The English writer, EM Forster, once said, “Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” I resonate strongly with this line, and it comes to mind when I reflect upon the weekend I spent in Bethesda, Maryland from April 27-29, 2012. While in Bethesda, I had the privilege to represent the Sikh Coalition (along with my mentor and friend, Tejpreet Kaur) at a conference put together by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) entitled Advocates for Community Empowerment (ACE). The goal of this conference was to train South Asian community-based organizations to build upon their communication and advocacy skills with a focus around gender justice. Present at the conference were representatives from eight South Asian organizations from all across the United States. The work of the different organizations runs a wide range. For example, South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA) focuses on addressing health issues in the South Asian American community, while Chhaya CDC specializes in issues related to housing. In spite of these differences, all of the organizations share a common vision of working together to empower South Asian women and to build a stronger South Asian American community.
What I appreciated most about ACE 2012 was the opportunity to interact with people from the different organizations in an intellectually stimulating and laidback and loving environment. Having this interaction within an intimate group allowed for us to really understand each other’s work and to reflect upon our different approaches to carrying out a common goal. My time at the conference helped solidify my inveterate belief that community empowerment is a collaborative process that must integrate various social, cultural, interpersonal, and spiritual dimensions in order to have a lasting, positive impact. I was also able to see in action the value of bringing together people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to creating successful programs. Our conversations also reinforced my belief in integrating personal experiences into professional work. All of these lessons will be significant to the development of the Sikh Coalition’s emerging Healthy Communities Program and Junior Advocates Program. I also hope to use these learnings as I carry out my own professional goal of addressing mental health issues and stigma in the South Asian community.
I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to spend such an inspiring weekend with a group of like-minded individuals. I connected with all the conference participants both professionally and personally, and I look forward to continue working with them on integrating varying perspectives to empower South Asian women and South Asian Americans, and to create a stronger, healthier community.