Continuing a discussion of the philosophical principles we hold to at Central Dallas Ministries as we do our daily work. . .
Value proposition #2: We believe the resources within a community are adequate to initiate genuine renewal and redevelopment.
Obviously, disadvantaged communities cannot enjoy comprehensive renewal and redevelopment without the benefit of new resources that flow in from outside the community.
But, we have learned that what is necessary to begin renewal and to sustain redevelopment must spring up from within the community. If the people of a community are not engaged, organized, valued, heard and understood, community renewal will be virtually impossible.
Taking it a step further, the very best renewal efforts, and those that are most enduring, emerge from distressed communities where a critical mass of local leaders rise up against their environmental and systemic distress to take matters into their own hands and work for positive change.
Just recently we have witnessed such movement again here in Dallas. One of the neighborhoods where we work every day is now organizing against crime, inadequate public services, unresponsive and oppressive retailers, diminishing public transportation services and sub-standard housing conditions. The uprising to call for change grew up among a group of mothers who began talking about how to improve conditions in their community, one of the poorest and toughest in the city.
These concerned parents came together around a common agenda: the education of their children. But the concerns soon ran broader for the group. Now after weeks of meetings and several setbacks, they have the attention of housing authority and city officials, including their district's City Council representative. Recognizing that the process will be slow and tedious, the group is determined to keep working.
Neighbors like this always seem to make things happen. They lead the way to renewal.
Any number of other examples could be provided to illustrate the same principle regarding the benefits of grassroots community organizing.
Charitable efforts to "help the poor" often rush past the most important assets in a community in order to get on with agendas developed outside the community of concern. For outsiders, the very best thing to do is show up, observe, listen, make friendships and let processes unfold. Usually, charities aren't that patient, especially when led and formed by "problem solvers."
Our Resource Center provides an example of community wealth engaged daily in community problem solving at a very basic level. Of our several hundred volunteers, well over 90% are low-income persons who still use many of our services. But each is making a vital contribution to community improvement through their service. Even more, we rely on them to tell us what we should be doing together. The so-called "poor" provide us focus group and community think tank intelligence as we plot our strategies.
While community renewal often calls for massive injections of outside resources, the beginning of authentic progress is almost always rooted in the existing wealth of the community of interest. Most often that wealth takes the form of robust and precious social capital. Wise community developers never dismiss people power. In fact, it is the essential ingredient for any long-term change, hope and rebirth.