Community [Dis]Service

This morning I volunteered at the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS), cleaning, organizing, and folding clothing donations that had been received. They are intended to be consumed by the over 4000 Katrina survivors now located in Washington state. This experience was a positive one. All of the volunteers were on time, on task, and efficient at completing the goals set for us. I was, however, reminded of two things that bother me about how some serve, or disserve, others.

The first thing has to do with what people gave. Before we started, the young lady who was our coordinator said “if you wouldn’t wear it, we will dispose of it. We we’re giving dignified items, not throwsways.” That seemed obvious enough, but not to all of the donors I guess. Why in the world would you donate used underwear? It at least could be clean, but even that was too much to ask of some. I use this example to represent many people’s approach to service and giving in general. Why do we only give “table scraps?” Is that what we would want? Some say beggars can’t be choosers. I say beggars CAN have dignity. Why do we not give of our best? Why do we only volunteer “throw away” time? Why are those blessed financially so reluctant to give? Anyone who has ever been to a Black Baptist church knows that the pastor has to almost beg for offerings. What’s ironic is the same folks who are so turned off by this may be the same ones who end up spending money on things they don’t ne!
ed. MAYBE those resources could better serve someone who needs them as opposed to your own selfish indulgences?

The second issue is the lack of male participation. It’s pretty disgusting that I was the only male volunteering this day. I have seen this phenomenon since I became active as a youth. In church, there were always more girls participating in the activities. In school, there were always more girls on the honor roll. In college, there were always more girls running organizations and being active in the community? Why is this? Are women more unselfish than men? More caring? Maybe. That is not the problem. The problem is that for whatever reason, men are not compelled to do these things. So you end up with what I saw at the Urban League: me and 14 girls. You explain that ratio to many men, and they’ll say, “what are you complaining about?” maybe I am strange because I notice a void where others see easy access to women. I’ll be that. We must understand that it takes men AND women to help men AND women. Prime example of what more men could have contributed to this specific projec!
t: lifting. It may be a gross generalization to say that men can lift more than women, but it was certainly true on this day. So all of that work went to me. Let’s just say that some extra hands would have been nice.

These things are not said out of contempt. They are observations of a servant who wishes to improve service. To solve problem 1, organizations should stop the policy of accepting anything and be clear on what they will and will not accept upfront. As for problem 2, that can be solved one man at a time. Male volunteers should adopt the buddy system: never volunteer alone. If everyone did that, we would see exponential growth in participation. This is my approach from now on.

One Love. One II.



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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

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