Today we witnessed history as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. While tomorrow, the work begins, for now I reflect on what has made this historic moment possible. Michigan was among the states with a record number of voters turning out in the 2008 election. Over five million citizens made their way to the polls in Michigan, representing over 70% of eligible voters in the state. Leading many of the get-out-the-vote efforts were Michigan nonprofit organizations, which recognized the high stakes in this election.
Michigan also leads in other areas. Unfortunately, they are not indicators we wear with as much pride. As of November, Michigan’s unemployment rate is the nation’s highest at 9.6%. Our graduation rates are 70 - 75% in high school and our college completion rates are 55%. Michigan’s economy is structurally flawed – facing a potential $1.4 billion deficit. All these leading indicators will negatively impact the lives of those who can least afford it.
Nonprofits often represent underserved or underrepresented populations. Now more than ever, it is important to give voice to these individuals, discuss the challenges we are facing and work toward transforming Michigan communities. For nonprofits in Detroit, the surrounding region and across the state, the task of serving increasing community needs with decreasing resources leaves little time to become further engaged in the process. There are key things you can do immediately to support the nonprofit sector and volunteers in Southeast Michigan and across the state. Email or call your elected officials about issues in your community and ask how they are addressing it, contact your local nonprofits to see how they are informing legislators of the issues that affect their organizations, write a letter to the editor of your local publication addressing the concerns of your community, and encourage nonprofits to invite elected officials to their facilities to see their work and feel the impact.
In the next two election cycles Michigan will be undergoing nearly a complete turnover in our elected officials due to term-limits. While this turnover represents significant challenges – steep learning curves, loss of institutional knowledge, loss of the relationships built – it also represents an opportunity. Here’s our chance to engrain the habit of civic engagement. We need to create new relationships with our elected officials, position ourselves to be the experts in our communities and focus a fresh pair of eyes to the challenges we are facing. Our engagement does not stop with the casting of a ballot, it just begins.
Now the President and Congress will complete work on an economic stimulus bill that will funnel billions to states for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, but what about our human and social infrastructure? What about the organizations that provide our society’s social safety net – our human care infrastructure? We as a community need to be actively engaged in helping shine a light on the infrastructure that we rely on for our quality of life and demonstrate that the nonprofit sector plays a vital role.
All across the state individuals and organizations are mobilizing to take action and work closer with government to create vibrant communities and a sustainable future; many of those organizations are in Southeast Michigan. What will you do to invest in your local nonprofits and community? Like our new President, our work just begins