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Educate + Engage + Empower = Action

Josephine Underwood uses her voice and compassion for others to connnect with people on a personal level -- educating, engaging and empowering specific communities to take action in their own lives.

I have always had a deep sense that the power to impact injustice lies within the power to educate, engage, and empower those connected to the injustices. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a monumental national victory for all Americans. It is important to me to use the law’s full name because, when saying “Affordable Care Act,” it is easy to forget that this law doesn’t just tackle issues of affordability, but also addresses the much needed protection for patients from an unjust, discriminatory, and often greed-based system. 

This national victory is one that should be celebrated as the second anniversary rolls around. However, misinformation has quickly tainted the victory party. The need to educate diverse consumers on what has actually been accomplished is key. I find that educating others is most successful when done on a level that directly connects with the audience, which often means omitting complicated language.  It is also successfully done when we get back to the basics of shared human and social values. Shared values-based education is what starts the drumbeat for a movement and sets the pace towards progress. 

In health care justice, we share common values that our health care system should be affordable, accessible, and inclusive, reflecting respect and valuing the integrity of people.  It should be fair, just, accountable, and offer a high standard of quality. While we may not intimately know every section of the law, we can agree on certain things, like the fact that a change needed to happen.  We can agree that young adults should be able to pursue their American dream without worrying about accessing affordable care and that young children should not be turned away from care because they have a pre-existing condition. We can agree that a system that discriminates some cannot be called fair or just.  We can also agree that doing nothing or doing what we’ve always done is not an option that will lead to change. 

By getting back to a values-based way of educating audiences about the Affordable Care Act, we make the necessity to progress health care justice an “us” issue and not a “those people” issue. This idea of “us” means that everyone has locked arms and is moving forward together towards successful implementation.  What we say and how we say it when educating others has to lead back to our shared values. Often, by being in a defensive position, we answer the questions asked without addressing the person asking the question. They are a person connected to a community of people with whom they share information and experiences. They have had negative experiences with the health care system that need to be changed and positive ones that need to be built upon. Education is a powerful tool to bring awareness and support to a cause.

However, the need to educate diverse audiences isn’t all that is important. No matter the issue at hand, it is important to also engage and empower people. In engaging people, we look for opportunities to connect ourselves and the issues we are passionate about with them on a personal level. This is how we connect with others- by forging meaningful and resourceful relationships that lead us back to our shared values. Additionally, we have to empower people to join with us in this winning fight for social justice. In a frustrating political atmosphere that is sometimes riddled with apathy, we have to highlight the power that people possess to impact their circumstances. By equipping people with our information and our resources and making what they need available to them to the best of our ability, we empower them to move towards action. This is where it becomes key to collaborate. There isn’t one organization that can do it alone. Health care justice advocates need to work with each other and other issues based advocates.  We all need to understand that the road we are on to impact issues of poverty, education, health care justice, hunger, and our economy are not independent of each other. Teamwork and unity are what is necessary to continue to progress any and all social justice movements. It isn’t about one person knowing everything.  It is about everyone knowing something and connecting to the larger picture. The power to collaborate makes resource sharing possible, allows us to reach more people, and strengthens the power of a group’s united voice. Equipping and empowering people, leaders, organizations, and communities are vital to progress. 

Making a commitment to educate, engage, and empower people will lead to action. The place where people can initiate and take action to impact their circumstance is the ultimate manifestation of empowerment, the core desire of individuals to leave a proud legacy where they engaged in proactive change. This will lead to more people calling their legislator, voting, becoming social justice advocates and information sharers, and much, much more that will continue to progress the fight for social justice. Doing social justice work and working with others to positively impact their community is something in which we should all play an active role. 

It is my life’s work to- as the song says- seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and others. Working in grassroots social justice advocacy and organizing, I keep in mind that in every situation, I am a humble student. As a 2012 White House Champion of Change, it is a humble honor to represent all those that I know by name and even those I will never know, who are educating, engaging, and empowering others in the winning fighting for social justice.

Josephine Underwood is currently an independent strategist and community organizer, working with individuals and organizations to find collaborative, creative solutions designed to identify and address social justice issues of public concern. She is also the founder of the Juliana Timm Children’s Fund, which works to impact issues concerning vulnerable and orphan populations in Malawi.