The dictionary definition of community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” I like to think of community as a social group with commonalities such as norms, religion, values, customs or identity — basically, you all want the same thing for yourselves. The term “community mobilization” is about bringing community together to build collective power around issues that lead to action!
For example, last summer we saw a movement that has been years in the making spread all the world. Black Lives Matter showed us that community mobilization can be done during a pandemic. Georgia advocates organized on levels that have never been done to mobilize communities to vote. Organizations in Chicago like Brave Space Alliance found innovative ways to continue servicing the needs of their community, such as their food bank donations.
Still, in a year of increased isolation and increased need for advocacy, many of us have been left trying to find new and effective ways to engage with our communities. Community engagement is only successful when we break down the barriers that keep many out of the process. Though we have not always been able to be in the same physical room, we were able to engage community virtually. Virtual technology gave many of us the ability to stay in contact with advocates from the comfort of their homes through educational workshops, talk backs, panel discussions, trainings, and Facebook lives.
These virtual changes reaffirmed something we already knew: advocacy does not require you to travel to DC or Springfield to be effective. People have been mobilizing for years by writing letters to their elected officials, developing a community phone bank through their church group or condo building, sending postcards from your knitting group, and by starting food and coat drives by emailing friends and neighbors.
In keeping with those lessons learned, AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) will be hosting a week of mobilization around the state policy issues we’ve been advancing during Virtual Advocacy Week, Monday, April 19 to Friday, April 23! This year we are giving advocates five days to #ActivatePowerIL! During this week, advocates will be able to engage with specific themes that represent some of the policy priorities that AFC is working on, such as Health Care Access, Racial Equity, Getting to Zero Illinois (GTZ-IL), Queer Liberation with Pride Action Tank and finally, Community. Advocates will also receive guidance through our tool kits to prepare you to email, tweet and make important phone calls with your elected officials. More importantly though, through the Advocacy Center, advocates will be able to take action anytime during this week.
It’s more important now than ever to get involved in the process of advocacy. One of my favorite sayings is, “if you are not at the table then YOU are on the menu!” This means it’s up to you to keep the momentum going. The issues that many of us have been fighting for have not gone away because of COVID. In fact, many of those issues have been exacerbated as communities contend with multiple crises at once.
I’m challenging you all to get involved any way you can. Mobilize in your community around the issues that are important to you. Discover the power that we all have inside us and act. I can’t wait to be in a room with all the amazing advocates, community partners and concerned community members, but it doesn’t mean that we have to let COVID stop us from being a part of the movement. It’s great to change your profile picture on Trans Visibility Day, National Black HIV Awareness Day or World AIDS Day, but it’s even more important that we understand that we can do the work every day. Let us continue to mobilize and demand that we are all worthy of living a more equitable society. Remember that meaningful involvement of people living with HIV is important in this work: “Nothing about us without us!” So, if you are ready to #ActivatePowerIL and join in the movement to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, register today for Virtual Advocacy Week!!
Coleman Goode is originally from Texas where he studied Music Education at Texas Tech University before moving to Illinois in 2002. Prior to joining AFC, Coleman was the Chief of Staff for Illinois State Representative Greg Harris. He brings eight years of policy work experience and has developed a passion for helping marginalized communities, including but not limited to communities of color, LGBTQ+, sex workers and homeless youth, achieve full health equity. Coleman also brings to his work the shared experience of homelessness, living with mental illness and recovery from substance abuse. He has been living with HIV since 2006 and seeks to build institutions that not only recognize Black humanity but maximize the individual and collective liberties of Black people. One quote that drives Coleman in his community work is the idea that “Until all of us are free none of us are!!”