ASAE Annual Meeting Game Changer Gabby Rivera says that although building authentic community takes work, it can help bring about radical change.
Whether she’s writing, speaking, or volunteering with organizations like GLSEN, which works to ensure safe schools for LGBTQ students, Gabby Rivera wants to inspire people to build authentic community.
For example, in her young adult novel Juliet Takes a Breath, which closely mirrors her own experience of coming up in the Bronx, Rivera wanted to tell an authentic story. And when Marvel hired her to develop the comic series America, she created a young Latina character who “twists and dismantles” preconceived narrative and stereotypes.
As one of the Game Changers at the 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, Rivera also wants to motivate attendees toward building authentic community as a way to lift people up and help them push their ideas and programs forward.
That latter point of helping others is something Rivera applies to her volunteer work. “When I’ve worked with LGBTQ youth, I’m trying to uplift the programs that they want to push forward…,” she said. “I’m not sitting here … saying, ‘Well I know what’s best for you. Oh, I was young once, so now I totally know everything that you’re going through,’ and dismissing folks and taking up a lot of space.”
Not presuming to understand someone’s experience is an important step toward building authentic community, inside or outside of associations, according to Rivera. “Whatever identities I might inhabit—queer, Latina—I’m still not going to understand what someone else is going through in their own life unless I’m in a community and can just hear them, support them,” she said.
Rivera gives a lot of credit to the strong communities she found in New York City. “I think they’ve saved my life, so I’m always and constantly encouraging young people—but also everyone—to find good, deep community with folks who are willing to show up for you,” she said.
But, according to Rivera, since people don’t automatically know how to be in a community with one another, they must continually work on their community-building skills. “If you really want to show up and be an ally in a space, offer your energy, your labor, and listen,” she said.
While building community does take effort, Rivera said the rewards of doing so are worth it. “[I]f you can bring folks together in a joyful place, that will always bring about radical change,” she said.