Strategic Community Engagement: Empowering Underrepresented Voices

Recently, the National Civic League assisted the City of Grand Rapids, MI in a series of community outreach efforts. We often engage the expertise of senior fellows to amplify many of our civic engagement projects throughout the U.S.

Most recently, senior fellow, Angela Lawson brought her expertise along with League staff to gather in Grand Rapids and facilitate community conversations surrounding public safety with three underserved populations: youth and young adults, LGBTQ+ individuals, and immigrant Latino/Hispanic communities. Together with Benita Duran from our staff and another Senior Fellow, Larry Schooler, Angela helped implement a meticulously crafted strategic planning process that encompassed extensive engagement with city and community leaders, culminating in a series of four targeted meetings.

Angela has been involved with the City of Aurora, CO’s response to tragic incidents involving law enforcement. Drawing from this experience, she brought her expertise to Grand Rapids, which had recently undergone a similar experience, offering valuable insights and support to a community in need of healing. Angela’s dedication to community outreach and ensuring underrepresented populations were included in these conversations was key to the League’s successful outcomes in Grand Rapids. Community members from underserved populations were able and encouraged to express their personal feelings and perspectives about public safety.

Citizen’s academies are another way senior fellow Angela Lawson is promoting inclusive local civic engagement. Recognizing a pressing need within the community during a recent city council campaign, Lawson spearheaded the development of the Civic Engagement Academy in Aurora. This innovative eight-week program serves as a platform for residents and employees within the city boundaries aged 14 and older to learn about their rights and responsibilities, empowering them to actively participate in various city boards, commissions, and community-led opportunities.

The sessions encompass a comprehensive range of topics, including an exploration of various forms of government, an in-depth examination of Aurora’s council/manager government structure, an explanation of the duties and responsibilities of elected officials, a detailed overview of city departments and services, and an examination of the pivotal role of HOAs and other neighborhood groups. Additionally, participants delve into how boards and commissions can effectively influence policy, the procedural steps for a proposed ordinance to navigate becoming law, and a walkthrough of the city council meeting process. The academy culminates in a community service project, underscoring the practical application of the knowledge gained throughout the program.

The League and our senior fellows provide national expertise to support intentional outreach to underrepresented populations for community and civic engagement involving a wide breadth of topics such as public safety, civic involvement, youth violence prevention, public policy, and more.

Read more about our civic assistance offerings to see how Angela and our other senior fellows and staff can help your community. Email us at if you’re interested in working with Angela and the League.

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