Today, on the day that we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s a good day to talk about community. Dr. King’s work is far from complete and it is hard, at times, to figure out what can be done to further the cause. Every day, ugly things happen around us and it can feel like all is lost. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the work that is left to do and when that happens we often stop altogether. In today’s world, stopping can’t be an option. It often feels like the world is balanced on the edge of…something. It’s up to us to tip the scales in favor of justice, love, and kindness.

We all have our own talents and expertise. It’s time to use those talents to build a strong, just community. Starting in our own backyards, we can build a wave of kindness and justice that will roll into a national movement. It’s easy to feel like there is no possibility of making a difference, but as Margaret Meade reminds us, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

5 Ways to Build Community

1. Give of your time

No matter where you live, someone can benefit from the gift of your time. It could be volunteering for a local charitable organization. They are always in need of help, especially once the holidays are over. You could volunteer to read to kids at the local library or, take it a step further, and tutor some of them. You could become a companion at your local senior center. There are possibilities everywhere, of every type.

While you are helping, you will be learning. You will hear the stories of the other volunteers and of the folks that use the charitable organization for whatever needs they fill. The kids and seniors will happily tell you stories of their lives. The more you learn about your neighbors, the more they will learn about you and the more everyone will understand each other’s viewpoints. With understanding comes empathy and community.

2. Give of your talents.

Are you a great cook? Do you can your own fruits and veggies? Sew your own clothes? Build furniture? Fix computers? Someone very close to you needs your talent! Someone who has been laid off could use some help mending their clothes so that they don’t need to spend money on new ones. A person who has been job hunting needs help getting their computer back up and running so that they can submit more applications.

3. Pass on your talents.

Take it a step further. Teach a class through the local library or community education program. Gather a group of interested folks at the local coffee shop or park. Have one or two people over to your house. When people can be more self-reliant they, in turn, will find a way to give back, starting a cycle of giving and learning that will continue to build your community for some time.

4. Listen.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? If only it was as easy as it sounds. But, listening, really listening, often means hearing things that contradict our opinions and dearly held worldviews. But, as hard as it might be, it’s essential. Without listening to each other, we cannot begin to understand what our neighbors are experiencing.

5. Accept help.

There will be times when you are the person who could use a hand up or an ear to listen. Accept them when they are offered. Community is a two-way street, with people giving and taking as needed, when needed. True communities know that any given person could be on either side of the equation at any time.

Keep Going

There’s a long road ahead. There are divisions to heal and obstacles to remove, but it can be done. In homes all over this country, people are saying “Enough.” There are beacons of hope everywhere you look and each one of us can be that beacon for another.

Are you with me?