A cop, a pastor, a lawyer, a politician, and a geek, walk into a room…
No, it’s not the beginning of a joke. It is what happens when people who care about a community come together to engage in an interactive dialogue.
Events in the last few weeks have rocked the United States. More than ever, we have seen how important it is for everyone to do their part, to ensure that all neighborhoods are stable and safe for all residents. The starting point is creating safe spaces for conversations, questions, and respectfully listening to other people’s opinions and experiences.
Back in April, I was proud to be among a group of New Jerseyans, who did not wait for a crisis, in order to engage our fellow citizens in a conversation about our privileges as well as our civic responsibilities. The other Jew Jerseyans were: Asbury Park Officer Tyron McAllister, Rev. Sony Augustin, Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon, Irvington Council President Charnette Frederic.
All of us have drew from our different interests and paths in life, to illustrate how ordinary people can make a difference for others.
- Police officer Tyron McAllister, grew up in a tough environment, in similar circumstances as some of the millennials in the room. In fact, many of them recognized him from one of the many programs that he had run in the local school system. He started out working in the education system, before going into law enforcement. One of his main projects now is helping kids to learn how to de-escalate situations, before petty slights magnify into violence and loss of life.
- Although Pastor Sony Augustin, although his mission in life is of a spiritual nature, civic engagement is a way of life for him. As far back as the 80s, he helped organize marches against discrimination that Haitian-Americans were subjected to, at the heights of the AIDS epidemic. He is active with relief efforts in Haiti. He also regularly facilitates conversations between elected officials and residents in his community.
Christine Hanlon only recently became an elected official, as the County Clerk in Monmouth County. Yet, throughout her career as an attorney, she still was active in supporting the campaigns of many others who ran for office. She continues to be The ears of many of the young people perked up, upon learning that they could earn $200 per day as a poll worker.
- Charnette Frederic, with a career in scientific research, was also a parent concerned about her child’s education. She went from attending board of education meetings many years ago, to now serving as council president of her town. Now, whenever she has the chance, she likes to impress upon people how important it is not only to vote, but to also work with elected officials to mitigate chronic problems.
- As for me, interest in civic matters dates back to my teenage years. When a civics class was no longer offered, a teacher advised me to volunteer for an elected official. With no connections, I simply picked up the phone to ask for an opportunity, and went on to experience first-hand how the system works. Nowadays, as a business owner, one important affiliation I have is the NY Tech Meetup Leadership Circle. Through that avenue, I have the opportunity to interact with elected officials, and stress the importance of supporting technology education, particularly in underserved communities.
While everyone before the room had something to share, the best part was the interaction with the audience.
People expressed their opinions, asked questions, for which sometimes the answer came from someone else in the audience, not necessarily from the panel. For example, an audience member, whose child was being bullied, was able to connect to other attendees who worked in the school system.
At the end of the event, people had a chance to register to vote, and take home brochures about how county government functions. More importantly, the closing reception was an opportunity to continue the conversation.
It should never take a tragedy to bring a community together. While those conversations are important, people could be less receptive because the pain is too recent. With regular dialogue such as this, people have the opportunity to put their heads together, exchange information, facilitate introductions and more.
It should never take a tragedy to bring a community together. Dallas Police Chief Brown said it best, when he called for everyone to do their part, instead of looking to others for a solution.
A sustained rapport between the electorate and public servants benefits everyone. We need the confidence that when regular citizens speak, their representatives will care. By the same token, having a high level of engagement is the way to hold our politicians to account.