A summit that, in the past, has brought together college students from throughout Alabama to focus on the issues of hunger and poverty is now preparing its participants to take action.
Participants in the fourth annual Hungry for Justice Summit, held Friday at TROY’s Montgomery Campus, received instruction on advocacy planning, execution and evaluation from Diane Pickles, vice president of M+R Strategies, a national nonprofit that trains non-governmental organization professionals to achieve their advocacy goals. The summit was presented by TROY’s Office of Civic Engagement and the John W. Schmidt Center for Student Success in conjunction with Alabama Possible, a statewide nonprofit organization that works to reduce systemic poverty in Alabama.
“We wanted to talk about increasing our power in making change; taking things that we are learning in classrooms or offices out into the community and bridging those gaps of what isn’t being done, what can be done and who do we need to contact to get those things done,” said Dr. Avery Livingston, coordinator of civic engagement at TROY. “The past three years, we have talked about the problems. This year, we brought in a consultant who does advocacy work to teach us how to do that grassroots advocacy for something that you care about it. By giving students or young people those tools, we are equipping them to actually do something about these issues.”
TROY students were joined by students from Auburn University, Samford University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, along with representatives from area nonprofit organizations.
“We have really seen an upswing in activism and a renewed interest in advocacy,” said Kristina Scott, executive director of Alabama Possible. “It was time to take the next step with this summit. It was really about a combination of timing and what is going on in the broader world, and then also about having built a community and understanding, how we needed to continue to develop the community to address the structural issues that Alabama faces.
“My hope is that they leave here feeling equipped to take that next step,” Scott said. “Instead saying ‘why don’t we’ and not really knowing how to get there, they would have some tools in their toolkits to understand how to get from point A to point B.”
Pickles’ presentation provided them with just that – the “power tools” necessary to plan and carry out advocacy. She pointed to six tools necessary in the advocacy process: research and data collection, coalition building and maintenance, fundraising and development, grassroots and key contacts and media advocacy.
Vera Landrum, a TROY senior communication studies major from Butler, said learning the importance of proper planning and how to work through the process was eye-opening.
“When we are working on our campaigns and what we want to do within the community, it is really easy to get caught up in general terms,” Landrum said. “You have to look at the specifics and determine what is possible to do and when. Sometimes you have to go in baby steps, and that is something that we often forget. Knowing how to best direct our intentions to policy-makers and decision-makers is really important, and I think there is a very important take-away from today’s event.”