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When I first entered my undergrad, I was completely set on studying psychology and devoting my career to helping individuals overcome personal obstacles. While that is still an admirable career, I quickly came to realize that, while my purpose in life is to help people, there are bigger demons to destroy.
There are communities struggling with the same issues, victims to the institutionalized racism and the oppression of minorities that grows deeper into the grounds with every action that ignores their voices. If I wanted to help individuals overcome obstacles, yes, I could personally support each and every person, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to use my resources and tools, most of all, my education and passion to learn, to bring justice and provide equal rights for those who are being ignored.
In order for someone to do that effectively, he/she would have to have a wholesome understanding of every angle of community engagement, every answer to, “How can someone engage with the community and create positive change?” This semester, I dove deep into one form, “creative engagement.” I’m sitting here today trying to come up with artistic embodiments of community and pride and cultural diversity. Even though I’m nowhere near the bottom of the pool, it has already changed my life and view of the world.
I remember sitting in the classroom confused as to what creative engagement even meant; it was the first time I had been introduced to creatively engaging with the community as a whole form of community engagement in itself.
Our first event took place at the Esperanza Neighborhood Charrette. It was an area I was familiar with through my civic engagement program at my college. I knew what the topics would be, I knew what the set-up would seem like, and I thought I knew the vibe and aura of this coming together of the community.
It was my first time being given a bulky, expensive camera. I was to take photographs of the community members engaging in the charrette, which held three tables with different topics of concern for the Esperanza neighborhood.
However, what caught my lens the most was the concentration in the faces of members as they thought about all the options presented to them and gave their input on colorful, vibrant sticky notes and proudly stuck them to the wall. Families gathered around the table concerning the future mural to represent the community as they wrote down what they thought should be included. It was then that I realized, through all my community engagement efforts, I had never paid attention to others who were also taking their time to effectively create change in their neighborhoods. I always paid attention to the task given to me, what was in front of me, the people I spoke with. I thought that my only role in creating change was to help. I thought that was what it meant to create change.