Although each one of us has the capability to engage on a deeper level within our communities, more often than not only a few people rise to the occasion. The Urban Helper aims to empower you to support your neighbors and community through the services you offer. For this interview, we want to pay homage to a community activist AND leader. Rosa Garza-Mourino, MA is affiliate faculty at Antioch University Los Angeles and teacher in the Bridge Program. Bridge provides university-level education for those who would not normally be able to afford or have access to it. Rosa was born and grew up in Mexico City, and chose to live in Los Angeles for the community-building challenge it presented. Rosa chats about her community-building work, and her thoughts on The Urban Helper.
How would you describe your neighborhood and local community?
[Bixby Knolls, Long Beach, in Greater Los Angeles] is a very involved mix of young and old couples, families, and singles from many different ethnic backgrounds and a range of modest income levels, whether homeowners or renters.
Where do you go to find the services, or help that you need?
I have been at my current home for only two and a half years, pretty new to this area of town. We are in the process of creating a neighborhood association and educate ourselves about what is available. We have guests that come to present the types of projects supported by the local council office. We are learning as well about the issues that neighbors are focused the most. At the time, when I need resources I would do many kinds of web searches as well as word of mouth inquiries with friends and neighbors I trust.
How can more people make an impact in their communities?
Definitely, we must be open to educating ourselves about what others care the most about, and based on those understandings engage with them, offer support. Impact, I believe occurs when we choose to present ourselves as resources to others, in any feasible capacity we may have. Seeing oneself as a resource could lead to building up solid, long-term networks of mutual support and reciprocity.
You chose to work and live in Los Angeles because you see it as the “ultimate urban challenge for community building.”
What challenges do you see Los Angeles facing and how are they presently being remedied? Given the extraordinary diversity of larger Los Angeles as a whole, on the one hand, and the local insular ethos fueled by the constant search for new beginnings, building community here requires a flexible mindset that is comfortable feeling at home with the “unfamiliar.” Not an easy disposition to bring about, but possibly the most effective to engage perfect strangers in collaboration, on the grounds of difference, rather than identity. To that ongoing local challenge, today we must add an alarming spread of economic disparity and housing displacement of such magnitude that no solution could possibly work without the moral imagination and participation of every Angeleno. I do not yet see whether local citizens are fully aware that somehow each of us is part of the problem and the solution. The road ahead is pretty steep. Creative possibilities such as cohousing, house downsizing, rotating housing, and other forms of affordable, sustainable habitat could rekindle the historically bold and visionary resolve of Los Angeles.
Have you observed a common thread between the different communities you have supported and worked with? The core common thread I have found is definitely the possibility to become a resource for each other. Not always fulfilled, but an open possibility.
Do you consider yourself a community activist? What attributes should a community activist possess?
I do see myself that way. Yet, I realize in me it is a role in continuous progress in all aspects of my life. It is all about sensitivity to perceive others, tactfulness to listen, and respectful resolve to step in. A community activist cares with capital C. That approach inspires and mobilizes those around us in an enduring way. They stop needing us and rely more on themselves to work with others. And so on.
What community projects are you presently engaged with?
I am extremely fortunate to have a job position that requires from me a combination of community engagement and support of experiential learning, a match-making role in everything I do at work. Most community projects I focus on relate to this role, and the principle I apply remains the same: turning students and organizations into mutual collaborators. A current example is a new network of neighbor organizations I am building in a small surrounding area contiguous to the university so that students, faculty and staff alike can become an active part of it. Another current example is the growth and strengthening of our campus diversity and inclusion committee. Outside of my job I am engaged in the creation of our neighborhood association, and I am also active volunteer member in public and private professional development projects related to artificial intelligence, film analysis, information literacy, and non-violent communication
What about The Urban Helper’s mission resonates with you?
The Urban Helper is likely to become one of the most sought platforms for individuals and groups to collaborate at any level. I have not tried it myself yet, just learned about it, but it definitely merges the principles of engagement and reciprocity I find essential for living in a community. Starting this Spring, this organization will be part of our undergraduate community partners, offering internships for our students. I look forward to the many collaborations and learning outcomes those opportunities will create.