Community Organizer’s Primary Contribution to Urban Development

by Dr.  Robert C. Linthicum
The role of a professional organizer is profoundly different than that of a pastor or of the people participating in the community organization. The role of the people is to lead the organization; it is their organization – not the organizer’s.

The people are to lead; their responsibility is to both share and to encourage each other’s pain and anger over the injustice they have experienced, to build relationships of trust and mutual support in the organizing effort with each other, to identify the issues around which they will organize and how they will “cut” those issues, to identify the “targets” who have the legal, logistic or moral capacity to resolve those issues, to plan together the “campaign” they will wage together to enable the “target” to resolve the issue, and to provide the primary leadership to the community organization.

The role of the pastor in community organizing is twofold: (1) to be one of the “people” and thus participate in the organization in the ways delineated for the people; (2) to personalize and stand behind the organizing effort in his/her congregation; to help discern, call forth and build congregational leadership in the organizing effort; and to be a public spokesperson for that organizing effort.

The role of the organizer, therefore, is not to lead nor to personalize the organizing effort. In fact, the organizer should be very much in the background in any house meeting, research action or action (that’s the people’s responsibility, not the organizer’s responsibility).

The role of the organizer is to conduct individual meetings in order to build and maintain relationships, not only with those involved in the organizing effort, but also leaders in the community and those who could potentially become involved in the community organization.

The organizer is to discern, call forth and train leadership. He/she is to provide guidance for the organizing effort both within the community organization and within each of the congregations that are members of the organization.

Finally, the job of the organizer is to conduct training for leadership development; such training is both formal and informal, is done in each congregation as leadership skills of the laity are honed throughout the life and ministry of that church (not just in the organizing effort), and is done in the community organization and within that organizing network (for example, IAF conducts ten-day trainings four times a year in different regions of the country, with usually 150-200 leaders from the community organizations in that region in attendance).

The informal training is as important as the formal training; for example, when I was learning community organizing theory and practice while pastoring a church in Chicago in the 1970s, the organizer and I met over coffee after every single meeting I led – from committee and task force meetings to actions with between 1,000 and 5,000 in attendance – to evaluate what occurred and to hone my skills. And that organizer held similar meetings after each action or meeting with every other leader in that community organization.
(Taken from: Response by Dr. Robert Linthicum To Questions Posed by Stephanie Scott. The Campolo School for Social Change, Eastern University, Philadelphia, PA.)


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