Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Late to Bed, Early to Rise, Keep the Faith and ORGANIZE!

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Late to Bed, Early to Rise, Keep the Faith and ORGANIZE!

Article excerpt

Lisa Sullivan has set her heart on politicizing the hip-hop nation.

Politicians have failed to make politics relevant to the hip-hop nation, yet they would like to gain their support. I have a simple suggestion: Listen. --Hip-hop journalist Rom Willis

Lisa Sullivan knows how to listen. The founder and president of LISTEN Inc., an organization devoted to developing youth leadership, Sullivan learned at an early age to understand the world she is in and what was expected of her. She beams with pride and admiration as she recalls how her folks instilled a deep-seated work ethic within her.

"On my 15th birthday my mother took me down to [a local store] and told the manager, `This is my daughter and she needs a job!'" She fondly remembers the positive reinforcement she received from members of her Washington, D.C. community, including strangers. "I was waiting at a bus stop and an older lady asked me about myself, and as we were parting company she said, `Now you remember to go to church, you hear?' and I said, `Yes, ma'am!'"

Sullivan, a soft-featured black woman with a short salt-and-pepper afro, flashing eyes, and an easy smile, gets visibly excited when she speaks of her passion: lifting up the young. "This generation is bombarded with information without the capability of analyzing it. In such a confusing society, you must have a knowledge base; otherwise it is like being a computer with no anti-virus software running--any virus can come along and take hold."

LISTEN (an acronym for Local Initiative Support, Training, and Education Network) is Sullivan's vision to bridge the knowledge gap for urban youth and to help them build the capabilities to successfully navigate society's turbulent waters. According to Sullivan, "Urban youth must be organized to formulate their own questions, to define their own problems, to find their own solutions, and create their own institutions."

To that end, LISTEN takes several approaches to develop leadership and strengthen social capital among the urban youth of the hip-hop nation. It locates talented local youth leaders in Washington, D.C., and around the world; researches and disseminates information on local youth culture, policy issues, and trends affecting urban youth; and trains youth workers in professional development, urban youth development, nonprofit management, group facilitation, and public life skills. LISTEN also convenes young leaders, activists, youth workers, youth organizers, artists, academics, policy analysts, journalists, and social entrepreneurs of color and connects urban youth with opportunities, fellowships, training, and employment.

An honors graduate of Clark Atlanta University with a master's degree from Yale, Sullivan has served with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Children's Defense Fund (where she founded the Black Student Leadership Network). Sullivan acknowledges without a trace of boastfulness that she could pretty much pick and choose any organization in her fields of expertise. "LISTEN is very much an expression of my faith," said Sullivan. "I could probably have worked for the national organizations (Urban League, NAACP, etc.) but I was compelled to start something new. A synthesis of the old and the young and my faith gives me the courage and confidence to push off from the comfort, security, and the status."

Sullivan chose Ella Josephine Baker as the model for her approach for LISTEN

and her work in general. Baker was the legendary organizer whose efforts for the NAACP throughout the South in the 1940s were instrumental in paving the way for much of the civil rights activity of the 1950s and 1960s. Baker's trailblazing efforts and contacts laid the foundation for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which formed in 1960.

Sullivan cites Baker's impact especially on her understanding of grassroots democracy and decentralized leadership. She wrote, "For Ella Baker, the single most important goal of community organizing was to ensure the leadership development of poor people, women, and youth to participate in and contribute to local political activism by initiating projects and influencing strategy. …

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