My last post talked about how schools can establish and encourage family and community support and input in schools. It has gotten me thinking about how I would define community generally, and what it would feel like if schools were places like I described in my post – where people can come with different backgrounds and influence and make a change together for all of the kids that attend. It also has me thinking about how I can do my part and help build the community that I described in schools.
John McKnight (the man speaking in the video above) is emeritus professor of Education and Social Policy and co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Careless Society: Community And Its Counterfeits and co-author of Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. His latest book that he co-authored with Peter Block was released in 2010, called The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. I bought and read this book this week, and LOVED it. In it, they describe how as Americans, we have shifted over the years from citizens to consumers, and what effects that has on us working and living in neighborhoods and communities. Recently in an interview, John defined the community action he calls for in his book as “an effort to remind people of what we all know – every community is built by mobilizing the capacities, skills and gifts of people and mobilizing them in groups of all kinds. This is the basic tool for all community building.”
They do a wonderful job of describing how communities commonly look now, as well as what their ideal, abundant community would look like. They describe three major properties that define an abundant community. One property is thinking in terms of gifts people bring to the community table, about individual capacities and skills. Another property they describe are the associations that are present in a competent community, those where individual capacities can get expressed. Lastly, they describe the property of hospitality, or the welcoming of strangers. These three properties are the basis of their book, and they talk about what a life looks like in a connected and confident community, as well as how we go about creating these types of places that we live in each day. I love this book – and would strongly encourage you to read it.
One of my favorite parts of the book is where they describe how to go about building the community culture. They explain that
“The question is how to create another way of life, so that we could say, ‘In this place, we have a strong culture where kin, friends, and neighbors surround us. We are a group of families who have a special kind of relationship. Together we raise our children, manage health, feel productive, and care for those on the margin.’
The culture of community is initiated by people who value each other’s gifts and are seriously related to each other. It takes time, because serious relationships are based upon trust, and trust grows from the experience of being together in ways that make a difference in our lives.”
It is with that in mind that I am going to be what they describe in the book as a community connector. They describe a community connector as a person that has the capacity to create associations and connections in our neighborhoods. It is a person with the skills and the intention of enhancing the spirit and culture of connecting around a given purpose.
I am planning on hosting a community meeting around inclusive practices and celebrating differences in our schools. I will be booking a room at one of the local park buildings, posting flyers and getting out the word about the meeting as soon as possible. The meeting will either be February 28th or March 2nd, 2011. Please check back to find out details – I will be posting them as soon as I have them.
I hope that the meeting will not be a one-time thing, but that after our meeting, the group will want to get together again, creating an association, to talk about all of the gifts and skills that we have to offer to one another and to our kids. I hope that it will be the start of a conversation where the hospitality of our neighborhoods and schools can be enhanced and create even more welcoming spaces for the children with and without disabilities to learn together.
Please come and be a part of the conversation…our community and our schools need you! Consider yourself invited!!