Reclaiming Community Power
By Anna Hyunah Byon
I’m re-centering community in my work.
I was in grad school when I first witnessed the power that people reclaim and share when they care about their communities. I worked on a youth initiative that promoted and supported youth organizing to create policy changes in schools. My role was intentionally to be in the background.
I wasn’t one of the youth, but was instead a policy degree candidate with no organizing experience, hired to work on the project’s infrastructure, like an evaluation framework – stuff that related to the efforts of our youth organizers largely because grant funders often require such things. From my place on the sidelines (physically, in the campus gym we rented for the annual convening), situated somewhere between the young people and the Adults Who Make The Rules (I was 23 and hardly felt like a “decision maker”), what our youth organizers did seemed radical, and radically loving, to me.
I arrived at SEARAC for my first stint here in 2018, after a couple years of doing what I thought I was supposed to do with a policy degree, namely to help people who already held lots of power make decisions for people with a whole lot less of it. I staffed my first Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT) unaware of how greatly I would be moved by our cohort of advocates. As I helped my small group prepare for a full day of lobbying their elected officials in the US Congress, I witnessed again how people can reclaim their collective power when they are in community with each other.
I may never have been an organizer, and it isn’t now and probably won’t be a role that I fill, but I learned that even as a policy person, I could work according to my values by supporting SEARAC’s community members to reclaim their power.
I finally felt like I was a part of that too, despite being at LAT as a policy specialist. It was through the act of putting my skills to use in service of community building and self-advocacy that I began to see the possibilities for myself and my labor to also be rooted in community. I may never have been an organizer, and it isn’t now and probably won’t be a role that I fill, but I learned that even as a policy person, I could work according to my values by supporting SEARAC’s community members to reclaim their power.
I had a great experience as SEARAC’s education policy manager, but I left early in 2021 to develop my skills further in new areas. It didn’t take long for me to miss operating in that intersection of the policy and political work that I’m trained at with the intentional spaces SEARAC fosters to support community power. I applied for a job here for the second time, and now I’m thrilled to return as the national policy director – just as SEARAC is preparing for the return of our in-person LAT this July. I’ve learned a lot since my first LAT. I know more about the federal policy process, gained more experience from doing these kinds of jobs, and on my personal journey, became multiple new versions of myself, each with a renewed commitment to justice and community care. And – I’m here with a strengthened belief in the power of our community members to be advocates and leaders, for and with one another.
I hope you can join me. Please become a sponsor of SEARAC’s 24th annual Leadership and Advocacy Training 2023 today.
Anna Hyunah Byon is SEARAC’s Director of National Policy and can be reached at email@example.com.
Leadership & Advocacy Training 2019
How to apply
Image: Photo-sharing activity from LAT 2017
One of my earliest childhood memories was a lazy summer afternoon spent curled up in bed, devouring a tiny collection of Amelia Bedelia books that I’d borrowed from the neighborhood library. I was a new reader and couldn’t get enough of it; I skipped dinner and instead consumed page after page.
That day, I was transported away from the small room I shared with my Lola in northern NJ and into the strange but delightful world of bizarre Amelia and her silly antics. I was hooked.
Looking back, Ms. Bedelia started my entire career trajectory—from a community news reporter who covered the inspiring stories of local change agents, to SEARAC’s new Director of Communications and Development, who aims to harness the power of our SEAA community’s stories to inform and guide SEARAC’s advocacy.
After all, stories have that kind of transformative effect on a person. They carry us to foreign lands and introduce us to new characters. They reveal our differences and showcase our commonalities. They move us to laugh, to cry, to hope, and sometimes even to action.
This year, SEARAC asked members of the 19th cohort of our Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT) program to bring a photograph that captures their personal story and speaks to their inspiration and motivation. Next week, we’ll welcome these 47 individuals, who represent 32 congressional districts from 14 states. During the three-day affair, our trainees will gain knowledge in three main policy areas (education, health, and immigration), learn advocacy strategies, and share their stories with one another. The training culminates on Capitol Hill, where participants will have the opportunity to practice their skills by connecting their personal narratives to policy priorities in meetings with members of Congress. In the process, they’ll also build a national network of fellow committed advocates and social change agents that they can turn to for support as they take the lessons learned and apply it to their own communities all across the country.
I’m honored to be a small part of their travels, and I’m excited to go along for the ride with SEARAC.
Elaine Sanchez Wilson is SEARAC’s new Director of Communications and Development. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.