Building a virtual community for positive social change

According to an annual online Harris Poll undertaken by Walden University, an estimated 84 percent of adults around the world care about positive social change and making a difference. 

Tampa resident Jan Roberts is certainly one of them. For more than four decades, Roberts, a former adjunct professor at the University of Tampa’s Sykes College of  Business, has been a champion for social causes.  

In 1999, she founded Earth Charter US, a global agreement for a sustainable future. Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, invited her, to the international launch of the Earth Charter at the Hague Peace Palace in 2000.

83 Degrees Media featured Roberts back in 2014, after she had founded Operation Bon Appetit, Serving Up Hope Through Action

She was in the middle of a two-and-a-half month, cross-country trip to interview and videotape people spearheading grassroots initiatives that were making a difference for their communities. (Read the story here.)

Sharing inspiring stories

Now she’s taken those stories and created an online virtual community in hopes of inspiring others to take action.  

“I went around the country looking for stories with the most potential for systematic change,” says Roberts. “Now it is my hope that the video stories will spark conversation at the workplace or at a dinner party or wherever people gather. It’s about creating a connecting point with people.”

Given the current political climate, Roberts says she feels more compelled than ever to deliver stories that offer hope.   

On her website, Operation Bon Appetit, she writes: “There may be reasons and events that make us feel like our efforts to create a better life or society for ourselves is not possible. Yet, we need not be caught in an endless cycle of hopelessness and despair. The power of hope is real and is creating significant change for people, communities, and societies. We just need to believe in the possibility. It is my hope that my research and examples help you to do so.”

Earlier this year, she spoke to the Tampa-based Athena Society, to raise awareness about her mission to interview social change agents and post their stories online.   

Roberts calls the people she’s interviewed “innovators who are transforming the economy, education and communities.”

“They’re the artists, economists, teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs and others who are committed to creating a more caring future for both people and the planet,” says Roberts. 

She’s divided the video stories into categories ranging from the arts, education, environment, food and diversity to the new economy and healthcare. Among her favorites are:

1. “Evergreen Cooperatives: Building Worker Equity & Community in Cleveland,'' an innovative program that began as a way to address income equality in people living below the poverty line.

Evergreen Cooperatives launched in 2008 with the backing of a consortium of organizations, including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University, 

Rather than simply providing grant funding, the organizations hope to improve the lives of people living in inner-city Cleveland by establishing a series of worker-owned cooperatives.  In what is now seen as a model for other cities, Evergreen Cooperatives operates several sustainable social enterprises and give employees an ownership stake in them. 

The businesses include an eco-friendly commercial laundry, a renewable energy company focused on solar and wind power, and Green City Growers, a hydroponic greenhouse farming cooperative.

2. In "Farm to College Program Benefits Students and Montana Farmers,'' Roberts interviews Mark LoParco, director of the University of Montana dining program, who talks about going green and buying local to provide students with healthy food and to support Montana’s small farmers.

3. And in "Gay Rights Take Off in Florida,'' Roberts interviews Nadine Smith, co-Founder and CEO of Equality Florida. Smith talks about her childhood and what it was like to take a leadership role in the gay rights movement in Florida.

See the entire collection of Roberts’ video interviews on her website by clicking here.

More recently, Roberts, now 79, hit the road again, this time visiting a number of civil rights museums.  

“Why am I pursuing civil rights stories?” says Roberts. “I am moved by the incredible spirit and courage of people and want to better understand what motivated their actions.” 

Among the museums she visited was the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, an antebellum plantation turned into a museum that provides a realistic look at slavery; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN, which is located at the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated.  

In a blog post about the visit she writes: "As I hit the road for a weeklong trip to visit the civil rights museums in the Southeast, I wasn’t sure why I was doing it even though I did know that I was deeply concerned about the surge in hate crimes after the presidential election. I came home with a deep-seated certainty about the resilience of the human spirit that propels me forward to do what I can to influence the arc of the moral universe that Dr. King believed was long but bent towards justice.”

Follow this link to read the Harris Poll undertaken by Walden University.
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.