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Monday, March 1, 2021

Creating proactive communities: What is a proactive community? (Part I)

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Success is not achievable alone. We all have a story of a person who took a risk, someone who imagined a life greater than what we could, someone who stood in the gap.  

Growing up I felt different, vulnerable, marginalized. While my parents inspired me to achieve, I struggled with a paralyzing stutter. I persisted, excelling academically and playing football to get through school.  

In college, when I had to turn down a service trip to Botswana due to finances, my coach called, “Your trip is paid for.” A trip that changed my life.  

Standing before a crowd in Africa, challenged with sharing my story, I was nervous, unsure if I could get through it. I had practiced my speech repeatedly — each time failing to muster the words. To my surprise in front of this crowd, the words emerged, seamlessly, almost flawlessly, forever igniting a passion for service to others.  

I knew in that moment that my responsibility now is to be a voice for others, empowering and helping those who once felt the way I did — hopeless. 

It has been 10 years since I started ProAct Indy — a nonprofit organization focused on community engagement and service learning for vulnerable youth. We have trained and led teams all over the world; and in over 20 cities across the U.S. to engage over 25,000 boys and girls and corporate employees to value intentional community engagement and appreciate diversity and equity as an integral part of their lives. 

A few years ago, after experiencing so much success with my message, I allowed pride and ego to take priority over my purpose. Because of my mistake, ProAct’s former board of directors were forced to walk away, severing relationships and dooming the organization with a headline that threatened my reputation. 

At my lowest again, one person emerged, saying, “I’m not giving up on you.” They catapulted me past lost relationships and a headline that threatened my reputation. I remembered my why, what it feels like when someone stands in the gap for you. 

Someone asked me recently what is it that ProAct does better than anyone else?  

“We learn — we are a learning organization,” I answered. 

And the greatest things we have learned through our experience over the past decade are about the transformative spirit of eight (super)powers.  

ProAct’s mission is “to stand in the gap for vulnerable populations while empowering youth to actively transform their communities.” We have learned that when we stand in the gap for other people who need someone to believe in them, even for a moment, we are teaching that person(s) about: 

The power of Grace. 

The power of Forgiveness. 

The power of Second chances.  

The power of Perseverance.  

The power of Grit.  

The power of Accountability.  

The power of Vulnerability. 

The power of Hope.  

These powers — the lessons ProAct has learned along the way — move us to something greater, to action, because we feel so motivated, we cannot help but teach someone else what it feels like to serve, to stand in the gap for someone else. We want to share that feeling with anyone willing to go deep with us.  

I was once paralyzingly afraid to use my voice — but I overcame that fear, and my stutter, through the power of relationships. I experienced first-hand how intentional relationships with few, can have positive implications for many.  

In the coming weeks, through this new column, ProAct will offer answers to challenges we see with effective community engagement by sharing the powerful stories and lessons learned from our diverse residents and community partners working to create a proactive community. 

We hope you are encouraged to use your voice and actions for those within our community needing people like you. 

Together we can learn how to use our (super)powers to stand in the gap for vulnerable populations and engineer upward mobility for Indy’s most vulnerable population — our youth — empowering them to actively transform their communities.

Derrin Slack is a speaker, training facilitator and consultant on diversity, equity, inclusion and community engagement. He is the founder of ProAct Indy and contributor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact him at derrin@proactindy.org

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