Damu Smith

Damu Smith (1952–2006)

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Damu Smith Leadership Development and Organizer Training Institute (DSTI)

Damu Smith, now a beloved ancestor, garnered throughout his entire life, the highest respect from all of those committed to fighting the issues of racism and social justice. Damu Smith touched the lives of many throughout the African Diaspora. He always remained steadfast in the pursuit of eradicating injustice in any form. Damu’s fight against environmental racism is one of his legacies that will forever live in our historical memories.

The Focus of the training/orientation is to build and rebuilding power to create the changes in conditions in the lives of African American people.
Who are we?  We are a proud people with a long history of struggle. Who are we? We are a people with a rich and vibrant culture that has shaped this country. Who are we? We are a people who have demonstrated unlimited capacities to overcome any obstacles succeed and make a real contribution to creating a better America. We are African Americans
Respect: Your experience, knowledge, history, contribution and commitment we want to build on it
Include: To incorporate that experience and knowledge and to be inclusive of others
Empower: Provide the information, tools and structure to be successful and to share and empower others
Setting the Tone

Cultural: Libation, connection to ancestors; historical contexts; Pan African connection

Ice Breaker: Activities that help people feel comfortable

Exercise: Vision of the world small group discussion each group draws a picture of how they see the world today and then draw a picture of how they would like to see the world in the future


  • Pan African connection, world view
  • Community development: models for success
  • The media: making the point, the public story
  • The environment: The struggle for climate justice; jobs, protection, sharing

Relationship building: The main element in working with others

Relationships are created by: Identifying shared values by learning one another stories; Exchanges of resources and interests and commitment to a shared future

Group sessions

Building Blocks: Telling the story: Self, Us, Now

  • Story of self; tell why you have been to call to serve
  • Story of us; What calls you to this mission
  • Story of now; Share the urgent challenge we are called to face now;  there is hope based on history; the choices we must make to act now
  • 1 on 1 the value and process, the ASK, the rejection dance
    • Telling you story to establish share interest, values and commitment
    • Listening to the other persons story to establish  connections
    • Meetings are: Scheduled; Purposeful; Intentional; Probing
    • The ASK is direct

Review and Reflections/overview/expectations

Organizing, definition and description; Organizing people vs. putting things in order moving beyond mobilizing.

  • Getting people together in their own interest, around their own issues and in their own behalf, to build and exercise power.
  • Getting people to accept responsibility for making changes by doing the work.
  • Setting up and maintaining an organization that protects, promote and defend the collective interest 

and builds power.


Organizing principles

  • We do with people, not for people
  • Be positive and enthusiastic all we have when times are hard is each other and little enthusiasm
  • If you don’t know say it
  • Time is your most valuable resource you have, use it wisely
  • Be empowered, empower others
  • We have a rich history of success, build on it
  • Respect yourself, your community, and your co-workers
  • Have goals, be accountable and help other be accountable
  • Some is not a number, soon is not a time, someone is not a person
  • Keep it simple
  • Listen actively
  • Accept people as they are, not as we would like for them to be
  • Have a plan B
  • People will get involved because of the cause, they will stay because of you


Moving People to Action

The key to motivation is understanding that values inspire action through emotion.

Emotions inform us of what we value in ourselves, in others, and in the world and enable us to express their motivational content to others. In other words, because we experience them emotionally. Our values are what actually do move us to act, not just think we ought to act.

Some emotions inhibit action, but other emotions facilitate action. 

Action is inhibited by inertia, fear, self-doubt, isolation, and apathy. Action is facilitated by urgency, hope, You-Can-Make-A-Difference (YCMAD), solidarity, and anger.

Power Analysis Issues, Strategy, Victories: Who has power, how do we build power?

  • Understanding power relationship with Corporation, elected officials
  • Choosing and cutting issues
  • Strategy Guidelines
  • Strategy exercise, debrief


IT Using technology; making it easier

  • Connecting our people


Review and reflection on the, key points from yesterday; overview of the day


Leadership: what is a leader? Type, Style and form

  • I know it all and can do it all, I will tell you
  • Every one is a leader, who is responsible
  • Collaborative leadership: communicates, is responsible and accountable
  • Positive leaders
  • What type of leader are you
  • How can we help volunteers become leaders

But what does it feel like to be the “leader” in the middle?  What does it feel like to be the arrow that can’t get through?  What happens if the “leader” in the middle drops out?

Sometimes we go to the other extreme and think we don’t need a “leader,” because we can all lead which looks like this:

Sometimes this works.  But who’s responsible for coordinating everyone?  And who’s responsible for pushing the whole group forward when you can’t reach a decision?  Who takes ultimate responsibility for the outcome?

We expect each unit leader to provide some leadership and help volunteers to be a leader and to be held ultimately accountable for the area they cover.  However, we also expect them to coordinate and empower others to take leadership, which requires delegating responsibility (rather than tasks) and holding others accountable for carrying out that responsibility.

Your volunteers on the ground have the local knowledge and relationships you can’t build in just a few weeks.  A good organizer’s job is to reach out to the leaders in the community who can recruit and coordinate others well.  These leaders will be the backbone of your operation and you must be able to trust them to delegate responsibility to other dedicated reliable people, and to follow through on commitments.  You may be the leader in the middle, guiding volunteer efforts and being held accountable for outcomes, but you will be deeply reliant on your relationships with others for success.


Commit to winning
Accept responsibility
Build Relationships
Give meaning to action
Motivate others
Strategize with others
Delegate & empower
Engage with others in strategic, purposeful action
Are held accountable and hold others accountable

Choosing and Issue

Properly choosing an issue is important to running successful direct action organizing campaigns. When your organization is thinking about running a campaign, consider these criteria with invested members to ensure that you are choosing an issue (or campaign) that is winnable for your chapter.

Checklist for Choosing an Issue

  • Win Real Victories to Improve People’s lives
  • Make People aware of their own power
  • Alter the relations of power
  • Must be winnable
  • Must be widely felt
  • Must be deeply felt
  • Easy to Understand
  • Must have a clear target
  • Time Frame that works
    • Long Term
    • Short Term
  •   Non-Divisive
  •   Builds Leadership
  • Sets up for the next campaign
  • Pocketbook Angle
  • You can raise money
  • Consistent with the values of your organization

Team building; to be successful we need teams: Teams are built on respect, trust and support

  • Roles and relationships
  • Follow up and follow through
  • Sustaining teams:
    • Encourage creativity and ownership
    • Set clear team norms, what is acceptable and not
    • Team meetings; communicate information, review and check plan and progress, evaluation
    • 1 on 1 check in, how you doing, what do you need…
    • Celebrate successes
    • Learn from mistakes

Methods for mobilizing

Volunteer recruitment: sources, approaches, retention

  • You must believe people want to and will volunteer
  • Your phone book, rolodex, email list, face book list, events, walk ins
  • What to say: Introduction; purpose, challenge, solutions, urgency,  ASK
  • Recruitment phone banks: Science of numbers; how to increase show rate, follow up, re-enforce, recommit, reminders, must be regular, have names, prep callers role play
  • Retention:
    • Always greet volunteers, sign in, check them off when  come in
    • Train volunteer don’t assume they know the style and process. Always role play
    • Check in with during the shift, to answer questions, help create a good experience
    • Make sure you work along with volunteer
    • Debrief after the shift
    • Ask them when they will volunteer again
    • Train the best volunteers to be leaders to help others
    • THANK THEM all people want recognition, acknowledgement and appreciation 

Reasons why volunteer don’t return

  • Don’t feel  it is worth their time
  • No one ask
  • No one explained why it was important
  • Are uncomfortable doing what you ask them to do
  • It is  a task you wouldn’t do and doesn’t appear significant
  • They feel overwhelmed
  • Changes without explaining why
  • Unwelcoming environment, not clean


Phone bank operations: calling our community people:

  • Secure site with enough phones that work
  • Develop materials check list, have enough materials
  • Prep and orient callers, review script, model a good call ,role play, evaluate
  • Check in on callers
  • Quick debrief, ask them to return have calendar for sign ups

Canvassing; visiting our neighbors

  • Secure site
  • Develop materials check list, have enough materials, maps, pens
  • Prep and orient walker, make sure volunteers are comfortable, capable and confident;  review script, model a good visit ,role play, evaluate; review don’t and do’s
    • Don’t: argue, go inside, preach, spend too much time with one person, put material in mail box
    • Do: smile, be polite, make eye contact, be brief and direct, shake the gate beware of dogs
  • Yes we count planning community meetings: Kick off planning, program
    • Develop presentation for your local unit: report on training
      • What is Yes We Count campaign,
      • Why is it important to the branch
      • What are the actions
      • Proposal to branch:
        • Kick off  tentative dates, site, volunteers recruitment, memberships development,  time line for phase I

Wrap up, evaluation,


A plan is an orderly way to achieve stated and agreed upon outcomes. All plans are developed from values, visions, interest and beliefs.

The difference between a good idea and a plan is the time, energy, resources and actions that are applied to develop the idea into reality.

The Process

The Planning action, implementation and evaluation cycle:

  • Developing the plan and action; Take a day or two to develop and refine the issues, values, interest, beliefs and visions of the people being affected and who will be responsible for the success.
  • Take time to decide and access the targets and actions that will be necessary to be successful.
  • Action/implementation: Kick off the action, get people involved.  The plan should provide enough time to be successful.  Always determine the group’s success
  • Evaluate –review regularly the status of the action; Are we on target? Are we on time? Are we on budget? What is working, what could be better? At the end of the action/implementation stage, evaluate the success, did we accomplish what we set out to do?
  • Begin the planning process cycle again.

Key Elements to A Plan

  • Goals: What do want to accomplish and why; what will we consider a success?
  • Assessment of conditions: What are the factors that exist that contribute to or take away from the groups’ success?
  • Methods/Approaches/Strategies: How will the group achieve success?
  • Objective: Measurements, who and by when, how much.
  • Structure: Who and how will decisions be made, roles, responsibilities and functions
  • Budget and Fund Raising: How much will it cost to be successful, how will the success to be paid for?
  • Time Frame: How much time will it take to be successful.
  • Evaluation: What is working, what could be better, do adjustment need to be made, is the timing correct

Group sessions
Planning a community campaign:
Staging a press conference
Choosing an Issue