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The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks
I grew up in a tight knit community, and I can still close my eyes and see the majority of our neighbors, and call them by name. I was chastised by other adults on the block (when I had it coming), I knew it was safe to go next door and help my neighbor in the yard, we played kickball on the corner, and when we needed a new retaining wall the community came out and helped us build it. It was a community where I experienced “community engagement” before I even knew there was such a thing.
This community is North Minneapolis.
Here I am years later, and I still get to enjoy the things that I did as a child. On the community engagement team we get to talk to neighbors, and hear their stories. We get to participate in the successes, failures, struggles, and triumphs of our neighbors. We see the real story, of the hard working people in the community that, despite the systemic disparities they face daily, they still love the community in which they live. Despite the narrative that paints this community as unworthy, as unsafe, uneducable, and unemployable, the Community Engagement team can tell you that is not the truth. We live and work in a community that has its challenges but, is still the same community that is tight knit, loving, helpful, and compassionate.
It is community engagement's priority to challenge the prevailing negative narrative in North Minneapolis, and bring forth the real stories of this beautiful part of the city.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy
The deep wound of slavery and racism is far from being healed in our country. Lately, we’ve had access to raw, heartbreaking footage that exposes the ugliness and depth of our problem. As a person of privelege, I have had the option to respond at my own leisure – in the past I would acknowledge events as sad and frustrating, but then move on. I’d perceived myself as an advocate, but, though ashamed to admit it, I realize I didn’t care enough.
Working with a team committed to reconciliation, living in South Minneapolis, and attending a diverse church all persistently bring about greater awareness for me. But having two black children necessarily “brought it home.” I reflect on incidents I experience or see in the media and find myself trying to make sense of them. Often my first reaction is to find a reason of why race is a not really a factor or why people are overreacting. Why I am playing out this internal narrative. What does it mean?
Probably it means I’m unconsciously racist, because as a white American I believe it is impossible not to be. Maybe deep down, I’m scared to consider the true cost of reconciliation. Accepting that my internal narrative is my part of this huge and complex problem is my first and necessary step. It gives me the platform to start working on my recovery and liberation. Without it I’ll never be able to challenge that narrative, and ultimately see the change that I want so desperately for my children.
Now, when I hear a story like Tamir Rice’s I’m terrified… and motivated. My son will be a young black man before I know it, which scares me to my core. I view Eric Garner’s story with a different lens. The “Emanuel Nine” breaks my heart – but it also causes me to move and be a part of a solution NOW.
Urban Homeworks works diligently to live out our core values of “Compassion that Cultivates Dignity”, “Relationships that reconcile people to God and to one another”, and “Biblical justice that liberates individuals and communities.” It’s an impossible task without God, each other, and an overflowing measure of grace and forgiveness. I am hopeful, encouraged, and motivated. But the work won’t be done until we live in a day “where every life is liberated, every relationship reconciled, and every day is dignified as evidence of the hope of Jesus.” Thank you for journeying together with us.
2014 might go down in my mind as the year of the “Over-Arching-Goal”. Just in time, too. UHW has been concrete on values, level and plumb on mission, and in 2014, we now have a blueprint depicting our long-term goal: By 2025, will be building power with 1,000 of our neighbors by organizing ourselves, our resources, our real estate, and our relationships. Power defined as the ability to effect positive change.
The Hope of Jesus is Powerful.
It’s ‘just in time’ because it frames up beautifully how to observe, celebrate, and build upon the past 20 years as preparation for this next season.
For Africa to me ... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.
- Maya Angelou
In 2014 we got a lot done… and we decided on where we are going. The past 20 years are ‘more than a glamourous fact’, and although not as deeply profound as Africa is to Angelou… where we’ve been brought us to where we are and frames where we go next. It’s time. Thank you for being a part of the past 20 years. Thank you for charging forward into the next. You are just in time…
One person’s ideal can become another’s disease. One person’s ‘hot house deal’ can foreshadow another person’s displacement. Sometimes, where one’s ‘American Dream’ ends, another’s is allowed to begin.
One ingredient in the recipe of community development is “gentrification”.
“Gentrification” conjures up all kinds of divergent notions depending on one’s perspective, and I don’t get the sense that there’s a strongly shared definition. So, let’s roll with the infallible Wikipedia definition:
Gentrification is any facet of urban renewal that inevitably leads to displacement of the occupying demographic.
The landed- ‘gentry’ refers to the “landed ones” (of gentle birth), those who control the land… i.e. the social class of “gentlemen/gentlewomen”.
What I’m interested in is the ‘ification’ (process of becoming) of the current “occupying demographic” of my neighborhood into the ‘gentri’. I want to harness economic forces to equitably fuel more local ownership that keeps us “moved in” and not “moved out”.
Bob Lupton refers to this as “gentrification with justice”. Better, in my opinion, is the treatment of the notion of ‘gentrifier vs. neighbor’ by Marque Jensen in his blog posting: Open Letter to my New Northside Neighbors… Another source I found (AWESOME, &) instructive, is John Powell and Marguerite L. Spenser’s work: Giving Them the Old "One-Two": Gentrification and the K.O. of Impoverished Urban Dwellers of Color. Here’s a couple of teaser quotes:
“Gentrification is good for neither cities nor the poor… unless we disrupt the market in pursuit of a more egalitarian goal: the creation of integrated life opportunities for all people in all places.”
“Our focus, however, will be on people rather than place, and on justice rather than the status quo.”
Gentrification is a market force to be conscious of, managed, and harnessed. Your partnership with UHW energizes solutions and strategies that drives toward equitable benefit. With almost every home-ownership opportunity that comes through Urban Homeworks, 89% to be exact, the ‘gentry’ of our community is being made out of some of the very people who may have otherwise been displaced. Help us do more and build upon an already vibrant and resilient community. Help us do more so more of our neighbors can thrive and have a place to call home.
What is the “American Dream” anyways? What if it were as simple as what James Truslow Adams penned in 1931: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth?
What emerges for me in digging through notions/history of the American Dream is the language around the “absence of barriers” and “without restrictions”, regardless of one’s patrimony, blood, or social class, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims: "all men are created equal" with the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I think what triggered some indignation and agitation in my neighborhood about the article by Derek Thompson titled “The Miracle of Minneapolis” was that “all men were not considered equal” for a long, long time (see the “One drop rule” as a point of context). I’d submit that we continue to work through this history, and here’s an indicator: the smattering of recent press arguing where “affordable housing” should be located. (See following 8 links.)
You may or may not have noticed, but that last sentence flew in the face of the “American Dream”. Whoever is assuming the paternalistic and socio-economic-engineer’s role in making the audacious determination and decision that constitute the value-laden judgements embedded in and promoted by the word “should” is creating barriers and restrictions for certain people to pursue the American Dream: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness… on people’s own, hard-working terms.
See if you can sniff out the insidious injustice of ‘promoting integration’ verses the liberation and freedom embedded in “combating discrimination” (thank you Ed Goetz for the language!). The former places the burden on people already burdened, limits choice, spacializes investments, and undermines the social fabric of humanity. Combating discrimination is a-spatial, opens all possibilities, gives people power to pursue their own dreams and desires, and holds the social and community elements of our humanity in high regard. (By the way, combating discrimination is all over the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Integration is never mentioned.)
Let’s stop using the tool of economics to (consciously and/or unconsciously) socially engineer each other and let’s work to “perpetuate the hopes” and dreams uniquely planted within each of us…. right where we are, and not where someone thinks we should be.