By Rashid Littlejohn, Program Assistant/Public Ally - My name is Rashid Littlejohn, a Public Allies Fellow and Program Assistant for Community Resource Exchange (CRE). Public Allies is a nonprofit organization that develops new leaders who are focused on strengthening communities, by partnering us with other nonprofit organizations advocating for social change. I started a nonprofit social justice and environmental leadership group called GCAMP (Genuinely Care About My Planet) in mid-2010 in Brooklyn, NY, which led me to Public Allies. Partnered with CRE for the next ten months, I’ll learn more about the nonprofit sector as Program Assistant and will also blog about some experiences at CRE. This first post, “The Broken Machine,” is a reflection of my first two weeks with CRE.If you've ever sat in meetings with individuals from the nonprofit sector, one word which is often used is the “system.” What is the system? I speak confidently when I say I am here because I see a problem with the system as apparent as if it were a “machine” operating out of order. I’m in a space of examining what this machine is, how it works, and why it is causing problems.
My first thought was “is the machine the government?” After a discussion with a member of the CRE staff, I began to look into the capitalistic make-up of our country, asking myself “what is wrong with either the government or capitalism that has created such a need for the nonprofit sector?” I then started to visualize a gigantic machine that makes toys. The machine is broken so that every toy made is not working in some way; for each of these issues, repair stores are created to fix the toys. The repair stores represent the nonprofit organizations, the toys are the people who they assist, and the machine could be the government or capitalism. The next question that came to mind is “what is wrong with the machine that it keeps producing dysfunctional toys?” The last thing that came to mind is the rapid pace at which repair stores are opening up, many similar and many different. If you look at it from a “for profit” perspective, it would almost create a sense of competition of who provides the better (or cheaper) repair services.
With all of this bouncing around inside my mind, another member of CRE staff left a report on my desk titled, “Preserving and Developing Nonprofit Capacity in Four New York City Neighborhoods.” This report spoke to the importance of nonprofit collaborations. Keeping my analogy in mind, it means that these repair stores should begin working together to better fix the toys. Now of course this read and the work of CRE put a wide smile on my face, but it was short lived. After attending a Coalition meeting for one of our clients, I realized that so much of what needs to be fixed is uniform in a vast majority of communities that the repair stores serve. I’m now asking “where is the repair store for the broken machine?”
I’ll end by playing devil’s advocate to my own sentiments by saying it’s easy for me to say the government, capitalism, or anything else are the broken machines because it keeps me clear of blame. What if “we” are the broken machine and until we begin collaborating together – government, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals – we’ll never fix ourselves and will continue producing toys that don’t work well?