By Béla Kézy, Nagykálló
On July 12 – just two weeks after the Roma-Net thematic workshop in Torrent – I travelled to Vienna to watch a concert. A live performance of a 64 year old man, who created magic for nearly four hours in front of 50.000 people! Although this wasn’t the first time I had seen Bruce Springsteen live, this concert made the biggest impact on me. No small feat from an artist who’s been standing in the limelight for more than 40 years! Now, you may rightly say, this is nice and all, but what has it got to do with Roma integration? Bruce Springsteen worked his magic with a community of 50.000 people that night. So I think ‘The Boss’ might have a couple of things to say to those working with Roma communities:
Rule No. 1: Love what you do!
It was obvious that Springsteen and every single member of his band enjoy what they do! Though playing for more than 3 hours non-stop is exhausting and requires serious concentration, the audience never felt this for a moment: the band played fantastic music that created a joyous atmosphere.
Working with Roma communities is a difficult task, with many challenges day in and day out. The only way to do it really well is if you love what you do. Without this passion, it is not possible to work with the necessary dedication, especially when things feel really hard and almost insurmountable!
Rule No. 2: Believe in what you do!
There is no doubt – Springsteen fanatically believes that he has a mission in this world: he has used his music to improve the life of as many people as possible – to motivate, inspire, give joy and faith! And he does exactly that, everyday, from concert to concert, record to record!
Working with Roma communities also requires a strong faith and belief in what you are trying to achieve, no question about it! But when we can make a positive impact on the life of so many people, every small success is absolutely worth it.
Rule No. 3: Make a real impact with the community you are working with by being with them as much as possible!
In Vienna, a “catwalk” was attached to the front of the main stage, allowing Springsteen to walk into the audience. And he did exactly that quite often: he sang most of the songs there, while the enthusiastic fans could see him up close, shake hands with him, and participate in his music. With every move he made he sent a clear message: “I am just like you, what’s more, I am one of you!”
Sometimes, those working with Roma people find that under the pressure of daily tasks, administration, project work and deadlines they have less and less time for actually being with the communities they are working with. This doesn’t work. If you want to make a real impact, you should spend as much time as possible talking and walking with the Roma community!
Rule No. 4: People trust you – trust them in return!
The “Boss” trusts his fans and believes that they will do the right thing in the end. And they do! At one point during the concert, a couple of overly enthusiastic guys sprang on stage; instead of calling for the security men, Springsteen greeted them with a smile, shook hands and let them walk around the stage. After a couple of seconds they left the stage without any force necessary.
This is an excellent analogy for how we should all work with Roma people. It is impossible to work with Roma communities without trusting them. But as the example demonstrates: the more open and trusting you are with people, the more they will trust you and demonstrating this through each other actions really works.
Rule No. 5: Listen to the people!
A concert is not a request program – the songs played are carefully selected. Fans of the Boss know that if they want a request they have to write the title of the song on a large piece of cardboard and get to the front section of the arena so that The Boss can collect it (together with many others) and hopefully play it! He can’t do every request, but he always does a few.
If you are really serious about helping Roma communities, being with them is only a good start – you also have to really listen to them! You have to understand them and their culture as well as their needs. You also have to find creative ways – even if it is difficult – to exchange honest discussion about their thoughts, ideas, fears and wishes; and to be honest about what you can and cannot do for them and with them. (In Torrent, we saw how the Local Support Group have used some of the planning processes learned through Roma-Net to be really innovative about the ways they help Roma people to openly share their ideas!)
Rule No. 6: Serve your community, but once in a while, make some dreams come true!
At one point at the concert in Vienna, Springsteen lifted a young girl from the audience on the stage and danced with her. Then he called up a boy, gave him the microphone and he sang two lines in front of 50.000 people! It was obvious form the looks on their faces that a dream had come true for them both at that moment! The Boss knows well, that he has to serve all of his audience – but from time-to-time he can also make some dreams come true without hurting the interests of the entire community. And he does it, because he knows: moments like these are really motivating for every member of the community!
Working with the Roma community is a similar experience: we have to be aware of the needs of the whole community but in making some critical changes to the way we work with our Roma communities through meeting their needs and being culturally sensitive we can actually change not only the lives of Roma people but that of the wider community too. The more we make those changes and see positive results; the more the wider community will want to engage with Roma people and help them to make further changes too.
Bruce Springsteen (and the E-Street Band) made magic in Vienna – as he no doubt did at every venue of the tour. We might say that It’s easy for him as the concerts are only visited by people who are already his fans. But Springsteen came from a difficult working class background and had a million reasons not to make it to where he is today. Only through passion, determination, commitment and dedication; as well as the ability to tell compelling stories from the heart about his background through his songwriting; he has gradually won the trust of millions. He motivates, inspires and consoles his “community” with faith, enthusiasm and with energy that belies his age. In fact, just like those of us committed to helping the cause of Roma in cities across the EU; “The Boss” knows that helping people, working with and for a community is a rewarding and beautiful service and something to be proud to be involved in for us all.
Roma Net is holding its final conference on Jan 15 – 17 in Budapest and Nagykallo.