Buttons expressing a variety of social causes, from world peace to environmental concerns.

Connect. Share. Empower.  How easily we use those words today. Given a myriad of ways to contribute our time, money and support via the web, exercising our social conscience can be as easy as a vote cast with a click of a mouse. Click! And support a runner joining a Race for the Cure.  Click and fight world hunger on a site called FreeRice.

Beyond the realms of Facebook, Twitter and our ever-present personal digital devices, what do we really mean when we speak of social activism? What is social activism? How do we know when our actions count? Who among us is indispensable to a cause, and if we are dispensable, why bother?

Tough questions: no easy answers

The answers are a matter of personal commitment, temperament and, let’s face it, time. With the pace of life, the pressures of work, family, school, volunteer choices, so many causes, so many needs, where do we draw the line? Is it better to be a follower or a leader? Is it about passion or compassion? How do we help? How do we make a difference?

Passon’s passion

Who better to ask about the meaning of social activism than the Jewish Community Relation Council’s recipient of the 2012 Activist Award, Michelle Passon? An elementary school teacher by training, an administrator and executive who has moved up the ranks serving numerous community organizations in her long career as both a professional and volunteer, Michelle offers simple advice:

“I believe Senator Ted Kennedy said it best: “The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.” For me, the core of activism is caring for and nurturing family and my extended family through my community. Getting started is simple. Find an unmet need that you are passionate about.  Learn all you can about it and seek out the people who are trying to make a difference. Then roll up your sleeves and do the hard work.  Your life will be enriched beyond measure.”

Giving back

Beyond measure, Michelle’s contributions as a volunteer, fundraiser and executive advisor have supported education and women’s health issues through dozens of community organizations, including HAVEN, a shelter for battered women and children, the Michigan Jewish AIDS Coalition, Temple Israel’s KULANU ( the first inclusion program in Michigan), the Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women, and ORT America Michigan Region. As Director of the Federation’s Women’s Department and through her work as a field instructor for the University of  Michigan School of Social Work, Michelle has touched hundreds of lives and guided the hands of countless young professionals in Detroit.

A fitting tribute

Michelle Passon will be honored Tuesday, May 29, at an awards program with guest speaker Hon. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Representative, Florida’s 20th Congressional District, Democratic National Committee. Pre-Glow Reception at 6 pm, program at 7 pm. Adat Shalom Synagogue, 29901 Middlebelt Road, Farmington Hills. For more information, please contact Beverly Phillips at 248- 203-1527 ( phillips@jfmd.org ) or visit detroitjcrc.org

What’s your passion?

What does social activism mean to you?  Follow the conversation on Twitter @myJDetroit.