One year ago we were all staring at the aftermath of America’s racial reckoning.
Photo: Jon Arrieta / Impact Services
One year ago we were all staring at the aftermath of America’s racial reckoning. For me that meant walking a block from my house to Kensington Avenue on May 31st and watching as years of racism, oppression and exploitation against a community burst to the surface. Glass was broken, stores were emptied, and people’s trauma lay bare. It meant waking late that night to burning buildings on the avenue and standing in front of the smoldering skeleton of a building the next morning— a symbol of all that was transpiring in America.
On June 1st I stood on the 3000 block of Kensington Ave feeling helpless and not knowing how to support the community that I love so much. As a 20-year resident, I knew the history of divestment and exploitation of this neighborhood. While standing there, I ran into the executive director of Impact Services as he was surveying the damage. I didn’t know him at the time, but seeing him reminded me how helpless I felt. I was reminded that I was there without a defined role in the future reconstruction of my neighborhood.
I went home and, knowing that NKCDC had previously been looking for a new executive director, wrote to them saying, “In light of the catastrophic events of the past few weeks that I’m sure will have an incredible impact on NKCDC, I wanted to reiterate my interest.”
In October of last year, after a search process that was inclusive of both staff and a newly configured board, I was given the opportunity to directly serve this community as executive director of NKCDC.
In November I began my new position and immediately leaned on the mission of the organization to “advance social equity and economic empowerment by nurturing and creating opportunities for residents to live in, and actively shape, their neighborhoods of choice.” While reviewing and updating a vision of how to proceed in these new and complicated times I found a path forward from all of this destruction. I shared some of those initial thoughts in a Generocity article about community-driven development stating that we needed to center community-driven design and planning; to transfer control of resources to community; to insure that primary beneficiaries of progress is the community; that implementation and management of work should be locally led; and that evaluation, assessment and accountability should be locally led as well.
This past March the community faced additional disinvestment when NKCDC learned that the train station just feet from our door would be closed indefinitely for repairs. We responded by not only organizing in solidarity with local community leaders, civic associations and residents but we demanded that the historical root causes of the closure be acknowledged and addressed as part of the reopening plan. Thanks to the leadership of this community, the station was reopened in under two weeks, and more importantly, an even greater coalition of local leadership has emerged.
In April, in partnership with Impact Services, we released Connected Community: A Trauma Informed Community Engagement Toolkit which aims to improve the quality and effectiveness of community-based work in neighborhoods that experience high levels of trauma. The curriculum is designed to both teach participants about trauma and to build the skills necessary for them to lead workshops of their own. The toolkit is free and accessible at traumainformedcommunity.org.
Because of the intense needs that we always have to address in Kensington we often lose sight of what I call are the “Big P” plans which lead to systemic change and solutions. We only focus on what I call the “small p” plans which essentially rearrange chairs on the deck of a possibly sinking ship. As the city and community appeared to be falling into a trap of repeating past failures, I offered a review of those mistakes as well as a path forward to create solutions and shift power to develop sustainable effective outcomes.
REASONS TO HOPE
A lot has changed in the last year. One year after Kensington Avenue burned and I felt helpless and hopeless, I now feel hopeful.
- I am hopeful because the investments that partners like NeighborWorks America made in us years ago to center Trauma Informed Care and Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion paid off in the creation of an organizational foundation that not only weathered the storm of the last year, but positioned us to be a vanguard organization that can drive solutions.
- I am hopeful because of the change in conversation about who we are as a community and an acknowledgement of the incredible assets within it.
- I am hopeful because of the stronger and sometimes new relationships and coalitions that have been made which will allow us to share a vision and to collectively determine and actualize our destiny.
It will be an incredible struggle to get where we need to go, but as Frederick Douglass said:
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters.
We have an incredibly long way to go but we are poised to accomplish what needs to be done. I hope that you join us for this season of growth.