Staying Relevant While Staying the Course
By Wendi Siebold, M.A., M.P.H.
President, Strategic Prevention Solutions
A message to community prevention practitioners who may be feeling overwhelmed…
For many of us who work to prevent abuse and build community wellness, the 2016 presidential election created a wave of emotion and tactile fear among the people with whom we engage to do our daily prevention activities. People are expressing fear and many question their personal safety and civil rights. I have had multiple friends of color tell me stories of racist epithets being yelled at them by strangers driving by and my LGBT friends are literally looking over their shoulder and scared to walk down the street of a mostly white, straight, politically conservative town. We need to create and ensure safe space for people. We need to engage in conversations and stand up to hurtful behaviors. For many of us, the recent context of our communities feels overwhelming. We have made so much progress…and yet.
And yet…most of us are already doing anti-oppression work and equity work. Community and societal priorities and the need for ensuring our work is connected to community concerns is ever-present. In fact, this is one of the biggest challenges preventionists always have faced: keeping our work relevant to the current context of the community, while maintaining focus on our longer-term goals. Specifically, avoiding the staff burnout that happens when we stretch ourselves too thin and attempt to respond to everything and everyone. Our work connects to everything and everyone…or does it? How does it? We must be responsive to community needs and context while also staying focused on the anti-oppression work in which we have already been planning and implementing.
So how do we do this?
In California, I had the opportunity to work with three agencies to map out how recent events connect to their current prevention messaging. Below are some steps that might also help you keep things focused and relevant, and avoid feeling quite so overwhelmed:
Connect “new” community priorities or concerns to your current prevention messaging
In other words, identify what narrative has changed and compare it to what you are doing to stay comprehensive. Equity and anti-oppression work takes many forms and many of us are already doing this work. To many of us, the 2016 presidential election results are not surprising and they just emphasize the immediate need to work harder. However, there is new national conversation about issues that we may or may not already be addressing. This is the perfect time to clarify what prevention messages you are reinforcing across your prevention activities to create a more comprehensive program that aligns with your community-specific conversations.
First, list out the prevention messages you are currently reinforcing across more than two activities or strategies you implement. This image is an example of how Peace Over Violence in Los Angeles mapped out their messages for each of their four focus populations.
Second, list the priorities that are being expressed after the election and other recent events. What are people at your agency, your clients, your family and friends, and your community partners saying is important? What is the current community discourse? What are people saying needs to be done? What do you think needs to be prioritized?
Third, now connect a few of the priorities you listed in the first step to your current prevention messaging. Where is the overlap? How does your current programming support this “new” priority? Give an example of how a specific prevention activity or strategy encompasses this “new” priority. Get as concrete as possible. Pay attention to which priorities feel hard to connect. Are there any? Remember, you can do a lot, but community wellness requires the whole community.
Practice the connections and be able to explain them to your organizational leadership
A number of our coworkers attended the Race Forward national training in Atlanta. The 2016 presidential election reinvigorated conversations and demands for racial justice work. Your agency leadership may have ideas or priorities that they want staff to incorporate into their work. They may even ask you to stop or delay current program work and shift focus to a new priority issue that has arisen after recent national and community events. Use the first list you created to explain to your leadership (even your boss) how the priorities that they are now emphasizing connect to your existing work. People in prevention already think in intersectional and equity- enhancing ways. Help your organizational leadership connect what they are learning to what you are doing. Learn from them and the messaging they are infusing into your organization. Is your Executive Director now asking for all of your staff meetings and program work to connect to racial justice? Sounds good. How does racial justice already fit into your existing prevention messaging? What programs already align with racial justice? Be able to answer how your current prevention messaging does or does not address current priorities and how can it be enhanced? Remember to also be realistic and communicate any limits to your existing resources. What are the benefits and drawbacks to aligning your programmatic focus? Chances are that your prevention messaging already aligns to current issues, so help leadership see those connections and learn to communicate this to all of your stakeholders.
Leverage partners and help them see connections to your work
No one agency (and certainly no one person or even team within one agency) can address all of the pressing needs of a community, and this is exactly when your prevention partnerships become so very important. For example, in one county in California, a local Sheriff recently expressed disappointment that Proposition 57 passed and now ‘nonviolent criminals will be released back into the community.’ There is no doubt that this will impact the life of this Sherriff. At the same time, we in prevention know that the decriminalization of crimes that are rooted in violence victimization, racism and poverty, among other things, is a key step to protecting people’s ability to build a healthy, safe life. So, how can the local domestic violence agency’s prevention staff communicate to the Sherriff that they are working toward the same outcome? Safety for people in their community. Today we practiced ways that recent legislation ties into current prevention messaging. Instead of avoiding hard confrontations or communications with community partners, find a way to talk about your programming so that it is clear how your efforts directly connect to the recent events and priorities being emphasized.
Stay comprehensive, folks, and take care of yourselves.
This work is hard, but we are strong.
Thank you to my California prevention colleagues and their courage to continue the work and have hard conversations this week. These words are my own, but their insights and experiences informed this writing and with their permission, I am sharing their names.
Melodie Kruspodin, Peace Over Violence, Los Angeles, CA; Ana Santamaria, Peace Over Violence, Los Angeles, CA; Micah Zimmermaker, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Krista Niemczyk, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Jessica Merrill, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence; Audrey Davis, Alliance for Community Transformations, Mariposa, CA; Caroline Fruth, Alliance for Community Transformations, Mariposa, CA; Patricia Reyes, Consultant and Strategic Prevention Solutions, CA