Galvanizing Change: Empowerment Congress 2014 Leadership Institute

Michael Tubbs was only 22 when he was elected to the Stockton City Council in 2012.  Entering politics at such a young age and in a city that had declared bankruptcy, Tubbs knew he was in for a challenge. The Stanford University grad also knew he needed some advice and guidance, so, he applied for a spot in the 2014 Empowerment Congress Leadership Institute, a week-long series of workshops co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

After spending the week  — discussing, brainstorming and meeting community activists and other officials from around the nation — Tubbs is energized and ready to get to work.

“This has been sacred time to spend five days to think about how we are going to change our district,” he said. “When we were selected to join this group, our folks were so excited. They said, ‘wow! They picked Stockton?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we are on our way up.’”

For starters, he plans on initiating an Empowerment Congress-inspired summit in Stockton in the fall. And then he wants to create an infrastructure so that community organizers can continue their work even if Tubbs were to leave politics.

“I know if the community is pushing me, I will be inclined to do more,” he said. “It’s time to reinvent Stockton.”

Tubbs joined community leaders from cities including Houston, Texas, Compton, CA, Stockton, CA and Doña Ana County, New Mexico, to learn how to empower their communities and improve residents’ quality of life. They will take what they learned in Los Angeles and adapt it to their own community’s needs.

The Empowerment Congress Leadership Institute was established to help communities around the country create effective ways of engaging and including residents in civic activities. Throughout the week, the participants joined in panel discussions and presentations as well as a grand tour of Los Angeles, to generate ideas for improving their own communities.

Widely regarded as the forerunner to the neighborhood council movement, the Empowerment Congress was founded by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a member of the Los Angeles City Council. Each year various committees of the organization come together at a Summit to re-dedicate themselves to activism and advocacy.

Houston Councilman Jerry Davis

Jerry Davis, a 40-year-old councilman from Houston, Texas said he would return to his home district and try to begin a charter reform movement. In a city with a strong mayor, the Houston City Council, he said, needs to be able to pass more initiatives that will benefit all communities. Having more residents from his district participate in the political process will likely bring about more change.

“I want to let people know how they can get things done and bring more of their power to the council,” he said.

“We need to even the playing field and let residents know how they can affect change, to rally around an issue and make it happen.”

Long-time East Rancho Dominguez activist Sinetta Farley, who has been a member of the Empowerment Congress for years, shared her experiences with the group. Standing before the group of elected officials and community leaders from across the country, her words stirred them into action.

“There is a saying, ‘If you want somebody to go, oh Lord, send me,’” she said. “Creating change takes a person who is persistent and determined and who won’t get discouraged and say this is too big for me. Because it is not. I encourage you to stay the path. You may not see the change you want, but your children or grandchildren will.”