Audre Lorde has a litany for survival. ‘For those standing upon the constant edge of decisions crucial and alone…When the sun rises we are afraid it will not remain. When the sun sets we are afraid it might not rise in the morning…when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed. But when we are silent we are still afraid. So it’s better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.’
So I speak on behalf of communities, of many people within these communities, saying that when we speak of community engaged work, really it’s researcher driven work using tools or strategies that are not of the community but what dominant perspectives suggest ought to be.
Often times the solutions for healing, whatever solutions you want are nestled within communities, yet for issues related to power, expertise, authority, communities might be the last one at the table. And solutions may already be designed for them and never with them or even through them leading the way. My children teach me everyday why anything including conversations about them should begin with them.
In the book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. M Scott Peck defines ‘true community as the coming together of a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to rejoice together, mourn together, and to delight in each other while making the conditions of others our own.’
I think if we truly want to be in service of the community, if we really want to be engaged in work that propels them, then we must first get up from our pedestals and meet them where they are, using language and tools that makes sense, those co-created together even. And if we fail, know that you wouldn’t have failed the community. Not when they came along with you for the journey. Moved through fear with you, to learn new ideas, learn new ways of seeing the world. To rejoice and mourn with you too. And together we can begin again past the failures until we reach the goals and love for our beloved community. Doing so together. Dominant research paradigms continues to make us choose sameness instead of diversity, as if all communities are alike. I think by finding out what connects us, revel too in our differences, all of this together brings us closer to meaningful community, one where true community engaged research can flourish.