Coalition Building for Community Impact

[Image description: Presumably a coalition of people of different skin tones putting their hands together, in a circle. Image from Rohit Prabhakar 2014-2017 copyright.]
One of my other instructors jokingly stated that “coalition” was his go-to word for any group that he assembled. Why? Because this isn’t any old gathering of people. At its core, a coalition is the potential of powerful alliance on behalf of a shared cause. In regards to community building, a coalition is a vehicle for moving an initiative forward and promoting change. When Fifth Third Bank allied with the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, they not only invested in the community with resources that would have other wise went to a new building, other businesses also followed suit, increasing traffic and commerce within the center. The center now has the potential to expand. Even though coalitions “are not a panacea,” there are many reasons why organizations form them to implement a course of action (Butterfoss & Kegler, 2012). Coalitions enable organizations to collaborate with each other without losing their respective identities, while still displaying a unified front. Barvosa & Carter (2001) describe how Puerto Rican and Mexican communities in Chicago banded together to advocate for the right to work, for decent housing, and other basic rights despite their differences because together, they could influence change for both communities under the banner of Spanish-speakers or Latino/a community. While it was necessary to advocate for their own identity groups, they began to create multiple identities for themselves that were also beneficial politically, besides neighborhood- and community- wide impact.

Butterfoss & Kegler (2012) stated that to understand coalitions’ actual effectiveness and to build the literature, coalitions should be more consistent in documenting their work and impact. Through my field placement, I am understanding the struggles of documenting work in the midst of doing it, not simply in my own work, but in the work of the organization. I would not be surprised if this was a pervasive issue within organizations in the social activism arena. People, leaders, get caught up in the work and are not as focused on making their processes transparent as they are about their results. However, when that leader leaves, people are then left trying to figure out what processes they used to accomplish their initial successes. To move coalitions from its formation to institutionalization stage, there must be consistent avenues for sustainability beyond funding sources. This applies to organizations as well. Right now, my field placement is in the maintenance phase. After establishing themselves over five years ago, the organization is still continuing to fine-tune its processes especially as the student population grows beyond the capacity of the building. It is currently going through another transitional phase from a school of young kids to a K-8 school twice the size of its initial opening.

Illustration of the Boggs School
Illustration of the Boggs School from the school website. The school will be acquiring more space this year for the 7th/8th grade classes.

As a school that espouses place-based education values, one thing that the school is reflecting upon is its relationship with people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some families are directly from the neighborhood around the school while others are families allied with the Boggs mission that may not even live in metropolitan Detroit. The school leadership is learning how to weave together an experience for the different stakeholders at the school to provide an education for their children that is not only radical but also tangible in its impact. Outlining the goals of the school clearly and communicating them to community members, and returning to the point about documentation, showing how the school delivers on those objectives will help the Boggs School highlight how it benefits the local and greater community.



2 thoughts on “Coalition Building for Community Impact

  1. Gabby,
    Love your comment about documentation. When you’re doing the work, it can sometimes seem tedious and unessiscary to document the steps you are taking. However, if a worker isn’t documenting – they’re setting the next person who does their job up for a much longer road. The Bogg school sounds really exciting, keep up the awesome work!


  2. I thought the part of this when you mentioned about documenting your work in an organization or coalition is super important. In an old program I worked for, one of my colleagues developed a plethora of updated training manuals and powerpoints, and when it came time for her to leave the program to pursue a Master’s, she didn’t leave the organization with all the work she did. Whether that was intentional or not, I felt that it really hurt the program and that you should always be left with something for your predecessors so that the program can pick up where it’s left off. That is how we can create sustainable community programs/organizations/coalitions. It is such a great point that this is necessary to formate into the institutionalization stage. In addition, I remember going to my field placement and learning about a lot of the work they’ve done by just surfing through the shared files and I think it would have taken me a lot longer to get the hang of the work they do had I not had access to the documents.


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