Carol Sawyer, 57, consults with nonprofits on Web design, grant writing and strategic development. She is a volunteer organizer with OneMECK, a newly established organization working to reintegrate local neighborhoods and schools racially and economically.
I was inoculated by activism early in life. I grew up in a rural community, Chesterton, Ind., 50 miles from Chicago. My parents were Chicagoans, so we explored Chicago’s museums, theaters, etc., on a regular basis – a very unusual thing for folks from my community to do.
My mother campaigned for our school system to take field trips to Chicago – and met with resistance. The high school principal questioned why we should expose kids to things they could never attain.
He was against exposing our community’s kids to arts and culture because that was not going to be part of our lives. According to him, the kids were clearly all going to go work at the steel mill.
I had dealings with him too. It taught me how to stand up to power, how to make a case. I learned to challenge the establishment.
Grown-ups don’t know everything. Status quo doesn’t have to stay the status quo. If I could make a case for what I wanted to do, I could make a plan and do it.
I wanted to take early graduation so I could go right into college. Our district would not allow one to graduate early. So I dropped out of high school in my junior year. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin, where I graduated.
I’ve grown from activism to being an organizer where I can establish groundwork for coalition building and that sort of thing. Helping organize OneMECK is an example of that.
In organizing there are different roles for different kinds of people; that is what makes coalitions strong. I like the role of behind the scenes organizer. Meetings get held, minutes get taken, things move forward.
What I’ve learned over time, to really make change, it’s not enough for one person to be out there. You need a group of people pushing for the same thing.
As told to Michael J. Solender
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