Working With Diverse Communities Within Your Neighborhood Association Boundaries
Building meaningful partnerships and projects with diverse communities may seem like a real challenge. It is!
Creating a strategy for diverse community involvement requires investment of time, energy and heart. It is important to remember that partnerships can’t be formed overnight. Engaging the full diversity of your community requires relationship building, flexibility, commitment, and the establishment of trust. However, building connections and working on projects with a broader range of people adds to your community’s collective reserve of skills, stronger strategies borne of multiple perspectives, and overall influence with decision makers.
Reflection & Learning – Cultural Competency
First, understand that civic engagement takes many different forms and that many culturally specific groups are already organizing within your community and city-wide. Instead of starting with the assumption that specific communities “just aren’t involved,” consider that specific communities might just not be involved with the groups you participate in.
Begin with learning about the culturally specific groups in your community. Doing this leg work will show that you care enough to take the time to do your own research and it will also give you important background information that will make it easier to begin building relationships. One place to begin learning about organizations serving the Portland area is the Coalition of Communities of Color.
Another place to learn about who might be serving your neighborhood is to look at census data broken down by race for your neighborhood. The Office of Neighborhood Involvement provides data separated by neighborhood boundaries showing racial and ethnic makeup of each neighborhood.
Another important step is to learn about your own culture through a process of self-assessment that includes examining your own history, assumptions, values, and beliefs. There are a number of organizations and resources to help with this process including the Center for Equity and Inclusion, Showing up for Racial Justice, and ForWARD.
Our one-to-one connections with each other are the building blocks for all community organizing activities. To collaborate with people from different cultural groups effectively, you will need to build sturdy, inquisitive, and authentic relationships. Positive relationships are the foundation that must be laid before lasting partnerships can be built.
When seeking to build new relationships across cultures consider these guidelines:
- Go to other community groups’ events, meeting, celebrations, etc.
- Respect others’ choices about whether or not to engage in communication with you. Honor their opinions about what is going on.
- Earn trust through a true willingness to understand the needs and assets of the community and through demonstrating that you want to work collaboratively and invest to add value.
- Learn about a community’s needs and assets, and seek opportunities to add value.
- Be prepared for a discussion of the past. Use this as an opportunity to develop an understanding from “the other’s” point of view, rather than getting defensive or impatient. Acknowledge historical events that have taken place. Be open to learning more about them. Honest acknowledgment of the mistreatment and oppression that have taken place on the basis of cultural difference is vital for effective communication.
Once you have built trust, the next step in reaching different communities inside your community is to find common ground. Getting people involved in your campaign could be a matter of finding issues that are important for your campaign as well as for the group you wish to get involved.
An example of finding common ground could be that your neighborhood is experiencing a rash of car thefts and vandalism. This is an issue that will impact every resident in your neighborhood, not just a sub-group within the community. Using this idea as a point of a shared interest could be to create a crime watch group, a system to alarm neighbors during a crime, or a neighborhood watch group.
Shared leadership is also an integral piece of intercultural organizing. Creating an equitable campaign on an issue may look different within different communities. Building ally-ship may mean that your group works with another group from the targeted community to develop strategies for sharing the same message in culturally appropriate ways. You might also work with opinion leaders within diverse communities who could help build a bridge and encourage collaboration.
Diversity exists within communities, so in defining your audience, be as specific as possible.
For example, “the Vietnamese American community in South Tabor” is diverse in terms of class and background but also diverse in languages spoken and interests. It may benefit your outreach if it can be as specific as, for instance, outreach to Vietnamese American business owners in South Tabor.
Once you have a specific group you would like to work with, find out how that community receives information. Do people from that community use social media? Do they get information from their place of worship or a family market? Do people look to community leaders’ word of mouth for reliable information?
Again, this is a starting point for building shared work with diverse communities within your community. You may not experience an immediate increase in diversity at neighborhood meetings, however, as you build relationships, you will know who to reach out to when making decisions about where to focus your Board’s energy in support livability, land use and safety in your neighborhood. It is going to take a lot of strategic work and heart, but you are on your way!
I leave you with a few inspiring words.
“Culture is the life support system of a community. If a community’s culture is respected and nurtured, the community’s power will grow.”- on Sharing Culture, The Peoples’ Institute from Survival and Beyond
By: Mireaya Medina
Community Outreach Coordinator, SE Uplift
(503) 232-0010 ext. 314