By Sam Niesen
I first met Dennis Donavon during my freshman year of college; he came into a leadership group I was in and gave a crash course on community organizing.
Dennis talked about a class he taught and encouraged me to take it as it would delve into topics around organizing, really getting into the skills needed to become an agent of change. I was fascinated. I met with him again and really started to realize that these were skills that would truly allow me to make change and do something meaningful with my life. This semester I took Dennis’s class called “Organizing for the Public Good” at the University of Minnesota. I have learned so much and am starting to realize how to use my passion and skills to create change.
From Saul Alinski and Grace Lee Boggs, to Stephan N. Smith and Harry Boyte, we have read several different selections on making an impact. Smith talks about truly knowing oneself, being sure of oneself, and then using that knowledge to discover one’s self-interest. These ideas have really resonated with me, challenging me to use that self- interest and apply myself in ways that really make me tick. These ideas are tough to grasp and to discover the answers takes tough questions. For me it has been difficult to start even asking these questions, but they are questions I need to ask, and slowly start to answer. They are about my self-interest, why I am interested in doing what I want to do, and how to achieve my goals.
The class, in the way it makes me think deeply about myself, is helping me get a sense of my future. It has made me realize that I do want to be a change agent. Working with Dennis through class has given me both the confidence to discover these things and the skills to really make change happen. It is all about self-discovery, then applying that discovery to the world.
I look forward to seeing where this road takes me now that I have this tool belt of power, including one to ones (Face to face meetings that are critical to building power and motivating people for action.); power mapping (A tool used in organizing to identify stakeholders.) and public narrative (How our story connects to a particular group). I now feel that I am steps ahead of others that also want to make change as I hold tangible things to go out, take action, and be a change agent.
Sam Niesen is a sophomore currently studying history and Spanish at the University of Minnesota. Sam became very interested in organizing and empowering others during his time at the U and hopes to use these skills in the future.