I have a dream that in the future, anytime we hold events, public forums, work on policies, and/or build change, the people experiencing the issues we are trying to solve, will be driving forces at the table.
This idea is not new, but for some reason it seems difficult to actualize. We are a long way from arrival. There is a phrase that I have loved that guides this thinking, "Those closest to the pain, should be closest to the power."
This is not just an equity issue, but rather a human capital and "brilliant solution mining" strategy. People who are experiencing the issues we want to impact, solve, or create new approaches for, have the BEST solutions. They will tell you what will work. They will tell you what won't. This is ultimately the most efficient way, to get there.
I have been a part of processes where we work to bring solutions to the table for at-risk, (better labeled at-promise), populations. Without them at the table, it is natural for the solutions to gravitate toward solving issues that the non-at-risk population are experiencing.
I will share a story. In my small community of 14,000, after we did a community assessment, it became evident that families with children on Medicaid did not have any local dentist or doctors for their children. To get primary care or go the dentist, the families had to drive 30 miles. This meant that many children were not getting needed preventative services, and families were using the ER for things that could have been taken care of through a local primary care physician. Families also said that they were not taking their children to the needed preventative dental appointments due to the burden of cost of transportation and loss of income for time off work.
So, we formed a committee with local health care experts, community government positions, non-profits, and low-income families. Trust and dignity were ground rules and this group of leaders recognized the value of our families representing the voices of their peers. Power was shared.
At some point the trajectory of solutions that began to formulate, began pointing to the reality that our community needed an urgent care facility, because middle-class families were also forced to use the ER after normal practitioner office hours. After a great deal of talking about this, one of our dads in the group bravely spoke up, and asked, "But how does that help our families with primary care for our children?"
There was an air of humility that blanketed the room. And one of the leaders said, "Thanks. It doesn't. I am so glad you are giving of your time here to keep us on track." This group worked for many months to find a solution. Out of their effort came something quite remarkable for our state. The opening of the first Federally Qualified Health Clinic (FQHC) Satellite in our state. FQHC's take years to vet through a cumbersome government process. But a satellite clinic from an already established FQHC does not. Now, we have many in our state.
My own story is that I have spent most of my adult life as the "Other", the "They", the "Them". But in 2011 that changed. My community began putting out a beacon for me and my people to come the table and build both a better personal life and help build a community that works for everyone.
Since then, I have spent countless hours working in the non-profit realm recreating the strategy above.
We hold semi-annual conferences in my organization around trauma-informed schools and communities.
And yes. We have kids who have been labeled at-risk there leading us. We have families who come from tremendous adversity and poverty leading us. They are center stage, informing the systems and the community about who they are, what they need, what works and what doesn't. It is a truly breathtaking experience for all involved.
At this year's conference we will be debuting a work by one of our students who is also a mom. It is a Survivalist Guide for Urban Homelessness.
It is PROFOUND.
We will host and show people how to host a Human Library.
Kids will be telling us what made the difference for them in public education after feeling lost or thrown away.
This is something you will not want to miss.
I have a dream that soon no conference will be held where the people we are talking about are not in the room leading the conversation with us. That we no longer live in this world of Us and Them. But rather in an experience, where we rest in the truth, that we are all—just us.
Does that sound like a dream you would be interested in participating in?
The conference is in Wichita, Kansas - June 21st and 22nd, and the cost is $125. I hope to meet you there.