How to spot potential Community Organizers

Trainers of Community Organizers have developed an eye for spotting potential community organizers. This ability grow with the years of interviewing applicants for the job and then accompanying Trainees of Community Organizing in their experiential learning process. Sometimes, qualities that impress you as building blocks for the desired community organizers’ traits turn out to be put-on qualities and therefore do not last long. During an interview of applicants, you might be drawn to responses like “I have always wanted to serve my country selflessly” or the likes of this response: “I have been a Boy Scout and have experienced the finest type of discipline in school”, and so on. The seasoned Trainer who conducts the interview sees through the initial character of the applicant. The interview is just a dim reflection of the applicant’s inner person.

The initial test of the applicant’s character and sense of purpose is the two-week exposure to the poorest section of the urban poor community. Two weeks is not a long time but people who have no gut feel about the value of community organizing in the work for social change simply back out on the third day. In one of the Training seasons of potential Community Organizers, we, in the Training Team thought we had a lucky year for having three fresh college graduates who finished their degrees with honors. We were all upbeat that the year would be a really good planting season if we were to use the metaphor of farming because we found good seeds. After the first week though, one of the applicants on the two-week Exposure Period approached the Training Team and said: “I am under pressure from my parents to end my training and look for a high paying job. “ This same person during the interview was so self-assured that when asked about his parent’s opinion about working with the poor, this applicant said that his parents respect whatever decision he makes in life. The other applicant who graduated with honors told the Training Team that she preferred to be assigned in the rural area. Of course she didn’t go to any rural community organizing group but pursued corporate work instead. The last of the applicants who graduated with honors stayed in the community for a week. At the start of the next week she told the Training Team that she had health problems and therefore couldn’t work in a very unhealthy environment.

Of course, we respect people’s choices about what they want to do with their lives but it’s one thing to hear applicants in an interview say that they want to work for social justice as an organizer and it is another thing to observe how applicants listen intently to poor people’s account of their community problems while they go around the community. Applicants who are under the two-week Exposure Period who enjoy the poor’s laughter during small talks and look forward to knowing more people in the community without a trace of exerted seriousness are very likely the potential community organizers you are looking for.

So, to conclude, here are tips and questions about spotting potential Community Organizers:

1) Don’t remove honor students from your list of potentials but don’t be too focused only on them.Without your knowing it, there are more bright young people who never made it to the honor roll.

2) Don’t be impressed by articulateness alone. Probe further into the real character of the applicant.

3) Probe for responses to questions about values and habits of the applicants during their college years. Did they care about their community? Did they have volunteering experiences?

4) Does the applicant have “strong legs” so that s/he enjoys visiting more and more people in the community?