Friends since 2007, Rachel and I together have ventured through the intensity and magic of Disney World, the coast-lines of Ghana, and questionable neighborhoods in New Orleans.
This last weekend, however, we had one of my most favorite adventures to date.
On Sunday, we sat in the pews of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. A center point for the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began to exhort the African-American community in non-violence and agape love, I couldn’t believe we were hearing the Gospel in such a rich, history-soaked place. Bah.
On my birthday, the day before, we trekked 50 miles to Selma, Alabama where the famous Selma-Montgomery march took place in 1965. Nonviolent demonstrators, led by King and a band of other strong, resilient, and visionaries, walked for four days to the State Capitol of Alabama to increase efforts for registration of all voters. To say this was my favorite birthday ever would not be an exaggeration; I have spent years reading about the Civil Rights Movement and yet, here I was!
The thing is, I’m reminded, is that truthfully, the struggle is real and the struggle continues. Not only for groups in our country, but for people around the world. People don’t have choice; people don’t have a voice in their own lives.
Just in the last week, as I’ve heard about failing school systems in the Deep South, I’ve also been re-connected with friends in Rwanda who are unable to feed their families. I’ve read statistics telling me that only 2% of land in the world is owned by women; and I’ve perused reports of violence and emigration coming from the Middle East. We live in a broken world. Then – and now.
I thought about these places, these movements, these efforts as I sipped coffee this morning. Researching empowerment methodologies, I couldn’t let go of the hot-button question in development work:
how do you literally empower another human?
The Civil Rights Movement would never had traction without the empowered individuals – and thus an empowered community – to stand up for what was right.
Nor can we live our lives un-empowered.
If we do, how can we expect to make the right choices for ourselves? How can we instill unity in our communities? How can we nurture our families? How can we know things like grace and forgiveness – essential components to the human experience?
Where we recognize injustice, we must do something.
It could be in our own lives, within our very own communities, or an issue that is happening a million miles away. That problem in Burundi? It’s our problem too. That issue in Syria? Yep, it matters in our lives. And obviously, the gun-violence down the street or even the tensions of racial misunderstanding – they affect us also. We are only unaffected if we choose to be. If we really believe in micro and macro-scale empowerment, these things, they must matter.
That’s what I think we have to do. It’s more than designing a project to fit projections, grant requirements, or assumptions perfectly. Instead, real empowerment is enabling a person to realize the capacity, value, and how to act upon it in their life. And goodness, it’s hard. It’s a lot more complex than handing out a worksheet and saying, “you mean something.” Instead, I think we have to start on a more fundamental level. You have to engage in a relationship with someone, learn about them – and their culture – and empower livelihood from a point of awareness and then to a point of action.
I love thinking about these things.
While researching this morning for The Women’s Bakery, I spent time learning about Acumen, a non-profit that invests in scale-able global projects. Acumen emphasizes the need for dignity of others as they make patient, wise, and practical investments in the skills of individuals around the world. On their website, they have their manifesto posted, and it’s a beautiful piece, highlighting the power behind doing what is right, and the humility to realize that though we might make mistakes, we still must try. The power of us even having the choice to help, well, that’s the beauty of empowerment – we can be empowered to empower. Boom.
It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices
unheard, and recognizing potential where others see
It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go
where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes
capital work for us, not control us.
It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world
as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be.
It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to
admit failure, and the courage to start again.
It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a
hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency,
breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption.
Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.
Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical
world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and
building a world based on dignity.