- a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
- a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
I will probably remember for the rest of my life the sunny spring day I learned that I would be the senior RA in the same building where I lived as a freshman. After an hour and a half of class in which I could hardly concentrate for the butterflies in my stomach, I raced to my campus mailbox and withdrew the fateful letter. I couldn’t open it alone. I waited for one of my best friends to come to the mail center and retrieve her own letter, and, with shaking hands, we opened them together. We both got the job, and we hugged each other with joy, laughing and close to tears (at least on my part). I don’t think I realized how much I cared about the idea of community and being part of creating a feeling of fellowship and belonging for other people and for myself until I experienced the strength of my emotions on that day. When I learned about the YAV program and its core tenet of intentional Christian community, I knew that it was an opportunity I wanted to explore. As I discerned which city or country might be the right fit for me, I payed attention to the ways each placement offered the aspect of community. And community was ultimately what drew me to D.C. – specifically the opportunities to engage in community organizing and to live in a house with other YAVs. Now that I have settled into the rhythm of this year, I am so glad that I chose to focus on community.
Living in intentional community can be endlessly fulfilling, especially when I’m laughing until I can’t breathe with my housemates, sharing a difficult story and knowing that I’m heard and valued, or listening to someone else’s story and understanding that I have their trust. It also stretches me every day, as I’m challenged to get creative about finding time and space to be alone (necessary for me, as an introvert), to be vulnerable about my emotions and struggles, and when disagreements inevitably arise. The month of November has been packed full of community time. We’ve spent hours writing and discussing our YAV house covenant, an important part of the intentionality behind our community. We went on retreat to Camp Hanover, near Richmond, where we spent time reflecting on how to strengthen our community and sustain it through times of joy and despair. We survived a road trip together (a true test of community strength). And this past weekend we spent three days at a community organizing training with Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN). At the training I learned how to tell my own story, how to identify my own motivations, how to conduct relational meetings and identify potential leaders, and so much more. The thread connecting it all together, though, was the assertion of the power of organized communities to influence outcomes.
As YAVs, we are inherently transient. Embedded into communities for a delineated period of time, we can choose to leave as soon as our year is done. Our self-interest is not wrapped up in the interests of the place where we are living in the same way as those who call this city home. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t lend ourselves to the causes that deeply affect DC residents through community organizing efforts. Through the lens of power supplied by IAF and WIN, influence comes from organized people and organized money, and this perspective shows that YAVs can have an important role as allies to this community. While we are here, we can lend our voices, our energy, and our physical presence to the organizations already doing the work. We have access to networks of people that may not be reached by other organizers, and we can contribute by bringing those people to see the importance of organizing themselves to achieve their interests and those of their neighbors. After this weekend, I see this as a crucial aspect of my personal commitment to active allyship, and I will continue to explore it wherever I end up next. Because as much as creating a feeling of fellowship requires laughter and love, it equally requires a commitment to struggling together to gain power so that all members of a community can live fully and enjoy all the freedoms afforded to them as human beings.
I’ll leave you with this clip from Dr. King on the subject of love and power (presented as part of this weekend’s lesson on power), and as we enter this season of community and love, I hope that you consider this perspective and how you might contribute to causes by building power through organized money (donations!) and organized people (join in on community organizing efforts in your area!).