Ella Baker's Legacy Continues to Influence Community Leaders

By Nadia Johnson

Being a young president of a tenant association one faces many challenges, such as the people you are fighting for don’t see a reason worth fighting anymore. I was starting to feel like these challenges and many other challenges yet to come was unique to me and vice president Kimberly because of our age and our inexperience of being a part of a tenant association.

However, that was all before we went to a community organizing and leadership development institute in Chicago. Not only did we discover that there are many people who are going through the same struggle we are going through when it comes to public housing and organizing tenants, but that it is a struggle that crosses racial, sexual orientation, class, religion, and educational borders. We also saw how there are so many young people who are fighting for the same beliefs and principles that we are fighting for and that was refreshing to both see and hear. What was the name of this great leadership conference where we got all this new inspiration from? Well, if you really want to know, it was the Ella Baker Institute.

ONE DC members & other EBI participants visit local Chicago muralist Hector DuarteONE DC members & other EBI participants visit local Chicago muralist Hector Duarte.

Ella Baker founded an organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) which was a civil rights organization that combated racial inequality during the 1960s. In developing SNCC, Ella decided that this organization should hit two fronts-- direct action and voter registration. Ella believed in "participatory democracy,” meaning each person should get involved individually and have a voice in the organization. She also argued that "people under the heel," referring to the most oppressed sectors of any community, "had to be the ones to decide what action they were going to take to get (out) from under their oppression.”

In learning this at the retreat, I have decided to take the Heritage at Shaw Station Tenant Association into a different direction. This direction is going to be broken down into two pieces: direct action by the tenant association and the tenants; and to have every tenant on the property, both new and old, to see their place in this fight and to commit fully to participating.

All in all, I am glad that we attended this retreat about leadership. I not only learned about Ella Baker, but I also got to see the sights of Chicago and be revived spiritually, emotionally, and mentally by the culture of Chicago, the common sisterhood and brotherhood of other leaders in the struggle, and the wonderful and inspirational poetry that we heard. It is my hope that along with vice president Kimberly, we can take the necessary steps forward and bring the tenant association into new heights.

For more info about Heritage at Shaw Station, formerly Lincoln Westmoreland II, click here

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Organizing for Neighborhood Equity in Shaw and the District