“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King Jr.
From increasing college and university tuition prices to the ongoing conflict halfway across the world, there is a lot to be concerned about.
They say ‘us college kids’ will enter “the real world” when we graduate, but what exactly does that entail? Sitting in my honors American Government class my freshmen year of college, I daydreamed of what that could possibly mean. Our professor suggested we tackle a social problem we found prevalent in society. Some of us chose to focus on broader ideas while others chose to tackle things close to home.
A few classmates and I found the issue of homelessness to be the most pressing, and perhaps the most fixable, social problem. We figured at the root of the solution was one single emotion: compassion. And while compassion helped the journey, it was far from being the sole solution. What we came to find out what just how rigorous, expensive, and downright difficult attempting to solve a societal issue was.
Our first approach was to tackle the stigma of homelessness in an attempt to raise awareness of the complexity of the issue. We figured if we could get others to understand and humanize these people we could persuade our government/community to provide more aid/attention to those in need. Although nice on paper, this idea proved difficult to execute.
In attempting to raise awareness, we faced a bit of a push back from the homeless themselves. Being homeless, for many, is a transient state. It is not the goal or aspiration and therefore is not a position that they wish to be publicized.
Months went by and we were continuously left empty handed. People knew the homeless existed, and many of them cared. However, no tangible progress was being made. It was during a lecture on the four spheres of impact (Government, Civic, Private, and Market) that I began to consider a different approach. We initially were so focused on getting results through the governmental sphere, but we soon realized that perhaps we’d have more impact in the civic sphere.
Through our journey I realized 4 key points:
1. Make a Community Impact
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” -MLK
Too often we become preoccupied with saving the world but in our attempt to be global, we often forget those right around the corner. We forget that change can be accomplished closer to home and have just as much impact. After all, your community is not just a unified body of individuals; it is a place, an environment, and it is ultimately what surrounds you.
Because the issue of homelessness is pressing in Detroit, my classmates and I wanted to have a more direct impact. We decided to raise money and create care packages with essential items (i.e. shampoo, conditioner, food, water, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, first aid kits, etc). Although the care packages would not solve the issue in its entirety, the items would help relieve the symptoms of homelessness and ultimately provide aid and comfort to those in need.
2. Reach Out to People Who Care
“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” -MLK
A university is one of the best places to find like minded individuals. Whether it be in class or halfway across the city, there are people who are willing to help. The challenge, especially in a large university, is finding these people and channeling their passions in the right direction. The first and perhaps the most daunting step, is reaching out. Once your cause/purpose is properly vocalized, people will want to join and help.
3. Create a New Club or Student Organization
“We cannot walk alone.” -MLK
When my classmates and I originally began our journey, it was just the five of us; paired together by common interest in a class of thirty or so. Although we were able to create and distribute fifty care packages on our own, we wanted to expand to help more people. We decided that the best way for us to further our efforts was to create a club. The process for doing so was tedious but not difficult.
The requirements vary from university to university but the general form is as follows:
- Find a group of interested students. Most Universities require a minimum of at least three people to create a group. To put that into perspective, that is about 1/100th of the people in line for Chick Fil-A, in other words, it is very doable and your group should strive to constantly increase its membership.
- Decide requirements for membership. Although some cases call for rigid rules, the more open and inclusive your group can be the better. That being said, a lack of structure can be detrimental and so it is important to analyze your specific goal and decide the best way to go about achieving it. In the case of our club, we originally wanted to have a very free ‘come as you please’ mentality. However, as our project became more tasking, we realized how important it was to have a more consistent group.
- Draft a constitution. Once you have a group, you can begin drafting your organization’s constitution, which should outline your basic goals and the route you will take to achieve these goals. This should outline the expectation of members clearly and create a judicial system for times of conflict.
- Establish a financial account. This step is optional (since some clubs do not rely heavily on money). If you do need to create an account for your club, make sure to talk with your dean of students or financial advisor to fully understand your account information.
There are many benefits to becoming an official student organization. Perhaps the most valuable asset is the resources you, as a club, now have access to. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these resources whether it be knowledge, contacts, monetary resources, etc. Once you know the exterior functions and purpose of your organization especially in relation to your specific community, you can focus on prolonging the lifespan of your club and the retention of its members.
4. Find Sustainability Through Leadership
“I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” -MLK
If you have strong, passionate leadership, there is nothing your group cannot achieve. Perhaps the most important determining factor of a leader is the ability to listen. There is an old African proverb that asserts you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you speak; and while this is a hard reality to follow, all leaders should strive to hear the needs and wants of those they are serving first and foremost. Strong leadership is contagious. If your leaders (executive board) are passionate and determined, these attributes will radiate and trickle down, creating a group with much higher retention and achievements.
Martin Luther King Jr. did not change the course of history in a single day. He did not wake up and magically become a hero; rather he took steps each and every day that ensured that his cause would be heard. He made small, impactful change in his community that overtime spread like wildfire. We can learn oh so very many things from Martin Luther King Jr. but perhaps the most important is love and the things we are able to achieve by actively displaying such a powerful emotion.
“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -MLK