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10 Reasons Why Our Community Organizing Program Persists 10 Years Later

January 30, 2019

This year, ANHD’s Center for Community Leadership (CCL) program celebrates training and supporting community organizing in New York City for over a decade.

ANHD established CCL in 2009, recognizing the New York City community organizing movement’s need for better infrastructure to attract, develop, and retain leaders who are dedicated to building grassroots power and tackling pressing neighborhood-based and citywide issues. Today, CCL stands as a career-long learning program with three tracks that engage participants regularly for 10 months and provide them with skills and supports related to social justice and successful grassroots organizing.

  • Our Organizing Apprenticeship provides new organizers without a current organizing job the opportunity to apprentice at a non-profit host site four days a week and learn in the classroom one day a week. The course is designed to help participants develop concrete organizing skills as well as the networks needed to succeed in the field. Apprentices have engaged and educated thousands of people, and they’ve contributed to significant campaigns that have resulted in concrete wins and made a difference in communities. 
  • Our Organizing Academy Introductory Course provides staff organizers who are relatively new to the field with an overview of community change and organizing. The course is designed to help participants better contextualize their work and learn best practices.
  • Our Organizing Academy Advanced Course provides experienced organizers with the space to read, reflect, and explore ways to deepen their analysis and practice of community organizing. We designed the course to help organizers elevate and deepen their institutional and individual opportunities for growth.

Post-graduation, all participants continue to benefit from ongoing educational and networking opportunities from CCL as well as a robust network of allies.

Since 2009, 227 individuals have gone through either our Apprenticeship program and/or Academy and 98 community organizations have been involved with this unique opportunity. CCL has had real impact on the ground and has stood the test of time; it is the longest-lasting training and support program of its kind. As such, we wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back on what it is that makes CCL unique.

 

Here are our 10 reasons why CCL has been around for 10 years:

ANHD started CCL because ANHD members came to us and said they were having a really hard time finding and retaining organizers; particularly, they were struggling to hire people from the communities where they were organizing who were directly impacted by issues the organizations were addressing. Because we believe deeply in the capacity of directly-impacted folks to lead organizing work, CCL intentionally outreaches to and engages participants from marginalized communities. Our participants are largely people of color, women, and LGBTQ folks from low-income communities; and they represent a broad cross-section of New York City, which only deepens our impact.

We started with the understanding that there is an ample supply of diverse local leaders in our communities who could be organizers. Therefore, we realized the problem wasn’t a lack of talent, but inadequate systems and structures to effectively recruit and retain organizers. CCL directly addresses that problem.

Too often marginalized people don’t become community change makers simply because they are not given an opportunity to do so. In order to help cultivate diverse local leadership, we knew that an accessible pipeline was required to guide people into the field of organizing. At CCL we created a structure which recognizes talent and legitimizes capacities that might otherwise be ignored.

We actively support participants to work with us in the way that best addresses their needs so they can sustainably support their skills and their communities. Sometimes that means allowing people to re-take a course, offering more time with us so they finish their training or modify a program component to meet their needs.

It’s extraordinarily time consuming for organizations to create and conduct a professional development training program for each organizer on staff. The CCL Academy augments organizations’ capacities to support individual staff at varying stages of their careers. Organizations no longer have to internally create a professional development curriculum for their staff when they can get many of those needs met by sending them to our Academy, a training program for folks already employed as organizers. Additionally, our Apprenticeship program provides additive staffing capacity to organizations with a more modest financial investment. Because CCL handles the entire recruitment process, a burden is taken off organizations as less time is required to hire and onboard a new staffer. If done well, the Apprenticeship can be used to build – not just fill – staff capacity.

The training and skills-building from the programs at CCL takes a huge burden off of supervisors and institutions. In addition to staffing support, CCL also offers support to supervisors so they are also learning practices to supervise staff and apprentices in ways that emphasize and cultivate learning, adaptability, and growth.

CCL is the only training and support program of its kind in New York City. Recognizing the importance for systems and structures needed to support community organizing, CCL has three unique training tracks, each specifically created so that organizations can hire and retain community organizers from local communities impacted by inequity. CCL works from the principle that strategy and vision (along with skills training and tools) are essential for building capacity and sustainability.

At CCL, we have designed our work to contribute to movement building. Our participants work on a cross-section of issues with an array of organizing models, not just housing campaigns and not just using a neighborhood-based approach. 

Community organizing is difficult and often undervalued and underappreciated work; these factors combined create a lot of turnover and burnout in the field. CCL addresses these challenges head-on by ensuring our participants understand the history and importance of this work and that they are appreciated and valued. We equip participants with the knowledge and long-term strategies needed to avoid burnout while creating spaces for them to feel seen, supported, and connected. As a result, CCL participants stay in the field, advancing the social justice movement.

By valuing the whole person, we create a space that people are happy to be in; it’s really as simple as that.

CCL training itself is high quality; all of our trainers, administrators, instructors, and guest speakers are experienced organizers who know how to win campaigns and build community power in real life conditions. The trainers bring materials and real life experiences, but they also reflect the demographics of the people in class and act as models and mentors. All CCL programs are set up so that participants practice the tools and strategies they learn about in the classroom as they learn them. Participants are also simultaneously reflecting on their day-to-day organizing experiences with their peers, while getting guidance and tools from the experienced trainers.

Unlike other training and support programs, CCL programs are 10-months long, which means they demand a long investment of time and effort. When people really put in that investment, the return they get is immense professionally and personally. The things they are able to do, the confidence they have in themselves, and the relationships they have with others is immeasurable.

None of our communities are the same and none of the community challenges we take on are simple or uncomplicated. CCL identifies best practices, and then creates the space for people to figure out their unique organizing process. We don’t say, “In a perfect world, this is how you organize.” We say, “In your real life, here are some tools and models you can use to organize.” CCL is durable because the training is grounded in real organizing practice, so we know there is no one right way to do the work. At CCL, participants come as they are and we help them build the skills and competencies they need to do their important work in the community, in a way that makes sense for their unique circumstances.

Not only is our program longer and more intense than other programs, it is also exclusively focused on organizing. And we adapt the training content and approaches as conditions on the ground change. We observe and take into account what people tell us, what we observe in the community, and what the movement needs and demands from us. The organizing work participants explore in CCL always come directly from them; we let the organizers pick the social movements they want to focus on, which means they get to tackle the things they are passionate about and what’s impacting them right now.

Many of our participants have told us, “I would not have been able to stay in this work had I not gained skills, built relationships, and had the support I gained from this program.” CCL fosters relationships between participants that provide them with a sense of relief, connection, support, enlivenment, and enrichment. When facing difficult, challenging issues, participants know they can recharge their batteries by outreaching to others in the network. The community we foster at CCL helps recommit participants to the work and helps them uncover and even rediscover, their passion for the work.

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