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Community Organizers: For a Change*

Community Organizers: For a Change*

Community Organizers: For a Change*

Terry Mizrahi, Ph.D.,
Chairperson, Community Organization, Planning and Development Method
Hunter CollegeSchool of Social Work
212-452-7132

Community organizers are everywhere. Thousands—indeed millions—of people in this country are involved in community work. They are active in civic organizations, tenant and block associations, neighborhood improvement committees, parent associations, church outreach to the poor, citizen mobilization, school-based projects, and countless other local action groups. Indeed, active grassroots groups are a necessary and vital part of a democratic form of government.

Yet, organizing is not a well-known career choice for several reasons. First, the term community organizer is not listed as an occupation by the Department of Labor. As a result, many young people who may want to get involved in community life don't necessarily know that they can do this for a living. Additionally, some people don't pursue jobs as organizers because they assume that the skills involved are natural ones. The term organizer may be perceived as being synonymous with leader, and people may wrongly believe that they just don't have the knack. As a result, training in order to work in the field is not considered. Also, some people may not identify community organizing as a career because it is often invisible; that is, organizers are getting things done behind the scenes, while the president or leader of the organization gets the credit. Finally, since organizing has been identified with social change and social reform, these issues or causes taken up by organizers are controversial. There are often obstacles and opposition to change which may make some people feel uncomfortable.

Community organizing as a career is alive and well, comprising a variety of job titles, educational qualifications, and functions. There are knowledge and skills to acquire, and competent organizers with a social commitment to the common good are needed in many settings.

Community organizing is about working collectively with people to solve problems—joining or forming organizations to address issues that concern people in their neighborhood, workplace, or community of interest (eg., senior citizens, health care, housing, environment, education, economic development). Community organizers work with others to: improve the social conditions of a community, enhance the quality of life of people, and bring people into the political process. Sometimes, they work directly with oppressed and disadvantaged groups in the society, e.g. the homeless, the poor, immigrants and refugees, and people of color.... READ MORE