This has been an amazing couple of weeks for me. I am seeing transformation occur before my eyes and it is very encouraging. I feel very upbeat about possibilities here in Camden at the moment.
Rutgers-Camden just picked its new campus chancellor, Dr. Wendell Pritchett. He is a young, energetic, enthusiastic leader with a background in Law and Urban History with extensive experience in local politics, urban issues, housing, and the Obama campaign. I can't wait to see what he will bring to our campus! He also is the first African-American leader of this campus and probably the first leader of color here. I think it is vitally important that in a city where the population is nearly exclusively people of color, that the local university leadership be able to make connections. While white campus leaders can reach out, it is not the same. I think Dr. Pritchett is going to have a very big impact on Camden by demonstrating that RU-C is accessible and that we want to be a part of Camden - not apart from it.
I met this week with several students from Camden Community College who are eager to start using blogging as a tool to tell their stories, discuss issues, and get a community dialogue going. This is great, because it will give the students in Mr. Wake's class some more people to bounce off of and interact with online. I don't always have time to write every week, let alone every day and I know they are trying to be actively engaged. I list their blogs on my blogroll, but some of them have not been keeping current either. That's ok, because blogging is about your voice and what you want to say. Sometimes we don't have anything to say. But sometimes we have to stop and let things percolate. We get so busy, distracted, doing a million things, and we don't take the time to process what is going on around us. So I hope a few more blogger voices will help all of us get some inspiration and incentive to think!
Today on campus a student group organized a Community Organizing session to have some speakers talk about their experiences as organizers in Camden and elsewhere. It was a great conversation. I was one of the speakers because long ago I was an organizer and have made that topic part of my research careeer as a professor. I really believe in the power of the people to get done what they think needs doing. I believe that through empowerment, conversation, and ideas that transformation and change are possible - even in Camden.
One of the most interesting things that came out of our discussion today was that people are quick to complain about the corrupt politicians and that the politicians in this area don't listen to the people. One of the speakers commented that the voters are getting exactly the results that they have designed their system to produce. In other words, if we don't vote, if we are apathetic, then we will get politicians in office who will act accordingly, producing results we may not like, but results we should not be surprised by. If you want something different, then start doing something different. In Camden, that means more civic conversation, more voting, and holding elected officials ACCOUNTABLE.
It was on this last point that organizing can be a really effective tool. So if people in Camden got mobilized and voted in some people, you can't stop there. You have to follow people into office and hold them accountable to produce the results you want. You have to be engaged. You have to be in conversation not only with your neighbors, but with people you don't know, and with people you don't like. You can't just "fight" the power. You have to BE the power. This is what organizing is about. Several students in attendance are active in Camden organizations and pay attention to politics. But even they are demomoralized that nothing changes here! Well, you can't just sit on the sidelines. You have to get on the court. Blogging is one way to do that, because it starts, grows, and encourages a network of conversation.
Attending events and learning is another way of being on the court. We are having an event on the RU campus from 9-12 with a networking hour from 12-1 on April 22. The event is called "Fielding New Strategies in Community Development." We are inviting the professional staff of local community organizations and city staff to attend and hear about some new green ideas for community development as well as how to develop new partnerships both locally and externally. You are invited to come. Even if you can only make the lunchtime networking hour, do so! You may meet some interesting people and you may get into some good conversation! Just leave me a comment here to let me know you will attend. We need to get a sense of how many people to expect. The event will be at the Campus Center - which is in the center of campus! It is the student cafeteria and central hub. Come join the conversation!
I know there are people in Camden who care about this city, want to see improvement, know it can be a better place to live, and care about the residents - their neighbors. I do too. But we have to do more than complain. We have to talk to each other, demand better, and make it happen.