Miami Valley Community Organizing Conference

by Jonna Johnson

The Miami Valley Community Organizing Conference was held March 18 at the Central State University (CSU) Dayton Center. Sixty activists gathered from Dayton and the wider region to share experiences and reflect on ways of being more effective organizers. This was a collaboration of Community Solutions, CSU, and the Dayton Community Action Network that began a year ago with a brown bag lunch, followed by sessions on organizing at the Community Solutions fall 2016 conference.

Clay Dixon, former Dayton Mayor, full of wonderful observations, finished the conference day with a few of his signature observations, including that community organizing efforts often look similar to the conference -- the day begins with a full house, eager eyes, steady hands; as the day wears on a few people duck out, a fresh face joins in, our eyes are less sprightly and our hands are tired. And yet, we fight on.

Reece Freeman, who announced that she is moving to New Orleans for a prodigious chef gig, explained that evaluation, real-life data-based reflection, is habitually under-utilized and therefore becomes the key piece of the puzzle – why do we ignore this piece? – and she fervently advises that we do not ignore systematic and meaningful reflection of our efforts, throughout the whole process (beginning, middle, later that night, re-beginning, and so on).

Darryl Fairchild’s deep experience in organizing Dayton showed through, particularly when he was asked the questions everyone asks but rarely get answered with the incisive know-how that deep experience and honest reflection can offer.  Such as, how?  Sure, we should build relationships, but how?  Sure, we need to strategize, but how?  Sure, we want to take considered action, but how?  It takes a lot of gumption, intelligence (emotional and otherwise), and wherewithal to build, reflect upon, and share (accessibly) relevant experiences like his.  

Karil Sampson presented one of my favorite tools – the why game.  Young people are so right to ask why.  And we are doing them, and the planet, a disservice when we shut down that impulse.  Getting to the core, the root, the crux is key to most if not all of life’s wonders – including organizing efforts, healing historic wounds, moving forward down healthy and just paths.  Keep asking why!!!

Amaha Sellassie delved into my absolute favorite piece of this puzzle, my absolute favorite piece of life on earth --- Relationship.  Trust.  Connection.  I wonder, are we able to reframe the grand narrative, can we get to the place where we are building just relationships, making healthy connections, striving for trust as ends unto themselves?  It is my hope.  It keeps me going.  It is that possibility that keeps me fighting on.  

Naim Edwards began our day with a reflection on the immense sacrifice that it takes to be successful advocates, allies, accomplices for peace on earth.  I want to include a special note of appreciation for Naim’s sacrifice.  While it was not 381 agonizing days, the sacrifices that helped make the Montgomery Bus Boycott a success as Naim highlighted that morning, he was willing to ride a bus [wonder what seat he sat in?] from Detroit, put up with a Community Solutions gathering, sleep in unknown quarters, prepare a talk, facilitate four small group discussions, and more, without monetary compensation.  Hopefully he was able to gather other forms of compensation; I know I am enhanced for his sacrifices.  

Our all-volunteer force included:

Basim Blunt, WYSO Community Voices Program
Isaac DeLamatre, Antioch College Kitchens
Clay Dixon, Dayton Mayor 1987-1993 and Organizing Collaborative
Naim Edwards, Voices for Earth Justice in Detroit
Darryl Fairchild, Chaplain Services at Dayton Children’s Hospital
Reece Freeman, former Sinclair Community College Professor of Sociology
Michael Gaines, Central State University Dayton
Jonna Johnson, Community Solutions and former Highlander Center staff
Brian Keith, Educator and Organizer in Springfield, OH
Karil Sampson, Dayton Community Action Network
Amaha Sellassie, Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair and Dayton Human Relations Council
Eric Smith, Rural Action
Arlinda Vaughn, Dayton Community Action Network
Kat Walter, Yellow Springs Resilience Network

A follow up lunch is planned for May 17 and plans have begun for a second Miami Valley community organizing conference in 2018.