Week Five: Giving Back to Our Community--The Experience of Place

On Friday, July 2nd, myself and other CHCI interns participated in Habitat for Humanity and helped to construct low-income housing which would provide individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford a mortgage permanent places to live. Having this asset in the families of less fortunate Northeast DC residents could provide a financial foundation for future economic growth which could eventually help to elevate the community as a whole. The experience of building a house is a useful metaphor and personifies the value of community engagement in a physically tangible way. Environmental scholars and municipal planners have often referred to the concept of place in driving community solidarity. This concept applies to both the natural and built environments. In essence, place means a personal connection with the physical location a person or community inhabits. A sense of place starts to give a community, town, city, or district, distinct characteristics which define it as compared to other places and serves as a starting point for mobilizing community action. While this concept may seem difficult grasp, it is already apparent in many instances. South Central and East Los Angeles have distinct experiences of place which are founded in the racial backgrounds of their respective communities. A strong sense of place and community identity led Concerned Citizens of South Central--a grassroots minority-led organization--to effectively halt the construction of the LANCER Incinerator--a refuse disposal facility which would have had major health and environmental impacts on South Central LA. The land acquired for the project eventually became a community farm. As young Latino leaders, we can learn from Concerned Citizens in several ways--though we do not have to wait for plans for an environmentally hazardous incinerator to be drawn to do so. First, civic involvement is necessary for individuals to develop a sense of place which binds them to their communities. Building a house, for example, is a great way to link individuals to their built environments and, in turn, their communities. Community service projects, however small, can help to develop solidarity among members of a community--which in turn will lead to greater civic engagement and a sense of a common interest in the future growth and prosperity of the whole. Second, mobilizing community action for political, social, or economic progress is strongly aided by a shared sense of place. People will be more likely to stand up for a community or place which they feel connected to in a personal way. Overall, try not to get caught in the trap of cynicism and the lure of personal gain. As young Latino leaders, the future well being of our communities depends on us and we cannot allow ourselves to be uprooted from the places of our origin by the draws of riches or power. Essentially--stay true to your roots--give back--and you can help the place that you came from grow and flourish.