Being a visual learner, using a white board or a scratch pad has become second nature to me. However, it seems as if most of my efforts or the efforts of my colleagues on the white board get erased a few meetings later, never to be seen again. It is because of this that the fact that I got to see Dr. Marc Zimmerman’s Theory of Empowerment go up on the white board and then see it in action in the field was truly a wonderful experience.
It all began for me a few years ago in a grant meeting where we were proposing to use the core elements of Youth Empowerment Solutions for Positive Youth Development (YES) to address the issue of bullying. The very foundation of YES is empowering the young people involved, for this reason it was necessary for all of us to be clear on the definition of empowerment. As this is Dr. Zimmerman’s area of expertise, he led us through a discussion that brought us all to an understanding of empowerment. It ended up to be a thing of beauty on the white board, lots of shapes, lines and words.
The picture on the white board became a slide in the YES training that has been done around the country. We then created a second iteration of the slide which translated it into everyday language for easier understanding.
While making site visits to the YES programs in the Flint area, the theory of empowerment began to come alive for me as I saw 6th graders discussing national policy with a United States Congressman, a group of middle school students creating basketball courts at their school, watching another group of middle school students make a presentation to their School Board.
It is truly a wonderful thing to see a concept as powerful as empowerment, find its way off of the white board and into the community. It allows us to use the best thinking of the academic community to solve problems in our community.
I realize now, however, for this to happen requires commitment on the part of all involved both the academicians and the community leaders to make this happen and it requires translators in between who understand and can explain both the concepts and the programs.
When it comes to YES in general and empowerment in particular, I have had the amazing good fortune to be able to watch the entire process happen from white board to community and to learn from all of the talented people in between.