A longtime social and civil rights activist made a weekend visit to a Colorado Springs church in his quest to find residents willing to improve their communities from within.
Robert L. Woodson, founder and president of the Woodson Center in Washington, D.C., met with several dozen residents at Story Church on Airport Road and South Circle Drive in southeast Colorado Springs.
After being involved in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Woodson shifted his focus to community development programs, with the aim of benefitting low-income people of all races.
“I realized I was in the wrong struggle,” said Woodson, who founded his nonprofit in 1981.
Referencing the biblical story of Joseph, who rose from slavery and imprisonment to become one of the Pharaoh’s most trusted advisors, Woodson said the “modern-day Josephs” are citizens of impoverished communities with the desire to enrich their surroundings.
“They’re raising children who are not dropping out of school, or in jail or on drugs,” he said. “They are the source of new knowledge and wisdom and understanding about how redemption and transformation occur.”
Other “Josephs” are people who have survived lives of crime, violence or addiction and have the credibility to minister to young people who are at risk.
“They have been redeemed and transformed, and therefore they are powerful witnesses to people in troubled neighborhoods that redemption and transformation is possible,” he said.
A primary goal of Woodson’s foundation, he said, is to go into impoverished, high-crime communities all over the country, find these hidden gems, and help them empower their neighborhoods.
“The qualities that make them effective, also makes them invisible,” Woodson said. “They’re not looking for you; you have to find them.”
Woodson, who has an honorary doctorate of humanities from Colorado Christian University, said the key to community empowerment is to focus on the success stories in poor neighborhoods, rather than the failures.
“You can learn nothing by studying failure except how to create failure,” he said. “If you say that 70% of families in low-income neighborhoods are raising dysfunctional children, it means that 30% are not. So we need to go into these communities and find out how the 30% are thriving and achieving.”
Woodson acknowledged the social unrest plaguing the country of late and said that healing can only begin when people realize how much they have in common, regardless of ethnic background.
“We need to be about healing the hurt that’s in our community so we can begin to restore it,” he said. “We can’t do that if we have to look at each other through the prism of race.”