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PART ONE Public health leader Bill Foege is fond of telling the story of a man who goes into a store and doesn’t steal anything, but changes all the price tags. As Foege suggests, we are living in a time when the price tags are being radically changed around. In the United States, money for education, early childhood programs, and supportive services for the most vulnerable is being radically cut back, while unemployment remains high and big business reaps substantial monetary gain. These threads are among many that form the tapestry within which public health professionals, social workers, community psychologists, and other social change professionals now find themselves working. The troubled global economy and the almost unprecedented gaps between rich and poor, continued wars in the Middle East, the global AIDS epidemic, massive federal deficits, and the weakening of the “social fabric” also are among these problematic threads. Yet at the same time the context in which we work includes increasing societal diversity; unprecedented possibilities in communication and interaction presented by the Internet and social media (see chapters 15, 16, and 21); and breathtaking scientific breakthroughs, enabling us to address a plethora of health and medical conditions at increasing speed. From a public health perspective, narrowing, but still pervasive, health disparities are deeply troubling. And while the health care reform bill signed into law in 2010 is rightfully lauded for its accent on prevention, it is criticized on the left for not going far enough (see chapter 21) and from the right as an example of more “big government ” intrusion. Introduction Within this complex contextual tapestry, where does grassroots community building and community organizing fit in? And for those of us in fields like public health, social work, and urban and regional planning, will this aspect of our work even bear mention in the challenging years ahead? The two opening chapters of this book argue that community building and community organizing have never been more important and that public health professionals , social workers, and other social change professionals have a critical role to play in such work. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of today’s troubled economy and complex health and social challenges, chapter one highlights the growing emphasis on concepts like community partnerships, community empowerment, capacity building, and individual and community empowerment. While acknowledging that the reality of the accent on community and community participation has not begun to match the rhetoric (DeFilippis et al. 2010; Raphael 2008), it points to such trends as the growth in community-based organizations, a global health cities and communities movement, and the increasing use of tools such as coalitions; Facebook and other social media venues; media advocacy; and partnerships between communities, academics, and health departments in the fight against some of our most intractable health and social problems. Chapter 1 highlights as well the significance of the election of Barack Obama as not only the first African American president, but also the first community organizer to lead the country, and someone one whose assent was due in substantial part to his campaign’s effective use of both traditional and online organizing (Dreier 2008). Chapter 1 suggests that health educators, social workers, and other social change professionals can usefully adapt and apply community organizing and community building in their efforts to work with communities to combat HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, asthma, homelessness, and a host of other health and social problems. But the chapter also makes a case for what it calls a “purer” approach to community organizing, in which communities are helped to mobilize around the issues that they—not we as outsiders—identify and wish to collectively address. The role of the outside organizer in this latter approach is seen as one of helping to create the conditions in which community groups can determine their own health and social agenda and act effectively to help bring about the changes they wish to see. Chapter 1 also introduces the concept of community building, which in recent years has achieved increasing currency in fields like health education, social work, INTRODUCTION 2 community psychology, and urban planning (see, for example, Blackwell and Colmenar 2000; Corburn 2009; Diers 2006; chapter 20 and appendix 1). As described in more detail in chapter 5, however, an alternative perspective on community building views it not as a “strategic framework” or approach to fixing problems, but rather as an orientation to community practice, accenting building the capacities of complex and multidimensional communities, of which we as organizers and other...


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Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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