My new favorite book is “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. It has been a guide book for me in my work over the past couple of years mobilizing a community around the issue of teen pregnancy.
Filled with great nuggets of wisdom on leadership and creating change, one piece that has most recently caught my attention is this: “if you want to bring about a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior, a change that would persist and serve as an example to others, you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and nurtured.”
While perhaps not laid out as eloquently as in Gladwell’s description, this is the definition we have been utilizing at the SC Campaign when talking about a community-wide initiative for teen pregnancy prevention. We know that to ultimately change young people’s beliefs and behaviors around sex, behaviors that would remain consistent over the long-term and set an example for the next generation of young people to follow, we must create a community around them that supports those beliefs and behaviors.
We need an entire community to be engaged in teen pregnancy prevention to be successful. Our five strategic goals are dedicated to identifying the various segments of the community that have the greatest roles to play.
Young people need parents and other trusted adults having real, open, honest conversations with them about relationships, love and sex. They need school administrators, Board members, and teachers committed to filling their heads with factual information related to sexual health so they can make informed decisions. They need youth serving agencies that will implement high quality programs unique to their needs. They need businessmen and women dedicated to making sure they have access to contraception if they choose to have sex. They need doctors and nurses who will ask questions and talk openly about sex, risks, and methods of protection without judgment.
We also know that young people need faith leaders who will fill their souls with a greater understanding of what real love is so they can make choices based on who they were created to be. They need legislators and elected officials who will develop and institute policies that will address their needs and protect them from those who would give them less than they deserve. They need people to give financial resources to organizations that work with them each day to give them the best quality programs and services. They need peers who will be willing to stand up and speak out even if it means not being “cool” in the eyes of others.
With new funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ten communities in nine states have the support to really push for that level of community change. I am fortunate to be involved in mobilizing one of those communities. We are engaging and partnering with people from all segments of the community. We deliver the message again and again to as many as will hear it until it finally “sticks” and people are moved to action.
We are collaborating with incredible leaders from across the community – individuals Gladwell would call “exceptional.” And we’re making progress. We’re nearing our own tipping point and understanding what community engagement can really mean for our young people.
I encourage you to be exceptional – to get out of the mindset of business as usual and engage your community in your work. If it takes a village to raise a child, then isn’t it time we got the village on board? In Gladwell’s words, “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.”
By: Dana Becker, Technical Assistance Specialist for the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy