June 10, 2022
Jasmine Serrano is a community organizer with SWOP’s Healthy Southwest initiative. She has lived in Chicago Lawn for the past 17 years and has worked at SWOP for the last 13 years. Jasmine supports the Healthy Southwest initiative expansion of SWOP’s referral system as well as she coordinates the community collaborative. This includes different partner organizations from Chicago Lawn and Ashburn.
Jasmine first connected with SWOP when she was in high school at around the age of 16. She was very angry and frustrated with the adults in her life who did not know how to support her. She began to push back against the homework, activities and curriculum but instead of feeling heard, she was told just to sit back and listen. When SWOP organizers entered the school, she felt as though they saw things differently and let her know that the things she cared about and took up issue with were valid and if she ever needed a chance to talk and express those ideas, then she could always come to see them. This is what first sparked an interest in SWOPs work for her.
When asked why she felt this work was necessary, she stated, “There’s such a large system that’s designed to work against the health of black and brown residents. It’s also important for people to be able to feed their families and not feel like they have to waste away to do so. It allows people to follow their own vision and their own mission so that they can earn a livable wage and do this as a career without being looked at under the microscope of being a bum or hippie because you want to make a change.” She doesn’t view organizing as a job, but more so as a way to influence the systems that have been corrupted and aimed toward dehumanizing members of the community. This work provides safe spaces and a welcomed respite for those who have had the system working against them.
When asked about what she believes was needed in order to implement change in the community, Jasmine had this to say: “I believe that change in our community is a question of power and we live in a system that prevents people from being able to fully utilize their power. It is the responsibility of people like us who have access to power and the ability to think about stuff like that to look to make those changes. I think change can occur between community members when they can see each other as a community; as people who should have each other's backs and people who have shared interests and needs. If we see someone struggling and see their problem as our problem, that can make all the difference in how we approach those situations. It is our role to facilitate that we are here and working in a system that preoccupies people with struggle.”
For anyone looking to be involved in organizing, she would tell them there is space for everyone and every type of individual. Although that space may not always be visible and at times they may need to fight for or create that space themselves; it’s important that they advocate for what they believe is right. It’s the nature of our world that sometimes we move with bias and we may not even realize that we are having that bias. It’s important when coming into a space that you know that your experience matters and the way you present that experience can make all the difference.
She also recommends having a definition of what organizing is for yourself and having an idea of what success looks like to you even if it means you may not one day see the fruits of that labor. She recalls having watched her single mom struggle to make it through and if she could have given her just a moment to rest, it would have meant the world to her, so now that she has the power to do that for the people she helps, that is what she considers her win. She says you should understand that you are valid and take the time to think about what success looks like to you in the space you will be in.