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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/13/10

'Soul Of A Citizen': From An Eighth Grade Education To Testifying Before Congress

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College gave Virginia the credentials to secure a new job, training and supervising over 300 volunteers who do health education outreach in low-income neighborhoods. During more than 20 years with COPS, she's moved up in the organization, first training people in her parish, then working with other local churches to develop their members' leadership skills as well. She's focused particularly on women like herself. Using her own unexpected journey as an example, she's taught them to find their own voice and speak out for their communities, despite any doubts or hesitations they might have.

By now, Virginia was negotiating with the mayor and bank presidents on major community development projects, pressuring local corporations for decent jobs, and working on after-school literacy projects. "We have a new business incubator and a teen center so kids have someplace to hang out besides the streets. The city gave people money to fix up the crumbling houses. Now they take so much pride in it. We're still a poor neighborhood but we finally have hope."

Virginia realized how far she'd come when she went to Washington, D.C., to testify before a U.S. Senate committee on an innovative job-training program that she and other COPS members had helped develop. The night before, she "prayed to God that I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself," but she said that she'd been far more afraid "talking to my neighbors the first time, and speaking at that first City Council meeting. By time I got to the U.S. Senate I was used to it." Afterwards, standing outside on the steps of the Capitol, Virginia thought "about how this process has changed me, developed potential I'd never have dreamed of. When I started, I was a stay-at-home mother. That was my world. Never in my wildest imagination could I have thought that I'd be here. Now I tell people I learned all my talents and confidence at the University of COPS. The people there found some spark in me. I never knew I had it."


Adapted from the wholly updated new edition of "Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times" by Paul Rogat Loeb (St Martin's Press, $16.99 paperback). With over 100,000 copies in print, "Soul" has become a classic guide to involvement in social change. Howard Zinn calls it "wonderful...rich with specific experience." Alice Walker says, "The voices Loeb finds demonstrate that courage can be another name for love." Bill McKibben calls it "a powerful inspiration to citizens acting for environmental sanity."

Loeb also wrote "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear," the History Channel and American Book Association's #3 political book of 2004. HuffPo is serializing selected sections of Soul every Thursday. Check here to see previous excerpts or be notified of new ones.

For more information, to hear Loeb's live interviews and talks, or to receive Loeb's articles directly, see www.paulloeb.org. You can also join Paul's monthly email list and follow Paul on Facebook at Facebook.com/PaulLoebBooks From "Soul of a Citizen" by Paul Rogat Loeb.

Copyright 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. Permission granted to reprint or post so long as this copyright line is included.

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Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time, and The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear,winner of the 2005 Nautilus Award for the best book on social change. See (more...)
 
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