I am a volunteer and community liaison for Somos Lawrence, a network of volunteers that advocates for effective and culturally informed grassroots outreach to non-English-speaking residents of Douglas County, Kansas. We contribute to creating a community that is safe, stable, and attentive to the economic, social, and cultural realities of the people we serve.
What makes Somos Lawrence unique is that we are grassroots: We act from the bottom up, and we are completely volunteers. Our commitment to our community work and advocacy comes with maneuvering around the responsibilities of our full-time jobs and personal lives. Some of our leading voices are Spanish-speaking members of our community who have minimal formal education and very limited resources. And while some of our volunteers, including me, have life trajectories that involve working with Latinx migrant communities, our volunteer network is founded, and emerges from—not for—some of the most silenced and invisible makers of Lawrence history.
The city of Lawrence and the surrounding Douglas County have been shaped by Mexican and Latinx residents and their histories, yet these community members remain conspicuously absent from much of Lawrence’s institutions, policies, and planning. Somos Lawrence’s action is rooted in witnessing the continued invisibility of the communities that we serve, the members of which are persistently described as “migrants”—and, by extension, “outsiders.”
To push back against this, we work from the grassroots level to ensure that all residents of the county—particularly the underrepresented communities of Spanish speakers—understand that they play integral roles in Lawrence. We emphasize that all community members deserve to access the resources available to any resident of Douglas County. We provide interventions that ease language, cultural, bureaucratic, and/or financial barriers that non-English-speaking community members may encounter as they try to access our county’s services.
In Fall 2023, we received a grant from the Everytown for Gun Safety Community Support Fund thanks to our collaboration with Moms Demand Action in our area. We are keenly aware that gun violence is both structural and systemic. It is part and parcel of the armed violence that drives people to migrate from the Latin American region, and gun violence is central to life expectancy in the U.S. as a country of destination.
Hierarchies of class, gender, and race make some populations in the U.S. more vulnerable than others, but nevertheless, gun violence is a public health concern that affects us all. We cannot engage in a process of making possible futures for our community without addressing the leading cause of death of children and teens in the nation.
On November 2, 2023, Somos Lawrence partnered with Moms Demand Action and the artist collective Lawrence Percolator to offer a Día De Los Muertos event to the community. This event was made possible thanks to a grant from the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council, the support of the Ballard Community Center, and the grant we received this fall from Everytown. The grant from Everytown enabled us to cover all the costs to ensure the celebration of the event, including the tents, the lamp heaters, and the lighting for the tent. The grant also covered the expenses of many of the materials used in the main offering installation.
This was a collaborative effort that brought hope to all of us. We were all in the company of good people putting their time, resources, and hearts together to create a shared experience for the community at large. In social justice work, the past, present, and future coalesce, and we believe that remembering the departed is a way of building better futures from our present. Our intent was to open a space of socialization and beauty that would be conducive to remembering our connections to our loved ones, particularly those we share with those who are no longer with us.
Our Día De Los Muertos partnership highlighted one of the most significant gratifications that we at Somos Lawrence experience every day: Learning, sharing, and finding strength in the generosity and resilience of our communities. Witnessing how collective efforts and selfless human collaboration result in improving people’s lives consistently feeds our hope.
Araceli Masterson-Algar is a volunteer and community liaison with Somos Lawrence.