A community is a group of people brought together by location, occupation, beliefs, interests, and agreements (some transparent, some nontransparent). Within each community, there exists a multitude of identities which are representative of the numerous paths and experiences that can bring people together.
Building community is as old as humanity. One of its primary purposes is to provide individual safety and collective survival. As we continue to build community and alliances across experiences I am especially heavy with the depressingly growing rate of violence and murder of trans, gender non-conforming and queer lives. And our communities have always existed.
How a community, organization or group engages in internal conflict and engages with difference will determine its ability to address the needs and responsibilities of the community. Without defining and figuring out these dynamics, building larger communities is not possible because accountability is not identified.
Conflict is normal. I say this as someone who has been a self-identified artist since the age of 4 (I am even in this moment having flashbacks of writing class critiques -- conflict is key to transformation). People can’t be expected to agree on everything, all of the time. Learning how to deal with conflict—rather than avoiding it—is crucial. When conflict is mishandled or ignored, it can build mistrust and resentment which can damage the entire community.
Emotional awareness is key to resolving any conflict. Which makes building the emotional awareness of your community, based on your shared values, a responsibility for maintaining your community. Whether you build community inside a church choir, ballroom House, community organization, or as an elected official, conflict is an opportunity to clarify expectations on shared values and their implementation. This allows for a chance to identify root causes that led to assumptions which generate conflict.
Emotional awareness is also key to navigating difference across individuals internally. Part of what binds communities together so closely is the shared appreciation for the beauty in how so many different paths can lead to the same place. The patience used in practicing emotional awareness are chances to share our experiences on race, gender identity, gender expression, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, class, and location/migration. Understating what brings people together is an important part of celebrating and struggling across difference.
Besides all of the moments in history that inspire me the most begin that way -- communities change lives. This morning I am reminded of the life and work of Candice Boyce, a NYC leader and force for change. In life, we may not have always agreed but I was definitely transformed by our shared unwavering commitment to be in close community. She shared her story with me back in 2000, when I was on the board member for African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change (AALUSC) formerly Salsa Souls Sisters Third World Wimmin Inc. In appreciation of her and all the people whose lives have been touched by AALUSC take a closer look at how Candice found her way downtown to a meeting started by the Rev. Delores Jackson on the power of building community. Check it out HERE.
1) What brought you here to this community?
2) How do you deal with disagreement, both personally and as a community?
3) Does your way of dealing with conflict reflect the understood, stated, or expected values? If not why?
4) How do you envision your community within a global context?