by Rebecca Ogus
Our Praxis Project, Celebrating Narratives, has been marked by passion. When Ginni first shared her frustrations with the stigma that people living with a mental illness face on a daily basis, we could feel the importance of fighting that stigma. But as we began to build relationships with members at Threshold and Club Nova, the entire house was swept up in our vision to break down the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with a mental illness so we are all equally celebrated members of our communities. Ginni’s passion became our passion.
To realize that vision, our Praxis mission was to produce a booklet of creative submissions by people living with a mental illness (from the JSC partner organizations of Threshold and Club Nova) to distribute in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and host an event to celebrate its release and the inclusive community we are working to create. Both our vision and our mission – the reason we chose our Praxis Project and the way in which we have carried it out – embody the five C’s of Servant Leadership: compassion, co-creation, collaboration, character, and communion. This embodiment is the exact reason that the Praxis Project is an important part of JSC. It allows corps members to live out what we have learned and practice Servant Leadership in the world. It is praxis.
Celebrating Narratives embodies the Five C’s in the following ways:
1. Compassion. I confess my own humanity and acknowledge the heart connection I have with all who share the human condition. I see the light of creation in every person. I embrace people who are different than me because I understand that we are all one.
It was important to us to live and act as compassionately as possible as we implemented our project. By spending our Friday mornings volunteering at Club Nova and Threshold, we built relationships with members that acknowledged our shared humanity, regardless of how society may perceive mental illness. Creating that heart connection was an important first step before we asked people to share their stories and experiences with us. We wanted to live out our vision as well as bring it to the wider Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
2. Co-Creation. I hear a voice of truth above the clamor of the dominant culture, a voice that asks me to question my culture’s assumptions and beliefs. As a servant leader, I align my life with this truth and engage with others to be co-creative instruments of justice and peace.
The goal of our project, what we plan to accomplish with it, is co-creative. By distributing booklets and celebrating their release, we challenge dominant narratives of fear and chaos about mental illness and celebrate the people who shared their stories with us. We ask ourselves and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community to act as instruments of justice and peace as they live compassionately and recognize their heart connection with all people, regardless of differences.
3. Collaboration. I trust in the abundance of creation to provide all that is needed, so that individuals and groups can collaborate instead of compete. I strive to engage others in full participation and lead in such a way that builds leadership in others.
Our project is necessarily a collaborative effort. Not only have corps members collaborated with one another over the course of Praxis, each taking responsibility for a different aspect of the project, we also engaged members at Club Nova and Threshold to participate fully in the creation of the “This Is Me: Narratives from Our Neighbors Living with a Mental Illness.” Without their collaboration, the booklet would not exist at all.
4. Character. I am truly accountable to those served and approach opportunities for change with awareness of community assets. I meet commitments on time and act responsibly with public and personal trust. I am accountable for my words and actions.
As we built relationships with members at Club Nova and Threshold, as we contacted distribution locations, as we presented our Praxis Project to the JSC board, as we met to discuss the project with one another, it became clearer and clearer how important it was to act with character. We, the corps members, are not only accountable to one another to show up prepared as we implement our project but are also accountable to the members who have shared their experiences with us; the organizations of Club Nova and Threshold whose names are attached to our project; the distribution locations who are hosting our booklet; and JSC itself. We strive to live into that public and personal trust as we finish our project.
5. Communion. I am committed to a regular, transformative, centering practice of spirituality and I intend to live the moments of my life increasingly present to life and awake to who I am called to be.
Although communion is traditionally the first C value listed, it is so all encompassing and inherent in our Praxis project that it acts as a summary of the first four Cs. If we are present throughout our Praxis process, the entire experience is transformative. And it has been. We began our transformation the first time Ginni told her story at a grant writing workshop and we will continue the process long after our project ends.
And that’s the power of the five C’s: if you let them in, they never stop working. They are present in how we live our lives, both in the context of our Praxis Project and as we go about day to day activities. Which, I think, is the point!