concern. And when you’re lost. Stop, assess things, secure yourself and provisions and check in with those that have been on the same journey for directions.
Lost, wondering where do we go from here ? Local. Start organizing. Want to learn more about how ? I consult for free for community members: Los@stillreppin.com
ps. 2017 is a campaign year, locally (Mayor and Boston City Council)