“What are you prepared to do?”
One of my good friends, Raul Alvarez, asks this question again and again to the leadership classes he’s asked to frequent. He’s a first generation Mexican-American who inspired me to get involved in my community. We’ve watched this election unfold together as political junkies, but I’ve also seen the anguish it has created among friends. Raul and I trade jokes about starting a food truck business to sell tacos to try to find humor in these trying times, but the reality of “building a wall” isn’t that funny to either of us.
“What are you prepared to do?”
When I heard Raul’s go-to question a year ago, it was meant to get others to move off the dime. His goal is to motivate leaders that are right on the cusp of doing something great. His attitude of sharing this mindset might just give them the last nudge to take that brave next step. He challenged leaders to critically think of how they would participate and get involved. We can’t expect others to do the work. When we become increasingly aware of issues that need attention, I would argue that it falls to those who have the sheer willpower to stand up and pick up a hammer (or a sign).
In Grand Rapids, there is a culture of doing. We are expected to give back, sit on boards, spend time making things better than they were before. That is exactly why I moved to this area 5 years ago - to feel and be a part of a community that had established a powerful, interwoven network by harnessing everyone’s gifts.
To find out what my niche would be in the community, I would ask others what they were involved with so I could learn about all of the opportunities and organizations. Most times, new acquaintances were very humble and say they were not involved much. Then I would listen to them name off five or six different boards they sat on and I realized I was not in the minor leagues anymore. I would have to be all in or get left behind. This new reality was daunting and exciting. I’d found my people: the investors, the doers, the thinkers, the builders. Buckle up!
In the wake of the 2016 elections, I have a new appreciation for all the work that needs to be done. In the Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP), there are several issues that come up each time we meet as a group that need addressing: gerrymandering, term limits, racism, and a lack of leadership at the state level. This past weekend, our class graduated from MPLP, a program that selects 12 men and 12 women every year to go through a fascinating series of weekend sessions. We toured Detroit. We honed leadership and communication skills in a legislative simulation and we heard from those who have come through this Michigan State University program before us. The last 10 months have gone by like a blur. Now, we are the next generation to be trained to listen to diverse viewpoints, extend a hand across the aisle and act with character for the benefit of all.
During the aftermath of this campaign season, we have heard a few suggestions on what we might consider for next steps. Garrison Keillor suggests that we “Go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses” Michael Moore’s 5 Point Plan implores people to Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. In the days following the election, we don’t know everything yet; the dust is settling. Some have stopped shedding tears and wonder how Trump is now the president-elect. The conversations I’ve had with family and friends have been surrounding the acknowledgement of what needs to change and I am confident that we have it in us.
I’d like to propose a third option for all to consider on how you can make a difference. Get involved with local government. Before you tune out, please hear me out.
More than a decade ago, one of my managers gave me very good advice as a young professional. He suggested that I get involved in my community and take on a leadership opportunity. I began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. One of my passions is women and children and Habitat has a tremendously positive impact on women and children. I started off with fundraising, then marketing and in time I was accepted to the board of directors.
This opportunity taught me about how to understand the organization’s financial position, why the right leadership was so critical and why volunteers matter. This experience landed me my next board position. I kept acquiring new skills and it gave me the opportunity to learn what were the things that really mattered to me -- my passions rose to the surface. Because of this, I learned to say “no” to things that weren’t my passion, which allowed me to focus on participating in my local community. These experiences over the years have culminated into the next endeavor: a campaign to run against an incumbent for Kentwood City Commission in 2017.
So, what’s the point to all of this? It is that I believe we all need to find our passion in life and get out there and start doing it. There is a great grassroots group that started two years ago called Equity Drinks. It is making a difference and I believe that using existing best practices and applying them to new situations is a great way to get a jump start to a new idea. Next week, a small group of interested community members will meet to start exploring how we can apply this group’s work to our city. What have we got to lose? Nothing. And, we’ve got everything to gain.
This might be a good time to ask a question - “What are you prepared to do?”
As we prepare for whatever comes next as our country’s leadership changes, you have three choices in front of you - take a walk and relax, grab the bull by the horns or roll up our sleeves and attend a meeting in your own city hall. I know what I’m choosing and I ask that you join me in getting involved. Bring a friend, a sibling and let’s get to work by choosing to listen, to move forward with grace, love and kindness. Our communities might just be a better place because of our action.
Thank you to the leaders and new friends at MPLP. Thanks to my friend, Raul, for taking a stand and getting it done. I’m better person because of you all.