Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I Am Not Your Negro

I want to thank the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the YWCA and the National Underground Freedom Center for providing the opportunity to watch I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin.  It was a great lesson for me, as I did not know Baldwin’s work.  We also had the opportunity to hear from his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart and Quanita Roberson, founder and director of Nzuzu Coaching after the movie.  The stark view of racism in America is impossible to deny as you watch the film. Moments from 1967 and 2014 are almost indistinguishable. It is hard not to be devastated by what we saw. Given the current climate, a way forward often feels out of reach.   What Aisha Karefa-Smart said after the film was very helpful; blame and guilt do not get us anywhere.   Confronting the truth of our American history, and moving forward with honesty and respect and a willingness to be present and witness may.  Kindness always seems important to me, but in this situation maybe way too little and way too late.
The other reality of the film is that deep trauma has huge and lasting consequences in people’s lives.  We need to recognize the hurt and support the healing. Quanita Roberson pointed out that hurt that is not transformed is transferred. It is the transformation that makes us all stronger.  The quote “hurt people - hurt people” comes to me, something I heard years ago and it stuck with me. When I hear about some terrible thing that someone did to someone else, I always wonder what has happened to the person that did the harm to make them able to inflict it.  So maybe kindness is more powerful than I think. Not enough, but a start. Thanks again for the lesson, CBI will certainly be present and witness as we work through our American history, which as Baldwin points out, is really the present. 
We encourage you to watch I Am Not Your Negro, available on PBS.

You can also join a conversation on race locally in one of three sessions of Being Curious Together About Race. You can find out more information and sign up here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wait and See?

For me 2017 will go down as the year of “wait and see what happens”; with the new president, the mayor’s race, the Tensing trial, the HUD budget, tax reform bill, health care, the EPA, the list goes on. As 2017 ended, and inevitably, 2018 started, we at CBI are also taking stock. At least for me, all that waiting and seeing created some uncertainty about how to react, and what to do next. The environment we live in is changing, climate is changing, society and politics are changing, and how we interact in this new space will help define what it becomes.

In 2017, CBI produced a report on the need for affordable housing in Hamilton County with support from LISC, we worked with Councilwomen Simpson’s office on a report on what life is like for young people in Cincinnati, we supported United Way and others on a focus on reducing poverty and we continue to support communities across the region on creating their own visions for the future, uncertain as it may be. We joined the regional conversation about the need to enhance and reimagine our transportation system.

For us, it is time to move past the “wait and see” period. In 2018, we at CBI are committed to working on these issues with the many partners and assets at hand in this community with a place-based approach.

Working with people to help support neighborhoods in Cincinnati and throughout the region that nurture the people who live in them, and create opportunities, a sense of place, and belonging – that is what we are going to be about in 2018. We are going to do this work by building relationships, and creating bridges, and looking for the common ground and helping with difficult conversations that need to take place. What we know from trudging through 2017 is this is not happy talk – this is hard work, and we are up for it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Place To Call Home

Cincinnati is an old city. We have strong neighborhoods that generations of families call home. We have beautiful architecture, wonderful public spaces, and community landmarks. We are definitely not a cookie-cutter kind of a town and people have noticed!

In recent years, several Cincinnati neighborhoods have experienced an increase in real estate interest and market values have gone up. These investments present both an opportunity and a challenge for communities. While these neighborhoods are in need of investment, they are also home to long-time residents that have strong ties to their community. Our aging infrastructure, business districts, churches, schools, and our housing need some TLC. As reinvestment happens, who is part of the process and who benefits is a complex matter of private market and public intention.

Making intentional choices changes outcomes in communities. Investments should be made in ways that capitalize on this new market interest in our communities – but not at the expense of current residents. The “market” left to its own devices will maximize returns on investment – not create equitable, revitalized communities. If we want the later, we are going to have to work together to guide the market with sound policies, equitable tax structures, and public investments that create diverse, supportive communities. We should not leave it to the market to pick winners and losers. We should take advantage of this market interest and guide these needed reinvestments in ways that create revitalized neighborhoods where everyone benefits.

A place to call home is a fundamental part of someone’s sense of security, quality of life and his or her relationship to community. So the passion that comes with conversations about housing revitalization, affordable housing, and gentrification is understandable.  We are talking about more than just four walls and a roof; we are talking about the place people call home, who their neighbors are, the community they are a part of, and their family’s history and its memories. These are not things to be trifled with carelessly. We need to work together in respectful, collaborative ways to create a model of revitalization that does not displace people, but instead provides a place for everyone in the community to live in their neighborhood of choice.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Trip to Edinburgh

When you live in a place for a long time you come to think that your city is put together the way it is because that’s the way cities are supposed to be, and it’s hard to imagine any other way to put a place together. I had the good fortune to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland over Thanksgiving, and low and behold, there is another way to put a place together, and it works maybe even better.

Edinburgh is a city of about 500,000 people (Cincinnati has about 300,000 residents) with a metropolitan area population of about 1.8 million (the Cincinnati metropolitan region has about 2 million). When you get to the city center, what you see is people walking, and buses everywhere, and EVERYONE is getting on and off these buses at a feverish pace. There is a tram (like our streetcar – only it goes to the airport) and lots of people were on an off of that too. It takes a minute but you realize what you do not see is parking! Then after a couple of days I realized that traffic on streets did not seem congested. How can this be you ask? No parking! No congestion! I was puzzled too, but then I realized the public infrastructure investments have been made in busses, and trams, and green space, and cobblestone streets (ok those investments were made by a former administration), and so people walk and ride the bus and seem to get around just fine (did I say it was it was cold).

So… it occurs to me that when our public infrastructure investments are buying parking lots, and parking garages, and road expansions then we will keep driving, but only if we can afford a car. If you cannot afford a car, then you walk, or you wait, or you stay home. As a community we need to make a choice about the type of place we want. If we put this place together differently, and support different infrastructure options that better support pedestrians, then we could live differently. However, if we keep buying pavement and parking spaces with our public dollars we will limit our choices and our options.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

At The Community Building Institute (CBI) we talk about “community” all the time. We talk about community engagement, community organizing, and community voice. All of that is good work, but “community” is something yet again. A community is something you are a part of. Not in an exclusive, cliquish sort of way, but in a come see what we are doing, and join us if you like, sort of way.

CBI went on a tour of that second kind of community this past Friday. We visited two wonderful and unique communities. We were at Hive13 on Spring Grove Avenue, a community of makers, engineers, and artists and, as one of their own described them, nerds. They have equipment to burn and cut and attach, disconnect, and spin and electrify to make anything the members of their community can imagine. It’s an amazing place that a group of people (a community) came together to create based on their own interests. It exists because they invest their time, passions, and themselves into it, they made it up and they like it.

We then visited a second kind of community; we had dinner at Moriah Pie. We got there early and got a table when only a few people were there. This is how I understood the deal: they make pizza from local ingredients and we pay what we can. I did not understand what was coming next. Within 20 minutes, the place started filling up. There were young people, families with kids, older people and the tables of diners kept forming and reforming with all kinds of mixes of people coming and going. Not everyone who came in sat to eat; some went straight to the back to help with the cooking and the serving. When Leslie Stevenson (a member of this community) came in she got a big round of applause from everyone in the place – she has just become the first African-American Norwood Councilwoman! It felt like a family dinner if your family was really big.

These communities are creating wonderful, amazing, interesting, tasty, supportive places because people have come together to collectively share their gifts and themselves with each other. In both places, if you are one of them, (and you will know if you are), they would welcome you to join, to become part of the community. To do that means you have to be present and willing to invest yourself in the place and the people that are your community.      

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

It was Halloween this week, which meant that I got to go spend an hour at Evanston Academy for the Halloween Parade. It’s a great school tradition where all the children get dressed up and do a parade through Evanston, near the school. It is great fun to see the kids, and get to help them with their costumes. There were parents in every room helping with the event. It reaffirmed that there are great parents out there everywhere and that the team of a strong parent and a strong teacher is a powerful support for a child growing up. In the Youth Gap Analysis we just helped the City and Councilwoman Simpson put together we interviewed over 40 young people and their families. What all the teens we talked to told us (not always in so many words) was that their parents and the other adults in their lives matter – a lot! and they need you to help guide the way. So reach out to the young people in your life, on your street and ask them what there are thinking about these days – that is how you build community!