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Elections are over, but think what we can do if we all stay engaged

portrait of Josh Pauly
Josh Pauly

Wow, the 2017 elections were amazing! New leaders were chosen all across the nation. St. Paul, for example, chose Melvin Carter, its first African-American mayor in the city’s history. Ward 8 of Minneapolis elected Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the history of the United States. Turnout was also higher than previous years for a nonpresidential election. In 2013 there were 80,101 votes cast in the mayoral race in Minneapolis. This year, Minneapolis had almost 106,000 ballots cast!

For those of us who plan on checking out of our “civic duty” until next November, I challenge you to stay engaged within your community. There are countless ways you can do this.

I can use my life as an example. I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom and younger brother. My mom is the most compassionate and supportive person I have been blessed to know. But without community members giving their time and talents to support me, I would not be anywhere near where I am today.

Whenever I think about Gary Johnson, I picture him lugging his giant steel ladder down the road. He came over for a million reasons: to teach us how to caulk and seal siding, to fix our old mower, or even to weld a busted water spigot. I’ll never forget the infamous Christmas Eve when I tried putting spaghetti down the garbage disposal and nearly flooded the basement. Who came over with an industrial sized wet-vac? Gary. When a powerful storm caused the neighborhood to lose power, who was banging on our door DURING the storm to check on us? Gary. Guess who came over the next day to help cut up all the fallen trees? Gary. He was a regular everyday hero.

Gary wasn’t the only one. Lenel Wolf was the teacher who invested in me. As a junior in her trigonometry class, I was not doing well. Because of this, she offered to meet with me  an hour early three times a week to develop my math skills. Back then, I felt as though I was being punished, which made me act out. She still helped me! Over time, with her persistence, we developed a great relationship and she became my go-to teacher. Ms. Wolf is the reason I went into teaching, by demonstrating the impact I can have by going above and beyond the job description.

I would not have made it as a teacher without Kate Martin. As an undergrad student, I volunteered in her classroom at Edison High School. I learned a lot through tutoring her students, but even more during prep periods when she tolerated my nonstop questions and curiosity. As a newer teacher herself, I am sure she valued her prep periods as time to prepare lesson plans and class materials. She still made time to answer my questions. Once I received my degree, I accepted a job being (what else?!) her grade-alike partner at Sanford Middle School. Even then, she mentored me until I stepped away from teaching. I would not have been half the teacher I was without her. Ms. Martin taught me the value of mentoring the next person in line.

The whole point is, every day we have opportunities before us to be an example to someone else. Volunteer. Mentor. Participate. Stand Up. Fight the good fight.

Unsure where to start? Think about your passions. Books? Volunteer to read at an elementary school. Live for sports? Coach a youth team, encouraging teamwork and sportsmanship. Is art or the environment your thing? Help beautify a public space or organize a lake cleanup. Upset with your elected officials? Don’t complain on Facebook —  run for their seat! Want something more concrete? Attend your next neighborhood association meeting for specific opportunities in your community. Don’t have a neighborhood association? Great. Start one! Here’s how: order two pizzas, and make sure someone brings a cute baby (instant icebreaker).

We have less than 350 days until we make another round of very important decisions. But until then, use your passions to help improve our communities. Even if we all do a little bit, how much better could our communities be?

Josh Pauly is the executive director of Books on Wings, a nonprofit that provides culturally relevant books to underserved students in grades K-3 in an effort to help close the opportunity gap. He is also the founder of PeopleSourced Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization whose mission is to increase equitable community engagement in the local political process. Previously Josh taught social studies and AVID for three years within Minneapolis Public Schools. Josh has a bachelor's degree and a master's in education from the University of Minnesota. He lives in south Minneapolis with his wife.

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