Pay attention to these lessons on community engagement from three local leaders of color - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 28, 2016 1:54 pm

Pay attention to these lessons on community engagement from three local leaders of color

Policymakers need to listen, be aware and not assume they know what's best.

Mo Manklang, Otis Hackney, Erica Atwood and Kellan White.

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

The secret to positive community relations is simple: Shut up.

“Silence is powerful,” said Kellan White, political director for Katie McGinty for U.S. Senate. White, along with the city’s former director of Black Male Engagement, Erica Atwood, and Chief Education Officer Otis Hackney, spoke at this month’s Impact Solutions meetup around the topic “leaders of color.”

Authentic relationships between policymakers and communities require meeting people where they are. It’s all about acknowledging a problem and allowing those affected by it tell you why that problem exists and what possible solutions they see, White said.

Plus, “the problem you’re trying to solve might not be a problem for the people experiencing it,” he said.

It’s often said that those closest to social problems are also closest to their solutions. But what does that actually looks like in practice?

For policies to be effective, governments should give the community in question the resources they need — “and then get the hell out of the way,” Atwood said. In other words, be saviors “with,” not saviors “of.”

And what should white people do to support people of color?

For one, be on their team, but let them speak for themselves: “It is having someone in the room who understands [your] problems but doesn’t try to explain for you,” Atwood said.

But on a more basic, everyday level, they must be conscious of their own implicit biases about which spaces people of color can inhabit. Hackney shared that even now, as a member of the mayor’s cabinet, he’ll still be asked by white people if he’s the security in City Hall. [Editor’s note: Sound familiar?]

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“You have to expose folks [to leaders of color],” he said. “Whatever the few lenses you have of people has to change.”

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