To really change things, you have to lift up and integrate whole communities. That’s because it takes a whole community to raise a child, to support an adult, to have a bustling local economy and a vibrant civic life. The neighborhood is the unit of change.
Who has the expertise to lift up whole neighborhoods? It’s the people who live in the neighborhoods themselves. No outsider with a foundation grant or a government contract really knows what’s going on in any neighborhood or would be trusted to make change. The people who live in the neighborhoods know what to do. They just need the resources to do it.
A few weeks before the lockdown I was in and around South Los Angeles. In Watts I interviewed Keisha Daniels from Sisters of Watts, which helps kids and homeless people in a variety of ways. I interviewed Barak and Sara Bomani of Unearth and Empower Communities, which helps educate and nurture young people in nearby Compton.
Daniels and the Bomanis are experts in how to lift up their neighborhoods. If we got them money and support they would figure out what to do.
How can government focus money on formerly redlined neighborhoods and other communities?
National service programs would pay young people to work for these organizations. A National Endowment for Civic Architecture, modeled on, say, the National Endowment for the Arts, could support neighborhood groups around the country. A Social Innovation Fund would be a private/public partnership to fund such organizations. Moving to Opportunity grants and K-12 education savings accounts would help minorities to move to integrated schools. Collective impact structures could coordinate local action and use data to find what works.
In the progressive era, governments built libraries across the country, which remain vital centers of neighborhood life. We’re about to have a lot of empty retail space. Why can’t we build Opportunity Centers where all the groups moving children from cradle to career could work and collaborate?
It’s true this has sort of been tried before. The Great Society had a “Community Action” project that professed to redistribute power to neighborhoods. But it did it in the worst possible ways. A lot of what it did involved sending disruptive agitators to stir up conflict between local activists and local elected officials. The result was rancor and gridlock.
This tumultuous moment offers a chance to launch a new chapter in our history, and reparations are part of that launch. They offer a chance to build vibrant neighborhoods where diverse people want to live together, where the atmosphere is kids playing on the sidewalks and not a knee in the back of the neck.” -30-