On November 9th and 10th, the Civic Engagement Fund for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Communities held its inaugural Convening for the 2010 Program at Preservation Park in Oakland. I am still feeling the buzz from the energy and enthusiasm that developed throughout the day and a half convening!Participants from the 17 community partner organizations were present and engaged, and through the facilitated and breakout sessions, the organizations were able to start learning more about each other, and initiated the process of community building that this program is based on. As was hoped, the participants’ openness encouraged a safe space for sharing stories that resonated and contributed to a feeling of shared experience among the range of organizations.
“It feels good to create a space and start dialogue with existing and new partners around issues that are important to us.”
– CEF partner
And even beyond expectations, the community partners became more familiar with the goals of the program and the envisioned process of sharing, learning, understanding, and joint strategizing to advance their individual and collective goals.
One of the objectives of the convening was to expose all participants to the issues that they themselves had flagged as most relevant and critical to their communities at this time*, and to allow them to identify which area would make the most sense for them to focus on in the coming years given their capacity, strengths, community and stakeholder interest, and current or planned work in that area.
Each of the three overarching issue areas that emerged will be addressed by a respective Leadership Circle that is organized by one Network Organizer, who started the issue-focused conversations from the AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian) perspective. The sessions were designed to allow each participant to learn about, contribute to and finally help shape the possibilities for each circle.
“This was the best convening I’ve attended. The structure shared with us gives us hope while seemingly very workable. For the first time in sometime, I’m leaving an event with a feeling that we will achieve together a level of success for our communities.” – feedback from a CEF participant
Although each of the issue areas are overlapping and relevant to most of the cohort, each organization determined for themselves which one they wanted to do more sharing, learning and work on through a diverse group of organizations that represent AMEMSA communities. Much to the relief and surprise of all, the final decision-making process was seamless while invoking such a feeling of solidarity that each partner was pleased with the circle of their choice, while excited at the prospect of working across issue areas and organizations as relevant.
I’m in the process of meeting each organization face to face after the convening, and I can still hear, feel and absorb the energy that they bring from their own work and the sense that they’re not in it alone.
“This meeting exceeded my expectations. I appreciate the support toward developing the topics of the leadership circles. They are a tangible process for difficult to define and address issues, which are extremely relevant.” – CEF partner
* The issue areas were identified from the early stages of the program: each applicant listed three issues that most impact their communities. The issue areas were compiled and then debated and discussed with the Network Organizers (NO) during a NO training and planning session held in October at the AAPIP office. Each NO took on one issue area, based on their organization’s work on that issue and on their ability to take a leading and facilitating role on moving a dialogue forward on how that issue area impacts and can be collectively addressed by AMEMSA organizations. The issue areas that emerged are Civil Rights and Liberties, Political and Civic Engagement, and Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Political and Civic Engagement Leadership Circle members:
- Sikh Coalition (Network Organizer), Afghan Coalition, Arab Cultural and Community Center, Arab American Cultural Center of Silicon Valley, and SEMAH
- Immigrant and Refugee Rights Leadership Circle members:
- AROC (Network Organizer), ASATA, AAN, Narika, Omid Advocates, and Somali Community Services
- Civil Rights and Liberties Leadership Circle members:
- CAIR-SFBA (Network Organizer), 3rdI films, AFF, ICCNC, ING, Zawaya