Better to Act and Plan than Wait and Hope

By Maurice Elias – December 19, 2008
OfflineMaurice Elias

I have received several emails about my first presidential column so I thought it might be a good thing to post it here, to encourage a wider dialogue. I call your attention to my last paragraph, where I ask, in essence, not what you can do for SCRA but what SCRA can do for you, and I also ask you to strongly consider coming to the biennial conference in NJ in June. We need to gather as a community, especially at a time when so many communities are feeling threatened by the global economic and socio-polit

There are no guarantees in life and waiting and hoping are not my favorite strategies.  In May 2007, my older daughter, Sara Elizabeth, got married.  She was privileged to have both of her parents and her spouse’s parents attend, and on our side of the family, she watched all four of her grandparents walking down the aisle.  It’s hard to describe what a gift this was.  A year later, May 2008, my father had passed away unexpectedly, my wife’s parents were in an assisted living facility, and my mother was feeling quite alone in the world.  There are no guarantees in life. 
    I became President-Elect of SCRA upon arising from observing shiva, the week long mourning period in the Jewish religion, for my father.  I became President upon completing the first year of mourning, and all of the obligations that this observance entails.   During this year, I have spent a great deal of time with mourners and with senior citizens dealing with catastrophic or chronic disabilities and/or health issues.   The vast majority of these individuals thought their life trajectories would be different, more positive, more blessed.  We have all learned that there are no guarantees in life. As a corollary, we also have shared many examples of waiting to do something important until “the time was right” or the individual “felt ready.”  Most people regretted having not started down important roads earlier. 
    In 1999, Ted and Nancy Sizer wrote a compelling, brief book called, The Students are Watching.  The poignantly conveyed how inner city children come to school every day and wait for the adults around them to fix their schools.  They wait for cracked windows to be repaired, broken shades to be replaced, and chipped paint to be redone.  They know that if they lived in a wealthy community,  or perhaps even one not so wealthy but with a majority of white students, these things would be fixed.   It’s not clear what the adults are doing that keeps them from meeting these students’ needs; what we can see is that things, often legitimate things, seem to intervene and the horizon for action is no closer to being reached.
Meeting Community Needs That Cannot Wait
    I feel a strong sense of impatience as President because there are many needs in our communities that can’t wait for us to study further, debate longer, contemplate the optimal solution, or finish all the things on our “to do” list before we get to them.  I see now more clearly than ever the crisis in dealing with our growing population of senior citizens, especially those who are lacking in money, education, English language sophistication, and support of all kinds.  For the past decade, I have shifted the locus of my school-based work to low performing urban schools and I have seen and experienced the inadequacies of our piecemeal and program-focused work on prevention and competence enhancement in the face of staggering needs.  
    I recall hearing a talk in 1990 by Dr. William Foege, then Director of the Carter Center, who spoke about how he was credited with eradicating world smallpox mainly by finding ways to bring vaccinations to every tiny village on earth.  He said that if we simply implemented what we know, and did no more research, we would increase human life expectancy worldwide by over 6 months.   While of course he was not advocating to end research, his point is that we had lost a sense of proper balance.  Generating findings and publishing them does not give them impact.  We must focus more on practice, policy, implementation, and sustainability, within the framework of values that define community psychology. 
    As I am coming to realize, it is difficult to accomplish substantial things during the presidency of SCRA in only one year.  Clearly, we need to think of ways to ensure greater continuity of leadership, or at least direction.  I  can take this up with my fantastic predecessor, Anne Bogat, who has dedicated herself to the presidency with admirable energy and persistence, and Mark Aber, our President-Elect who brings deep commitment and focus to SCRA.  But what ultimately matter more than what the President and Executive Committee do is what the membership does.  And so, I want to implore you to strike the words, “wait and hope” from your vocabulary and replace them with “act and plan.”   I ask you to take an action-research approach and move forward while always checking your progress, rather than waiting until the road is clear ahead of you.  Even if  the road were to be clear, it would not stay clear for long. 
My Presidential Priorities and Your Action Agenda
    In my Presidential election “platform,” I placed a priority on practice and policy, undergraduate education as the  “farm team” into our profession, and early career and career paths as key foci for the continued vigor of the field of CP and SCRA as an organization.  I also want to focus on SCRA’s complex role as international community psychology grows.   I have undertaken a systematic review of our committees, interest groups, and task forces.   They all should be active, or else transformed or transferred.  Each of these groups covers a topic for which important action is needed.  I have been fortunate to work closely thus far with the SCRA Practice Group and Social Policy Committee and I know that by the time you read this, I will have worked with others as well.  I mention this to encourage you to use our revitalized web site, to learn more about our various groups, see which are active, join one and if you don’t see a support structure for what interests you, contact me about creating something (SCRA27mje@AOL.COM and eventually, the President’s blog on the SCRA web site- nb, this represents a follow through on that promise!!).   Only by our members committing to work in a collaborative way can SCRA and its subgroups have a positive and powerful impact.  If you are not getting a response from the group you are trying to reach, contact me or other members of the Executive Committee and we will follow up.  Just don’t give up!
Come to the Biennial, June 18-21 in New Jersey
    Prepare to come to the Biennial.  It is our great gathering place and we need members and potential members of our organization to come, share, learn, speak up, and network.  We need people to respond to upcoming calls to mentor our graduate students and new professionals at the Biennial.  It will take place at Montclair University in New Jersey, in the shadow of Manhattan, from June 18-21.  You will find a call for papers and other information at the web site.    I realize that for many of you, SCRA competes for your professional attention with other organizations.  Please give more of your attention to SCRA in the coming months and years.  We are poised to make a difference. We have been the conscience of APA and we need to go farther.   The time has come to follow up on the work of Jose Ornelas, Chair of the 2nd International Conference on Community Psychology in Portugal in June 2008, and partner with our international colleagues to establish a World Congress of Community Psychology.   By combining our collective voices in areas of common concern, of which there are many, we can have an impact on important social justice issues.
Help SCRA and Let SCRA Help You Take Action
    I ask that you consider how SCRA can help you take action on issues that are of concern to you.  Those who are beset by problems locally and globally are watching to see who will help.  They realize there are no guarantees in life and that  help may never arrive.  We cannot afford to wait for the best time to act, or hope that the situation will get better or easier to act upon.  We are the Society for Community Research and Action, and now is the time for action.


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December 19, 2008
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Maurice Elias

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