Chick of the Month: Malia Lazuby Susie K. on Jun 6, 2012 • 2:03 pm •
It’s with great excitement that we bring you June’s Chick of the Month, Malia Lazu, who is heading up Future Boston Alliance, Selkoe’s organization to encourage the retention of Boston’s talented creatives. In the several weeks since its launch, Malia has invited significant attention to the group’s mission in the media, government sectors, and throughout Boston residents. She believes wholeheartedly that Boston can once again be the premiere global city for arts, culture, ideas and innovation, and we are sure there are lessons in the group’s call to action that speak to millennials in cities and towns nationwide. Check out this inspiring read!
What brought you to FBA? Did you always see yourself working in a political environment? Did you have political influences growing up?
My family is a politically opinionated family. So politics and history were talked about at the dinner table. I held my first political sign when I was 9 years old, so I guess it was always in my blood. But it wasn’t until I read The Autobiography of Malcom X that I realized how our history and politics keep people oppressed. That book turned my focus on to the voiceless.
Tell us about your background working in non-profits.
I started my first nonprofit when I was 19, the organization is called MassVOTE. I was lucky enough to be mentored by some very amazing activists and they taught me how to really organize communities.
I then went to DC and did political consulting work. DC was a wake up call on the difference between organizing and political campaigning. Working for the Democratic party with a focus on how to get people to vote was too narrow of a vision for me. So I then went to work for Harry Belafonte.
For 6 years I did gang organizing support through out the country. I saw some of our poorest, most violent communities. What I realized is that violence is tied to vulnerability. The more vulnerable a community the more violent. The biggest take away from that work was the understanding of how much Americans’ indifference leads to the crappy parts of our society. What we decide to accept in our country is our choice and using the phrase “Well that’s they way it is…” is a cop out.
Name the top 3 skills you think are crucial to this kind of work. How can people interested in the field refine or develop those skills?
- Ability to remain uncomfortable
- Relationship building skills
I think if anyone wants to get involved in activism they should work on becoming the most honest and open person they can be. The role of an organizer is to recognize a community’s power even when that community doesn’t and work with that community so they find their power. If you are ego driven or are doing this work because you want some cheap grace you will not see impact. There are so many organizations around right now that are working to survive regardless of their relevance in a community, it’s ego that keeps that organization going. It would be much better if the irrelevant organization would say “Hey people aren’t coming to our meetings lets ask them what they would like to see.”
Working on being uncomfortable will allow you to stay in a conversation, brainstorming session or campaign enough time to get work done. It will also allow you to build trust with a community that may be different from you. Starting off from an amorphous space allows for people to come in and put their own fingerprints on it. That’s how you create impact.
Because Boston is the best city in the country! I came back to Boston because I believe in the people and the work going on. I believe Boston can be that shining city on a hill.
What parallels exist between the FBA movement here and the issues that other “millennials” are experiencing in cities nationwide?
The generational shift in our country is questioning norms at every level of our society. Race and sexual equality is one issue based example, but also how we create society is also changing. Finding communities through the internet, communicating through cell phones and social networks are a completely different set of agreements than our parents and their parents used. So I think it is important that nationwide we see that we want to make some shifts in all aspects of our society.
Here in Boston we believe that a shift towards a more open and transparent society will be helpful to our city in the long run. I think millennials are having this conversation through out the country.
How can young adults foster their entrepreneurial civic spirit on a grassroots level within their communities?
Ask your community what it wants to do and then use the entrepreneurial skills you have to make it happen. I think the political and nonprofit worlds need a shake up. They are operating in a very centralized space which reinforces power structures and continues to stifle vision. Anyone who wants to get out there should do it their way and not worry about how it looks to traditional “nonprofits.”
How do you respond to critics? What is important to keep in mind?
I first respond to critics internally. Is there something there that is true and what can I learn from this critique? If I believe their critique is mean spirited and not productive I will not respond.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is not my job to change their minds. There are enough people who agree with my work and that’s where I can have impact, I don’t have to spend time convincing people that there should be equality; if you don’t believe that, that’s cool and we both know we are on different teams.
What is the quirkiest thing you’ve encountered in the Karmaloop offices?
How dog friendly we are… It actually makes me feel like I should get a dog, just to bring them into the office!
What are your personal hot button issues? What are you most passionate about? Politically? Personally? Socially? Environmentally?
The criminal justice system and school-to-prison pipeline is my biggest hot button issue. I am so disappointed in how our desire to be tough on crime has caused us to continue Jim Crow and classism. The lack of accountability for police is also something I am very passionate about. Over 86% of the young people I worked with who were in juvi had been molested as children and rather than dealing with that problem, cops ask for laws that allow children to be arrested. I saw an 11 year old girl in jail for prostitution, she wasn’t even old enough to consent to sex so why a cop saw a prostitute when this child was street walking I will never know. It gets me all fired up…
Where does shock value fit into a campaign?
Shock value is a great way to define the problem in any campaign. Getting people to understand the largeness of a problem is key. But shock value wont last if there is no real program afterwards. It was shocking to see starving children with flies in their eyes… now we have seemed to become normalized to it. It’s important to follow up shock with comprehensive education and action.
You’re a published author — How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office — what is the most important takeaway from this book for a young woman?
There are a couple of takeaways. First, women have always been a core part of activism in America. There are a lot of women winning campaigns and running campaigns. The second thing is that humor is the best weapon to working towards equality; it helps you not take yourself or your oppressor too seriously.
How do you balance style and substance? Do you think appearances can make or break a woman?
I think appearances are a huge part of effective communication. There are times where your appearance can get in the way of your message and there are times when it can help make your message. I also think it’s important for women to not reject their femininity in their appearance even in this male dominated field. There is a difference between femininity and sexuality — I will always try to stay with a feminine look, not necessarily sexual. I try to strike a balance between style and making sure my audience will respect me. That is not always a suit, but it’s very rarely a miniskirt, no disrespect to Ann Coulter.
Finally, I’m sure everyone is curious, what do you think Boston’s future is 5 years from now? 10? 20?
I look forward to answering that question with Bostonians. I think Boston will continue to be a champion city. I think we will continue to be a tech, college and medical hub and I just hope we will expand on other areas of our society, like culture and creativity.