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The Kaleidoscope of Community—One Fellow’s Reflections

Move for America’s Fellowship program includes biweekly meetings to continuously foster connection, refine thoughts, ask questions, and get comfortable with bridge-building topics. One of the ways this is facilitated is through Fellow presentations. Each Fellow facilitates a 15-minute discussion on the topic of community—what the word means to them, the communities they are serving, the kinds of problems solved, and bridges built.


When I first realized my name was coming up in rotation, I had a lot of uncertainty and perhaps a little dread about this exercise. After all, much of my work is done in the quiet privacy of my home. Though I am constantly emitting a steady stream of words, they are not necessarily in dialogue the way we might traditionally define it, and some of them are written for my teammates alone. As a result, I was not sure how to approach this concept of community in relation to my own Fellowship. Ironic, I thought, given my direct placement with Move for America itself.


A little stumped, I took the opportunity to ask a few people from my team for advice as we were on a long drive back from one of our events, and the message I came away with was that the word community has as many shapes and meanings as people do. What do you do, they asked, in order to talk to people, whether or not they talk back. That question, and the conversation that surrounded It, was the spark I needed for this project, and so, when I sat down a few weeks later to create speaking notes, what happened instead was several paragraphs—as is so often the case with me. After completing it, I thought it might be perhaps worth sharing, and my team agreed. Here, then, are the contents of my presentation on engaging with the Move for America network in all its forms, as presented to my peers, edited lightly for clarity. May it prompt some thoughts of your own about community, its myriad facets, and your place among them as you interact, even in small or non-traditional ways.





The term community is manyfold. It is intricate and complex and yet devastatingly simple, a space as intimate and broad and layered as the soul perceiving it. I think it is at its most powerful when explored as a group, when maps of meaning are co-created and held as sacred, and I feel very fortunate that we have been able to explore this word’s meaning as a Fellowship in ways personal and collective, tangible and conceptual. But when I sat down to try to mark the edges of the community that I have been working within for the last half a year, I came up short at first.


Most often, my place of work is behind a keyboard, shaping words into meaning, so when preparing for this presentation, my wheels spun. I am disconnected, I thought. I do not know of bridges built or neglected, of issues solved or unsolved. But I realized on a recent trip to Madison Minnesota, after hearing many brave souls come forward and share a part of their personal stories, that I am not disconnected at all.

 

 

Community is Fluid

 

Everyone perceives the concept of community a bit differently, because no one experiences it entirely the same way. One can belong to a plethora of communities as they step through various roles and life spaces. Why, then, was I trying to define my community as a rigid thing, a set of people, when in truth my words might seek to serve very different groups on different days?


My job is to disseminate meaning, to craft messages that people can read, understand and, ideally, feel in some way on a deep level. Though I am always striving to reach, (and grow) Move for America’s audience, the contexts in which I do that, the groups I am seeking to most directly reach, shift. Sometimes, I’m writing something for new prospective Fellows, like the FAQ blog a month or so ago. Other times, it’s to those following alongside us and interested in our work, trying to understand what we do—like the blog I wrote about our Villain session a few months back. When I write a grant application, I am reaching out to a broader community, letting interested parties know what we do and how they may be able to contribute where our causes align.


All of these spaces, these types of writing contribute to my goal, my role, but they have different approaches, different focuses. I need to think of my community as fluid, as something that shifts, because when I write, I have to hold that community in my mind, become, at least a little, a part of it.

 

Community is Also Connected

 

It requires empathy, this sort of writing, this reaching into spaces beyond yourself and finding the thoughts, feelings, currents you can address, spark off, ride along with your words as you try to meet a group where they are with the meaning you carry, something I strive to be better at with every new page. If I had to constantly split myself into a thousand, separate pieces to address my community in its fragments, my messages would not be strong. It is lucky, then, that you cannot read or write or explore community in a vacuum, and even in its plurality, with all its facets and groups within groups, community is also connected—or, perhaps, better to say, interconnected. These separate groups—Fellows, prospective Fellows, outside stakeholders, event attendees—all of them also form one group—those interested in Move for America. Anyone who is following us, who wanders into one of our events, who finds us through a random Google search for Minnesota bridge building or paid Fellowships becomes a part, in some way, of my community, even if I’m not looking at them at the moment. Even with the interconnectedness, though, applying the concept of bridge building is a little tricky.

 

Nevertheless, Bridge Building is Vast 


In communities of place, it can be easier to spot where people come together across lines of difference. In communities of interest and thought, it’s a bit more intangible–but in that intangibility it’s so very vibrant and alive. Our newsletter, where a lot of my posts are featured, is gaining more and more readers, and that means more and more people who are a little curious, invested, or involved in civic dialogue and the bridges and common ground that rise up to support it. My most popular post thus far was a blog on having civil conversations across the dinner table. I have received gorgeous stories from our partners. I have seen it in action when a whole group of people wrote and spoke and listened, and found more common threads than they were expecting, the same concepts showing up across so many stories in different forms. I have seen the thrill of attending an event with a friend and watching that friend light up afterward, excited for the potential, possibility, and conversations. This presentation has been a catalyst–a reminder that bridges come in all forms, shapes and sizes, and that hearts and minds are so very rarely literal. It has helped me to understand that I am interconnected, that I am a part of a fluid and yet specific community, and that I have seen, in this growing tide of interest and story and conversation, a movement toward bridges in general, and this fact kindles so much hope and groundedness for my work in addressing all communities going forward. Because for everyone in whom we can kindle the desire for change, for a different way of operating within the world, the greater the chance that, where they are needed, bridges will spring anew in spaces we are unable to touch. This means everything–and everything, in its way, is community.

 


We are nothing without the bridges we have to community in all its forms, bridges to those looking to make the world better, less polarized, more peaceful and just. If you would like to be a part of this work, you can subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social media below, host a Fellow, or make a donation.







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