There is a message that I have long wanted to get out to people. Anyone that would listen. So, if you are reading this and it sounds familiar, I hope it will have an impact in your life and maybe bring a different perspective on how you view leaders and leadership.
I have been a Community Organizer for twenty-six years. It doesn’t make a difference what other titles I’ve had over the years, at my core, I am an organizer. This was a career path that I chose. Yes, I chose it. It certainly wasn’t for the money, anyone who has worked in the non-profit sector knows this is not work that will get you rich. But let me say my compensation has come in ways that I never would have thought could enrich and fulfill my life. But that’s another story for another time.
A Community Organizer doesn’t do this work to lift themselves up, they do the work to lift up others. I am charged with building relationships and trust with community people. I listen to what concerns them and work with them to develop the best strategy to win on the issues. I work with groups of people and I develop leaders, not a leader. Yes, I am a leader, but not THE leader. We all have our own voice, and it is my job to encourage others to use their individual voice around a common issue.
All of this brings me to why I am writing this. Over the years, what has frustrated me most, are the people who want me to fix their problem. First let me say, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, and many others before us, were leaders, that’s true. But what you may not know is there were so many unsung leaders who worked alongside them; names never to be uttered or recognized. Some of the best leaders are okay with being in the background, but their ideas and voices are equally respected in their groups. That was true then and it stands true now.
I remember one time being in a store. I had a man walk up to me, his name was David, he asked, “When are you going to clean up the problems in my neighborhood?” It threw me off, I didn’t expect to hear that question. Recuperating from the shock of the question, I looked at him and asked, “When are you going to clean up your own neighborhood? My job is not to do it for you, you need to get involved and do it for yourself and with others in your neighborhood.” David’s neighborhood had become plagued with drugs, drug houses and gunfire. Neighbors were concerned and eventually did come to Iowa-CCI for help and David came to the meetings, too; he got involved.
People that think like David frustrates me. Why do we think someone else should fix our problems? It’s time to stop waiting on others to speak for us. It’s time to stop giving a few people who have made themselves visible in the community, the powerful illusion of representing a community who was never asked what they desired. If you want representation, represent yourself, you have a voice. If you want change and you want to know where your leaders are, take a moment, look in the mirror and your leader will be staring right back at you. Are you waiting for a leader or are YOU a leader? What change can you make starting today?
In the current times we are living in, you can no longer choose to wait for your leaders, YOU MUST LEAD.
Sharon Zanders-Ackiss is the Special Projects Director for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI). Sharon is married and has two children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild. Sharon loves cooking, reading and writing poetry in her spare time. Sharon believes that we all should leave our carbon prints for the good of mankind and our future.