THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY KNOWLEDGE
Mar Butler knows his community. It’s the community where he grew up, made a few mistakes along the way, and the community he has dedicated himself to serving as a motivational speaker and community activist. He wants others to know what he didn’t – that they have a choice and a chance for a different kind of life.
Born and raised in West Dallas, an area known for high crime and low income, Mar had only seen one way of life. The men in his family were caught in a cycle of poverty and recidivism – and first ended up in juvenile detention himself at the age of 15. “There were no restorative programs like we have nowadays that actually cater to individuals who live in underserved and underprivileged communities,” he said. After serving two prison sentences as an adult – during which he missed out on formative years of his daughters’ childhoods – he was determined to show other young people in his community that there was another way.
Being an effective agent for change requires that kind of deep community knowledge. “Environments change,” Mar explained. “The nature of an environment in one neighborhood can change within a month. So, if you have data that is three months, six months, or a year old, it’s pretty much irrelevant.” Being a consistent presence in the community builds trust with his neighbors while allowing him to stay on top of ever-changing dynamics. “When people know that you’re there, and you care and every time they see you, you are doing something to uplift the community, they will tell you anything. Things they will not tell law enforcement, that they will not tell any elected officials, they will tell you and entrust with you what they’re really feeling what’s really going on.” That allows him to make real-time adjustments in how to care for the community in so many ways – including speaking, training and leading a nonprofit.
With that knowledge, he can be more effective in his message and services – and it means fewer resources are wasted on things that will not have a substantial impact. That makes a big difference. “Grassroot organizations, they are the ones who don’t have as much of the resources or the time, or the funding to give. So you have to be more strategic,” he said. “You have to be a little bit more accurate than everyone else, because you don’t have much room to spare.”
HEALING THROUGH FEELING
With his new 501c3, he’s putting his local expertise to practical use. His organization is called TREE Leadership, and is based on the formula of truth, restore, empower and evolve which he credits with turning around his own life. By going into schools and other educational facilities, he’s working with kids as young as 12 (and up to age 25) teaching them to become future advocates and leaders in the community. By working with youth starting in middle school, TREE Leadership gives students a point of stability –something to rely on – within their own communities.
Mar Butler has always remembered the advice he got from a spiritual advisor who told him “you can’t heal what you can’t feel.” When working in his community, Mar keeps in mind that he cannot help anybody heal until he first establishes a connection. It is only then that the people he is trying to help can come to believe they can empower themselves.
He summed up his mission, “I became one of the prominent leaders in the city, and the community, because I had an unadulterated resolve to make a difference.” By empowering his community from a grassroots level, he’s doing just that.