By Elisabeth Román
At times it seems that we live in a culture deeply engrossed in individualism—my rights, my happiness, my future… We barely know our neighbors or the people who share the pew with us during the Sunday Mass. We are often isolated in our little communities, while personal contact is being replaced by online social networks and phones. Despite this, at some point in our lives we all come into contact with or get involved with a civic or community organization promoting social issues that touch us personally or have an impact on the values we believe in.
They are usually non-profits, since they are neither a business nor a government entity, these civic organizations focus on community issues such as housing, healthcare, immigration, education, employment, helping the poor and sick, human rights, and politics, among an endless list of civic and social needs. They seek to bring about social change, increase participation for the groups they represent, empower communities, and influence public policy.
The early Christians understood that there was power in numbers and organized as a community, sharing resources and helping to meet the needs of their people. The Acts of the Apostles says that, “All the believers lived together and shared all their belongings. They would sell their property and all they had and distribute the proceeds to others according to their need. Each day they met together in the Temple area; they broke bread in their homes; shared their food with great simplicity of heart; they praised God and won the people’s favor. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
For decades the Hispanic community has been creating and participating in civic organizations with the goals of bringing about equality and fairness to the community, while still maintaining, as much as possible, our culture and identity. It is a way of uniting in our weaknesses while gaining power through numbers.
Among the most recognized and oldest civic organizations in the Hispanic community is the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Established in 1929 to empower members to create and develop opportunities where they were needed the most, LULAC has fought for full access to the political process and equal educational opportunity for all Hispanics. LULAC programs include civic participation, economic empowerment, civil rights, education, immigration, health, housing, public service, youth and young adults. LULAC also holds seminars and public symposiums on language and immigration issues.
Another civic powerhouse is the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which concentrates on advocacy activities at state and local levels through its state and local advocacy Initiatives. Consistent with its mission to improve opportunities and open doors for Hispanics, NCLR believes advocacy, civic engagement, and community-based support are essential parts of any community-empowerment strategy. NCLR’s programs include civic engagement, leadership development, and national campaigns. It is also working to strengthen community-based organizations in areas where there is a growing Latino population through a project called the Emerging Latino Communities Initiative.
Like LULAC and the NCLR, there are hundreds of organizations seeking to empower Latinos in the United States. In addition, the Catholic community, just as it did in the early days of Christianity also provides support and assistance to communities. Through the church, young people can participate in organizations that support the needs of their parish and diocese. They can provide assistance, leadership, resources, and convey the community’s needs to others, as well as collaborate with the bishops, priests, and community leaders. Don’t forget that before he entered politics, President Barack Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago.
Do you know a community organization that you can collaborate or work with? Do you feel called to do it? What value do you see in this?