The Problems Are So Big. What Can I Do?

A young girl at a demonstration for the release of Nelson Mandela circa the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the ANC archives.

A young girl at a demonstration for the release of Nelson Mandela circa the 1960s. Photo courtesy of the ANC archives.

I am optimistic that we can create change because I meet so many people from different walks of life who ask me the same question: “What can I do?” Because they know I’m a Black studies professor and documentary filmmaker, many airplane seatmates, taxi drivers, the owner of the bodega around the corner, my friends who work in advertising and corporate law and other everyday people I encounter share their profound concerns about racial inequality with me. I don’t need to convince them that violence is causing a crisis in Black communities around the world, that there is not enough educational opportunity and health care access or that our prison system is unjust. They are well aware that the world needs to change, yet these same intelligent and capable folks are rarely involved in any organization that is trying to make a difference. They often ask me, “Robin, the problems are so big. What can I do?”

There are a lot of compelling stories about everyday people who have made extraordinary change. This year, Cuba is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the July 26th Movement, a grandiose name for a small group of committed young people including Juan Almeida Bosque, Ché Guevara and Vilma Espín who started the Cuban revolution. The victories of social movements from the recent Tunisian revolution to the fight against apartheid would have been impossible without the participation of students, factory workers, teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers and artists—many of whose names we will never know. Of course, we are all familiar with the unlikely hero Rosa Parks, who risked her livelihood as a seamstress to participate in civil disobedience in Montgomery, Alabama.

Juan Almeida Bosque circa 1955. Photo courtesy of Juventud Rebelde.

Juan Almeida Bosque circa 1955. Photo courtesy of Juventud Rebelde.

Honestly, I don’t think these heartwarming stories of heroism have much to do with the answer to the question, “What can I do?” You don’t need to be a daredevil guerilla or a saint to start making contributions. In every community and neighborhood, including yours, there are worthwhile organizations or collective endeavors that are working to make small but meaningful changes. As a longtime organizer, I can assure you if they had an email subscriber, Facebook like, Twitter follower or $5 donation for everyone who wanted the problem they are working on solved, it probably would be.

You can take some simple and low cost steps toward being part of the solution by simply asking the people around you— your neighbors, your local bodega and your virtual friend Google—about organizations that are working to solve the problems you are most concerned about. Maybe it’s violence among youth, educational opportunity or police misconduct. Then respond to their calls for support. Something as simple as going to an event for a few minutes, subscribing to an email list or making a small contribution may seem low-impact to you, but it makes a world of difference to organizers.

You can also follow Progressive Pupil’s blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed to keep up to date on people who are making a difference throughout the US and internationally. There are a lot of small things you can do to address big problems. This month, empower yourself and your community by choosing just one.

Yours in solidarity,

Robin Signature

Robin J. Hayes, PhD

Principal Organizer

P.S. One small thing you can do to support Progressive Pupil this month is pick up a Liberation Tote or Baseball Tee from our new online store. All proceeds will support our work making Black studies for everybody.

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