My name is Kevin White, and I am a Habitat volunteer, donor, and advocate.
During my time as an employee at 3M, I was able to connect with a fantastic organization that gave my voice purpose and allowed me to tangibly impact a crucially important topic - affordable housing. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity provided me the knowledge and experience to understand that homeownership is foundational to unraveling the generational wealth gap.
I began to learn about the underlying causes that had barred Black Americans and other minority groups from homeownership, and how inequities in housing were instrumental in other related disparities. From education to health to basic safety, the lack of affordable housing perpetuates systemic injustices, and I knew if I truly wanted to help make a change, I would need to advocate on this issue.
But how to advocate? Who to speak with? What to say? I realized I would need to “get smart” on the topics being raised through the legislative process. I signed up for Twin Cities Habitat’s Advocacy Action Alert emails, which allowed me to stay up to date on current legislative topics and add my voice to the conversation. From pre-scripted emails to links I could post on social media to scripts for calling legislators, the advocacy team offered me chances to become comfortable with how to communicate through various paths. Since I was still new to advocacy, I could move at a pace that allowed me to hone my message, while introducing my passion on the subject. But I still felt there was something more I could do.
And there was. Annually, Twin Cities Habitat has a “Habitat on the Hill” event where advocates for affordable housing can learn how to support efforts through the legislative process, how to focus on tangible pieces of legislation, and how to use your voice to let your lawmakers know how important affordable housing is to their constituency. The past two years' events have been virtual due to the current pandemic, but I realized there was no time like the present to become more involved in this important work.
Advocates gathered at the State Capitol for Habitat on the Hill in 2019. We hope to be advocating in person again soon!
During this year’s event, there was the main program, including remarks from Twin Cities Habitat leadership, Habitat Homeowner LeAndra Estis, and a keynote address from Dr. Bambie Hayes-Brown, CEO of Georgia ACT. This messaging focused on what work is being done across various communities to dismantle the harmful impacts of the affordable housing crisis. Understanding that funding programs through legislative efforts were critical to the mission’s success, we could now take that information to our elected representatives with force.
Following the main program, there were two breakout sessions focused on Grassroot Lobbying and Overcoming Affordable Homeownership Misconceptions. Having just heard the why, these sessions truly provided even more “How.” The tools, tips, and structure provided by the lobbying session would become even more important to me, as I had also signed up to speak with my state senator, Senator Greg Clausen.
Here was where the rubber met the road. I was afraid I would not be ready, that my message was more passion than substance, and that I would only annoy someone as busy as Sen. Clausen. I was not afraid of being embarrassed, but more so that if I did not convey the proper message, then key legislation, such as the Challenge Program, would not have the support necessary to meet the current crisis. I was afraid that I was not the right messenger, being a white guy from the suburbs. Luckily, Twin Cities Habitat did not send me in alone; I was fortunate enough to have another advocate with me, Sharon Mason. Sharon, also from my district, had been involved in advocacy for a long time, and she quickly reassured me that our message, our passion, and our knowledge was what we could bring to the meeting with the senator.
And she could not have been more correct! Senator Clausen was amazingly compassionate, empathetic, and focused on our message. I spoke from the heart about the importance of this work, and Sharon brought knowledge of the legislation that would help make that passion a reality. We requested he also spread the message of the Challenge Fund’s importance, and the need to increase its amount in the next omnibus spending bill. By the end of the meeting, I truly believe we conveyed our message passionately and clearly, and he was extremely thankful for our time.
I’m looking forward to my next meeting with my lawmakers. With a great team and a sense of purpose, advocates like me and Sharon can have a big impact. And organizations like Twin Cities Habitat are essential to provide the strength, knowledge, and support necessary to become a well-versed, informed, and effective advocate. Advocates are not alone. We are part of a larger justice ecosystem, and I am extremely proud and excited to truly start this next chapter in my advocacy journey.
Did you miss Habitat on the Hill? You can view our program and break out sessions here:
Join Habitat advocates like Kevin and Sharon by raising your voice for affordable housing! You can start like Kevin did by signing up for Advocacy Action Alerts.