Over the past few weeks our summer Dream Catcher teams, hosted 5 celebrations.  The youth shared what they had learned about their neighborhood along with their personal hopes and dreams.  They then invited their neighbors to join them in making the dreams of the community a reality.

Over the next month these groups of concerned citizens will gather, they will develop action plans and then they will commit to executing their plans together.  While Embrace Richmond will coach our community partners (Chester UMC, Better Housing Coalition, All Souls Church, Hillside Court Partnership and Cornerstone Revitalization Center) in how to create citizen-driven teams, these groups are not ours.  We do not run them, own them, or direct them.  We will simply coach our community partners in how to facilitate citizen-driven projects that will ultimately belong to the citizens not our partners.

For this to work effectively, our community partners have to have a desire to empower the residents of the neighborhoods that they are seeking to support.  Their role is to create the space for the gifts of the citizens to emerge.  The hardest part of the whole process is staying out of the way and allowing the gifts to emerge and the shared passions of ordinary citizens to move the effort forward.

One of my newest partners wisely said to me this week,

“We have to start by checking our own motives.  If we think we are doing this to “help” those in need, we will end up engaging in a way that is paternalistic and destructive.”

As I shared in my last post, it was suggested that when we talk about ABCD we focus on both Asset-Based as well as Citizen-Driven.  ABCD is really about restoring the heart of democracy.  ABCD is more about neighborhood organizing than it is about community development.  Power is created when citizens work together for the common good.  This is particularly important in communities that have historically been robbed of power and voice.  The role of those who do not live in the neighborhood is simply to support those who do.  It is not about our gifts, our talents, or our dreams.  It is about supporting and mobilizing the gifts and talents of the neighbors who set the agenda and name the dreams.

This can be a really challenging role for those who are used to controlling and defining outcomes.  This is a much slower process with vague and often shifting results.  It is not a process I would recommend for those who are in a hurry to see change.  It is a process that can be frustrating and messy.  However, it is also a beautifully liberating process.

For me, the process has become a spiritual practice.  I read this reflection recently from Church of the Savior’s  Inward/Outward devotional and it reminded me of what an asset-based citizen driven effort requires.

Beyond the Question

The phoebe sits on her nest
Hour after hour,
Day after day,
Waiting for life to burst out
From under her warmth.

Can I weave a nest for silence,
Weave it out of listening,
Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,
Nothing but a presence,
Attentive as a nesting bird,
Proffering no slightest wish,
No tendril of a wish
Toward anything that might happen
Or be given,
Only the warm, faithful waiting,
Contained in one’s smallness.
Beyond the question, the silence.
Before the answer, the silence.

May Sarton
Source: Collected Poems 1930-1993

Listening, silence, smallness and waiting; all the ingredients of hatching a citizen-led movement.

I hope you will follow along with us this fall as the listening efforts of local youth start to hatch into citizen-led efforts across this city.