Taking people seriously--whether as powerful, asset-laden members of a community of interest or as partners aligned to affect needed change--is the essential first step in any blueprint for community development. Community development is all about people and how we regard them.
Once we come to regard "the poor" as valued participants in the process, our overall perspective changes in a radical way.
When we regard our own assets and resources as gifts placed at our disposal only to be shared and combined with the gifts and the wealth of others, our ability to act in a brand new and amazingly creative fashion kicks in, to the surprise of everyone involved.
Taken together, these first two steps in community development combine to provide an equally beneficial and necessary component for change and growth. I call it the essential paradigm shift for community development.
This new paradigm for community development takes a rather bleak view of traditional charity. Charity tends to linger with the negative.
Charity leads us to think in terms of projects rather than people.
Charity seeks to set limits on our efforts--time, schedules, artificial categories, coming and going. Charity can masquerade as community. But, charity is always found out.
Charity can create unhealthy dependency. Charity robs people of the power they need to escape poverty and to enjoy genuine community.
Charity can become a rather sophisticated way for people with most of the power to maintain control of it to their own advantage, all the while they appear to be "doing good."
At heart, charity remains negative. Charity focuses on problems, programmatic reactions and human limitations.
Charity operates out of a paradigm of resignation.
Charity maintains the status quo. It seldom invites those with "the problem" into the mix.
Charity is not about solutions, but settles for temporary relief, acting in a manner that assures the need for its return at a predictable time and in a predetermined manner.
The new paradigm of community development believes in people. This worldview exalts people--all people, but especially those who are defined as "the poor."
The community development model I have in mind, not only recognizes the power, purpose and value of people, it actually likes, enjoys and cherishes relationships among all kinds of people.
The sure sign of the presence of this new paradigm is when "the poor" are enjoyed, not because they are poor, but without regard to their economic status and simply because they are human.
It is out of this "paradigm: positive" that creative new approaches emerge for the good of the whole, for the community.
From this new starting place, we can operate out of our faith in what is possible. We can respond to huge problems with big, surprising initiatives. We do not need to feel confined or limited in any way.
The past may be a useful teacher, but we refuse its advances as our master.
We believe that change is not only possible, it is mandated by our view of one another and by our belief that change must occur for the good of everyone.
Funding is no object.
Traditional roles and strategies do not bind us.
The limitations of religion or politics or culture or history or expertise, none of these factors restrict us. Rather, each opens up new possibilities for consideration, partnership and action.
We firmly believe that change can occur and that together we will see it through.
This is the essence of genuine community development.
Larry's new book, now available from Amazon.com! Also, now in Kindle format! To place your order visit Amazon.com today! Also, available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the web. Click on the image above to order!
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
Today and throughout 2013, we need your support to continue our life-changing work in inner-city Dallas. Every day hundreds of our wonderful neighbors arrive at our doors seeking our assistance, offering their help and prepared to pursue a better life. Frankly, the folks we "serve" make essential contributions to the scope, nature and soul of the work we attempt. At CitySquare we honor and recognize the amazing value and richness of our low-income neighbors. During 2012, almost 55,000 different people received the benefit of our wide-ranging services designed to assist in the process of building better lives. We need your help TODAY as we continue to respond to the needs of our community. Even more, we need you to become our PARTNER in the work of compassion and community renewal--work that continues day after day at CitySquare.