Black Lives Matter: My Fayetteville Experience of Losing Black Citizens

The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t saying that black lives are more important than white lives, or blue lives, or any other color of life.

It is a title to open a discussion on social injustices and a relevant social issue, but it makes people uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because it brings up racial inequities in the treatment of people, particularly by police officers.

Fayetteville has not seen an incident that would fetch national attention like in the case of Mike Brown, or Eric Garner, but that didn’t stop people from calling the Fayetteville Police Department (FPD) issuing over 60 death threats in 6 hours, in the wake of the Dallas shootings July 8th.

The FPD, under the guidance of Chief Harold Medlock, takes extraordinary precautions to avoid the situations that would lead to the death of a citizen, any citizen, regardless of race. But still, we are divided, on edge, and quite frankly paranoid.

So how do we open the conversation?

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The Role of Grass Roots Community Development Organizations within Community Development Initiatives

 

We have witnessed and participated in the dialogue between community, politicians, government, nonprofits and other stakeholders when a well-meaning economic development initiative came to a community they care for.  Old East Durham is a community undergoing rapid transformation, with issues of displacement and gentrification widely acknowledged.  Economic benefits for the members of the community whose profiles in material poverty were used to justify the initiative very much remain an open question.

We are aware that the portrayal in this article of politicians, government officials and nonprofits is somewhat flattened and that these stakeholders, individually and collectively, have additional incentives, but the incentives we focus on exist, dominate, and are ignored at great peril to the community. Continue Reading

Steps for Working on Police-Community Relations – Where do we Start?

In this shared blog post, Cate and John offer our thoughts on the recent and  highly publicized violence between police and residents, and the related protests in communities across the country. Some passages are individually identified, with Cate focusing on the depth of structural racism and the kind of education needed. John notes some particular outreach and dialogue efforts (as does Cate).

We want to hear from people about their communities

  • What is happening?
  • Is it working?
  • Are there tips or lessons to transfer about protest, engagement, and community policing policies?

President Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week, and he mentioned more than once the ongoing violence between people of color and police that we are experiencing almost every day in our country: Continue Reading

Citizen Referendum? I Vote “Needs Review”

We welcome a guest post from Larry Schooler, manager of the public engagement division for the city of Austin, Texas.

When is a referendum a good idea and when is it the wrong thing to do?

Citizen referenda bypass elected representatives and “the people” (or those who choose to vote and have the right to do so) decide.I am concerned that yes/no kind of referenda are not a good idea unless there is a strong lead-up for effective deliberation and the kind of question really is a yes/no choice.

I’m thinking about this based on actual or possible referenda not just for the June big event in the UK knows as “Brexit”, but also in Minneapolis, and my hometown of Austin.

  • Did the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote resolve anything? What does such a narrow margin of victory for the Leave (EU) position really mean?
  • What about the referendum in Austin, Texas, on transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft? The measure was drafted by the companies and when it failed, two of the largest companies left the market entirely, though both sides have signaled the conversation isn’t over. What did that accomplish?
  • And what happens if a referendum moves forward in Minneapolis to require police officers to carry liability insurance? It may not even make it onto the ballot if the City Council says it’s illegal under state law, which could prolong the fight even longer in an expensively litigated process.
Slovak_referendum,_2015,_portable_ballot_box

 

 

 

 

 

It is clear that referendum measures drafted by citizens, reinforced by petition signatures, are here to stay. I think they serve as an important “check” on the power of elected officials. But a “referendum on referendums” is in order.

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One of the Most Important Things Local Officials Do That Hardly Ever Gets Noticed – The Budget

I heard a minister say once that we sometimes fixate on things that appear to be urgent while missing or neglecting things that are important. A good example is an elected official in a NC municipality (not my current employer) who questioned whether the long-observed tradition of pre-meeting dinners should continue for Council and staff. There wasn’t much time between the end of the work day and the beginning of the evening Council meeting, so providing a meal at City Hall seemed like a convenient way to solve a simple problem.

In an effort to be fiscally responsible, the well-meaning official asked about the cost of the meals (about $3,000 annually) and made a motion to end them. It seemed like a good idea, so the officials voted to do away with the practice and save a little money. A few meetings later, the meals returned after everyone agreed that they were worth the cost after all.

Compare that to a common scene in cities and towns across NC each spring and summer: multi-million dollar budget proposals–presented in public meetings–that attract little attention.

  • Maybe we as citizens are too busy to be part of the process.
  • Maybe we’re not interested.
  • But maybe, we’re not sure what to ask or where to begin.

Here’s some basic information that should provide a better understanding of how municipal budgets are created.

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A Good Place to Live – Vision and Action in Greensboro

I have been a housing activist in Greensboro for almost 30 years, creating organizations to build homes and to advocate for policies and funding that promote safe, affordable housing.

The broad impact of good places to live:

Imagine unprecedented collaboration to assure opportunities for all in our community to have good places to live.

  • Count the new jobs created by the investment in building new houses and apartments and in repairing deteriorating housing.
  • Consider the stability of employees without the stress of possible eviction or injury from dangerous housing.
  • Celebrate the academic achievements of students who don’t miss class due to housing-related asthma attacks or have to move multiple times in a school year, so they can—YES—prepare for college.
  • Calculate the property tax dollars generated by appreciation rather than decline in property values. Welcome the family values of parents and children reunited from costly foster care because they now have good homes.
  • Be relieved about neighborhood safety when blighted areas become bright spots, without boarded buildings and vagrancy.
  • Rejoice when homeless service providers not only cooperate in connecting individuals to necessary resources but when the housing resources actually exist for them to have permanent homes.
  • Do a victory dance when a person’s zip code does not determine one’s life expectancy or the number of trips to the hospital or the risk of getting arrested.

OK, now that you can imagine the transformation, let’s work to become a part of it.

I’ll talk about the opportunities and challenges in Greensboro for the quantity, quality, affordability and other success factors for housing that works for everyone. I’m glad to see engagement on critical housing and social needs with many community partners. Continue Reading

Communicating Connections Between Ideas and Actions

The reporting-back communications loop in community engagement is more important than ever. If public participation means to involve those who are affected by a decision in the decision-making process, then participants need to know how their input has affected change. The outcome of their engagement gives meaning to their participation.

The Town of Chapel Hill (pop. 59,000) embarked on a new era of community engagement when it launched the largest community planning efforts in its history in 2010 with the development of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan.  The plan is a reflection of the people’s values, aspirations and ideas. The outreach was excellent with having achieved the goal of touching 10,000 people during the yearlong visioning process.

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Building a Better Community Through Neighborhood Leadership

Collaboration with neighborhood leaders is an instrumental component to the success of engagement initiatives for local government. The partnership, sharing of ideas and exchange of knowledge can lead to lasting benefits for the community. The City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services (N&BS) department has spent over a decade building programs to help communities thrive through engagement, trainings, board retreats and awards.

The Neighborhood Leadership Awards only recognizes superior work in Charlotte communities, particularly those communities that receive assistance through the City’s Neighborhood Matching Grant program for projects such as community gardens, neighborhood watches or playgrounds.

However, the program is part of comprehensive approach to impact neighborhoods several other components such a semiannual board retreats for communities. Continue Reading

On the Outside Looking In: A Traveler’s Reflections on Universities and Civic Engagement in Europe

I have the good luck to be teaching a summer course in Vienna, Austria this summer.  I thought it might be interesting to talk about the role that universities in European countries play in the communities and countries where they are located. 

Community engagement has become an important issue at American universities, although, as I have written in previous posts, there remains much work to do in order to build true partnerships between communities and universities.  I wondered:

  • Are universities here in Vienna, or elsewhere in Europe, talking about these issues as well?
  • Do they approach the questions the same way we do in the United States or are they concerned with different issues?
  • What could we learn from looking at other approaches to community-university partnerships?

I’ve only been here two weeks and haven’t had time to fully explore these questions, but I will share a few preliminary observations. Continue Reading