We all know the million dollar question: where do we go from here. While I do not possess the answers, I do have over a decade of community organizing experience and a desire to see our generation committed to social justice in a tangible, life-altering way. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it seeks to shift our focus to making justice-seeking a way of life. It is also meant to encourage us in those moments when we feel we are not doing anything for the cause of justice by broadening our understanding of what an activist’s life looks like.
1. Identify key social issues and stay informed
A long-term commitment to social justice is best sustained by a focused and clear understanding of social ills and how they intersect. While an overall ideological commitment to freedom and equality is critical, you will be most productive if you are driven by a personal passion on specific issues. Typically, the issues that anger you the most are the ones that you are called to address. Stay informed on those issues by reading, researching and attending events related to them. While you don’t have to pick just one issue, you should have clarity on what issue/s stir your anger the most and then devote yourself to learning more and being actively engaged on that front. You will soon see how this will change everything around you, including your spending and consumption habits, as you begin to put your money where your ideology is.
2. Build your leadership skills on an ongoing basis
We can no longer afford to wait for and expect charismatic national leaders to save the day. We are what we have been waiting for. This means that we must prepare and equip ourselves for what is in front of us and what is ahead. We can do this by committing ourselves to constant learning and knowledge exchange with others. Read books, watch documentaries, participate in webinars, attend workshops, travel to conferences – whatever it takes to build your leadership skills. Stay ready because the stakes are high – often a matter of life and death when you consider social issues like police brutality and urban violence.
3. Maintain connections to like-minded people
Relationships are everything. It is important to be in constant contact with people who share your worldview. This will reinforce to you that you are not alone. You should not operate on an isolated island of individualism. We all must remain connected to a greater community in order to do this work in a life-giving way. If not organically through school, work, church and/or friendships, this can be done by joining progressive organizations whose missions are in alignment with your goals. By joining coalitions, your voice will be strengthened through the power of collective efforts. This can also be a great opportunity to be a part of grassroots organizing, social protest and social media campaigns.
4. Remain open to opinions different than your own
You don’t want to have a one-sided understanding of issues, which is why it is also important to understand and be in dialogue with people whose opinions and experiences may be drastically different than your own. Start by learning about histories and cultures different than your own. Having conversations with people who don’t see the world the same way as you. Make national and international travel a priority, when possible, to ensure that you are not limiting your understanding of the world to one community or this country. Constantly challenge yourself to “see the bigger picture” and not have a narrow worldview.
5. Be mentored by your inspirations
It is absolutely critical that you don’t become discouraged to the point of losing hope. Mentors not only help build your leadership skills but they are often a source of motivation. It is an invaluable asset to have someone in your life that you can count on for information and inspiration. Mentors are also helpful in offering accountability and can provide great feedback when you are uncertain about the journey ahead. But keep in mind that mentorship does not have to be limited to the traditional standard of in-person contact. Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook allow you to have constant access to people you admire and seek to learn from. Follow them, pay attention to what they’re talking about, and take note of their journey.
6. Use your talents towards a greater cause
Are you an artist? A great organizer? A wordsmith? A musician? Whatever you are uniquely gifted at – think about how those talents and skill sets can be used towards a progressive end. At every step of the way in movement building, there will always be a need for different gifts. Someone will have to lead the meetings while another designs the flyers and another writes the speeches and another prepares the meals and another leads the marches and another prays and another trains. Take inventory of your skill sets and think about how and where they can best be used.
7. Protect you own health and wellness
In order to make sustained contributions in mobilization, you must care for your own holistic well-being. This relates to eating well, working out, getting health screenings, protecting your body, guarding your heart and calming your mind. When needed, get professional help. There are some things that only medicine and expert care can deal with. Additionally, examine your cultural diet. What music, movies, and images are you constantly consuming? It is not only important to support progressive artists but it is critical to our activist work to be mindful of what messages we are digesting on a regular basis.
8. Participate in electoral politics
Ultimately, policy and legislation will always be needed to ensure long-term social change. They help us usher the kind of world that we want to live in. This is why being registered to vote is non-negotiable. But it doesn’t stop there. Stay informed on local politics and have a comprehensive understanding of candidate platforms. Then, find ways in which you can help others exercise the power of the vote by getting registered and getting out to vote at the local, state and national levels.
9. Help in shaping our future leaders
Always remember that the mark of true leadership is to cultivate leadership in others. A commitment to justice must always prioritize youth, as they are the world leaders of tomorrow. It is important to begin educating young people about matters of justice through age appropriate information and resources. This can happen through mentorship, rites of passage programs, leadership classes, etc. but most importantly it happens at the most intimate level possible – in the home. Parents and other family members are best equipped to instill a passion for freedom and equality in their own children.
10. Stay hopeful and prayerful
In our modern times, faith language is often removed from progressive work to encourage inclusivity. This makes sense as it is harmful and unproductive to alienate those who do not subscribe to any particular religion or may worship differently. However, faith was instrumental in many of the world’s social protest movements, including the Civil Rights Movement. Whether or not you are a prayer warrior, consider the value of asking others who are prayerful to send prayers up on your behalf. If that does not interest you, consider other forms of meditation and affirmation to constantly renew your strength in the work. There are some forces (systemic ones for example) that are so overwhelming that they can easily lead to apathy. Never allow yourself to succumb to hopelessness. In order to convince others that “another world is possible,” we must first believe it ourselves.