It’s an early Sunday morning and I decided to catch-up on policy reading in order to focus my grant writing for the year. I came across the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship and was jazzed to see my newest hero, Bryan Stevenson ( Equal Justice Institute) on the panel and learn about their 2018 Theme: The Power of Proximity.
I was introduced to Bryan through my dear friend Jill, who opened my eyes wider, to social justice. After being around her, I purchased his book: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. In his book, I learned about the concept of proximity, in the context of social justice. As described at the Skoll Foundation, it’s important to be close to the people you serve because “in order to address inequality and injustice, we must more deeply understand the current status quo—and how to disrupt it.”
I’m all in. At this point in our work, by providing job training, housing and support to women that are single mothers, we are our closest to the inequities women that are single mothers face, on a daily. It’s such a layered issue. I’m understanding the themes and patterns every day that will help define my voice as I speak to this issue and help realize my vision to create an environment where single mothers will define and raise their voices, because trust me, they do have a voice.
A short description of our closeness, on any given day, after I close our store, I head over to the house to check-in. I walk through the yard, climb the stairs and knock on the door. Seconds later, I hear the kids running down the hall, screaming my name, “Trrrrrrraaaaaaceeeeeeey,” and the footsteps of mom following after. Once that door is open, I’m hugged at the knees or mid-torso depending on the kid, and start walking with a kid or two attached to my limbs. I scan the house to check in and plop on the sofa for a soft check-in. Then depending on the purpose of my visit, I make my way down the hall, through the kitchen, taking a peek as I go and head to the dining room for my formal meeting with each mom. I review our last conversations, listen to her, get distracted by an occasional interruption by a youngster and then we continue on. I’m usually there late, from a conscious decision to move slowly in order to build trust so I can observe, listen, and offer our best solutions.
I used to feel like I was doing something wrong by being so close. I felt like I was being too intrusive, or doing too much, not knowing how to turn my focus off. But I checked in with Jill on this and she told me, “it’s good, it’s what’s needed.”
And I’m not the only one. On the days I am off, you can will see our loyal team member Rocio, working hard to run the store while reciting our mission or, you’ll see one of our board of directors, operating the store, fumbling around looking for this and that, while getting the big picture through their closeness to the work. We’re all in.
At this point of urban university’s work, we are at our closest. It’s tough being small, being so many things, being at so many places. But, our organization has never felt so grounded to me, so deeply planted in the life of women, rooted in a social issue that remarkably touches so many, ‘being raised by a single mom.’
As I continue my on-going personal goal to make sure I am clearly and accurately framing the issue of impoverished women raising children solo, it is through proximity, our closeness that we are able our to check ourselves, adapt and continue through with what I consider our best disruptive model yet for women.