Sabbatical in London – a city of displacement

As I often say to my friends, family members, colleagues and training buddies, “Life gets in the way”. Such has been the case with my absence for the past year. Since pulling back from community development work in Indianapolis and in general, I’ve worked with inmates addressing their criminal thinking and behaviours, painted, landscaped, worked in retail (Crate & Barrel) euthanized our dog, and eventually divorced; all leading to my self-funded sabbatical in London. Yes! I’m in London. England, The Royal Family, Big Ben, Tower London, Football (The Premier League) etc.

Self-funded means I’m earning and buying my time to reflect; engage in self-care, reconnect with my root’s via intense listening and observation.  You may ask what prompted the sabbatical, as if the aforementioned is not enough but maybe this phase will add some clarity without details; “Experience is a cruel teacher. It gives the exam first, then the lesson.” 

When I have arrived several months ago England was in the midst of a national and local election; the incumbent party, The Conservatives, won re-election for a second term. The issues for  this national election; mirrors the same tensions which permeate most major cities in the United States and as country; affordable and social housing (Housing), improved, efficient affordable health care (Healthcare), improved school system (Education), border control (Immigration) and, a working populace and trade (The Economy).  It was the usual quarrel between the two main parties Labour (Democrats) and Conservatives (Republicans):  issues of economic equity and social mobility, balancing a budget, some touting success and others highlighting, success for whom?

Yes!England, London has its great landmarks and tradition of a “a cuppa”, and while there is respectable admiration for the Royal Family not all its citizens  subscribe to the decadence of the Empire; while the working poor are being taxed beyond what they earn. It’s safe to say Capitalism has long had  its hooks in the British economy, one need only look at the Transatlantic Slave Trade or even within the British Empire’s historical system of indentured servitude and Landlords. Fast forward, look-up and out in any direction and one will see developments are ruling the skyline and landscape.  The ripple effect of this commercial and residential development is pricing out local residents in the surrounding communities/zones at alarming rates. How is this happening? and what does it mean for social and economically diverse communities? Those are not answers we will explore in this blog but we will look at the construct/background to better understand the tension between progress and change – commercial/residential development and social equity.

To understand London as a City one portal to look through are the Zones which one would travel (bike, car, train, bus or helicopter) as a visitor or resident.  The Zone system has been around since 1979: Zone 1 is central London; Zone 2 the inner city, and Zones 3 to 6 the suburbs.  They have history, creating boarders for boroughs, imply economic and social status, foster economic and social segregation leading to various communities having  a heavy saturation of a concentrated culture. According to Ben Judah, author of,  This is London,  The London of 1979 was more or less like this: Zone 1 was the property of the British elites and the upper middle class; Zone 2 was a grungy inner city where poor immigrants first settled, and Zones 3 to 6 were a patchwork of affluent or working-class suburbs.

However, in 2015 the Tube map, does not accurately reflect the hidden truths of a completely new city. London’s demographics has changed; according to Ben it is now only 45 per cent white British, roughly 40 per cent foreign-born, and at least five per cent illegal or undocumented migrants. And it is growing. An 8.3 million-strong city, probably closer to nine million if you count the undocumented, demographically powered by immigration, is growing by about one million people a decade. He elaborate’s:


This new London fits its communities into very different places on the Tube map. Zone 1 is being increasingly converted into a territory for the richest elites of Russia, France, China and the Gulf. The result is that it is no longer affordable to most of the children of the old establishment, or even those elites themselves.

This influx of foreign money has been one of the reasons behind a 100 per cent rise in London property prices in real terms since the early Eighties. This is now pushing money into the more affordable old inner-city ghettos of Zone 2 — sending existing trends of gentrification into hyperdrive.

Right across Zone 2, the rush of property buyers has seen grim inner- city areas previously treated as the territory of immigrant communities — such as Brixton for Afro-Caribbeans or Bethnal Green for Bangladeshis — rapidly transform into areas catering for the young middle class.

London’s gentrification is well-known. What is less familiar is the flip side: where those pushed out end up. The process has seen Zone 2 become unaffordable to poor immigrants, forcing them into the old working-class suburbs in Zones 3, 4 and 5. This means immigrants increasingly land in places that were until recently almost wholly white.

For the record I reside in Zone 2, Imperial Whaf on the Overground; Chelsea-Kensington, Fulham and Hammersmith considered a tri-bourough. While it’s an upscale neighbourhood its one of the few with mixed-income. I reside in a council flat which had secured tenancy twenty-years ago. The cost of a flat in my neighborhood is five-hundred pounds weekly, two-thousand pounds ($3,500.00) monthly for a two-bedroom. To buy a 3 bedroom house in my hood’ the  asking priceis  roughly between three-hundred thousand and  half-a-million pounds ($750,00). By the way, houses are small,  since space is a premium.

The places, I use to frequent and live  (Ladborke Grove, Notting Hill Gate, Sheperdherd Bush, Brixton etc.) that were evenly populated by Afro-Carribbean, Asians (Indian’s and Pakistani) and Europeans; now because of a reverse  influx are the in-places’ to live. Priced out of their neighbourhoods by the  returning suburbanites, young-professionals and heavy investment these communities are shaping up to be monolithic rich ghetto’s touting hip-hop fashionistas, skinny jeans hipsters, beard wearing vapor smokers with every type of luxury car one can imagine. More importantly, the impact it is having on the working class-poor is seen daily as they struggle to meet the bare necessities to survive with limited to no discretionary income. Essentially, they are renting their way to poverty since wages are not rising at the same rate as the cost of living and inflation. Like the United States, England touts the creation of new jobs each month, yet with wages so-low it leaves the working-class/poor with limited impact on the economy.  Given the current narrative it can be argued they are being viewed as an after thought in developing economically diverse communities.

Ben Judah in analysis adds:

In both south and east London there has been a quiet fraying of race relations as a result of this toxic mixture of property prices and ethnic displacement. There is a widespread conspiracy theory that the Government wants to push “poor blacks out of the inner city” — and building sites for expensive residential properties are often vandalised or graffitied. London’s 2011 riots were inflamed by these feelings and there have been attempts to organise repeat riots in Brixton and Hackney. The police believe they are a matter of time…The reasons for white exit are complex: winners from the property boom are tempted to cash in while losers are tempted to drop out, but there is an undeniable element of wanting to leave working-class suburbs that have transformed into migrant areas.

London, reflects the tension of change and progress at  it’s core. It remains one of the most diverse city’s in world and that diversity is reflected in the eclectic cultures that add to its vibrancy. Unfortunately, that same diversity has yet to be reached on an economic and social level when it comes to equity. London like New York City, Chicago etc. has become a buyers market, a play-ground for the decadent with a promotion of a wealth driven approach to community and improved quality of life.

I’m glad to be back in the place of my birth, I’m glad that I took this risk , make this sacrifice investment as part of my journey. As  my next steps are unfolding  and lesson are being gleaned like intermittent snap shots; one snap shot that has been clear is “Change”and “Progress”are not mutually exclusive but must be inclusive. Ben Judah captures best my sentiment, which I think needs to be applied to major cities that chose follow the same old models of development:

London must learn the lessons of Paris: that creating a ring of struggling suburbs around an affluent core is a recipe for segregation, alienation and riots — which is near impossible to reverse. London is moving in this direction but can slow it down dramatically. Removing the incentive for property prices to rise infinitely…London calls itself the greatest city in the world but it is increasingly a city of displacement, with those losing out numbering in the millions. These are the people being tempted by the politics of closing its doors.



Filed under Community Development, Economic Development

Ideas shape the terrain upon which we move!

“Ideas shape the terrain upon which we move” Antonio Gramsci

For the past several months I have removed myself from the landscape or “terrain” of the Indianapolis change-making community; Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC) programs and events, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF),  directly and indirectly supported initiatives, Velocity, Quality of Life Plans supported by the Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC), it’s community partners and anything that has fallen under the purported improving Indianapolis, through “inclusiveness”, “transformation”,  “attracting new professionals” , “sustainability” , “food deserts”  and all the buzz words.

I removed myself from these efforts because of  various reasons but some of the key ones were:

  • My disillusionment about processes that seemed to come from a place of disfranchisement  and in-authenticity,  
  • The varied responses to my questioning of the process,
  • Quality of Life Planning in my local community and others  developed from a “power over” perspective and,
  • A  narrative that was already shaped and decided with an  illusion of community  decision-making.  

As an ardent supporter of “change” and “progress” working simultaneously, and a firm believer in social and economic justice, equality and equity leading to what call I “balanced development”. I became troubled with a reality that proved to have a blatant disregard in it’s planning efforts for communities on the margin, communities of color and communities where the challenges outweighed the available resources. Even when engaged  in a “asset” based  planning process there always tended to be a clear deflections and redirection of what those assets were, how they were defined and always in relation to a narrative that has/was already decided upon.

As I have  and continue to digest my experiences moving through all three lenses (background, middle-ground and fore-round) it is clear to me that what I was witnessing, in part endorsing at one point and experiencing was a reality that truly was “outside in” and not “inside out”.  For the most part the aforementioned change makers have the majority of residents, activist and  social change makers (actors/extras) believe there is only one set of  ideas, one narrative, their method is the correct approach and if you are not on board then consider yourself out. The request for our input as actors/extras comes with un-articulated conditions, which are something like this:

  • Only have an idea if it supports the current narrative,
  • Any creative idea must push forth the current agenda,
  • Speak nothing of Race unless it’s reflects the myth of a “post-racial society ” that can strengthen the  current narrative and,
  • Be grateful you are allowed “a place at the table”.  

Let me cap this off with the fact that some these change makers, organizational and individual intentions are well-intended but that’s where it starts and ends. They have become prisoners of their own narrative and dear not engage in any form of an alternate narrative or even an exercise to see what it can look and feel like, primarily because of a lack of courage and fear of the loss of the illusion of power they wield.

Truth be told the current process of change making in Indianapolis and other ctiys with like demographics is dominated by a comprehensive framework of corporate-conservative ideologies.  The ideas which are purported are grounded in a worldview of, beliefs, norms, value systems, core themes, popular wisdom and traditions of a dominant culture and dominant narrative; which for the most part are unexamined assumptionsby the various actors/extras doing the ground work to get what is called “buy-in”.

One need only look at the make up of  leadership and it’s clear the  initiatives for the most part reflect what is central its own/cultural worldview and how they walk through this community called Indianapolis. Intended change reflect what they would like too see under the guise of progress and a change which  by default creates negative effects of gentrification and a reality of “separate but not equal”.

By no means has it been easy for me not to be involved in advancing the well-being of my community, working side-by-side with neighbors, friends and colleagues for a single goal of creating a better Indianapolis, community and society. Community is place for me where I find life, it adds meaning to my existence and deepens my relationship to humanity.  However, it became a place that was not feeding me  but rather using my energy, my image and my gifts to advance ideas and narratives that  with every meeting was reflecting less of addressing the “world as it is” but rather creating a “world as it should be” reflective of the leaderships own dominant worldview/narrative.

It’s one thing when Enron, JP Morgan Chase,  and Wall Street conspired to the near-collapse of the financial sector in the Fall of 2008. It’s even understood how they managed to label the perpetrators as the victims and condemn the poor, public service workers, retirees, my self and many other workers as having the audacity to complain about the gross concentration of wealth and power in our society. (Worldview and the Contest of Ideas, It’s almost expected. However, when you see and experience these same ideas/narratives permeate, drive and even dominate the change making process under the guise of social and economic justice, one (me) is left wondering how authentic are these initiatives, organizations and individuals. I’ve always been a believer in the fact that it is,“the most difficult question/issues that need to be pursued”.  Yet, these issues, remain an after thought, marginalized within the landscape and terrain; not because it’s polarizing but of the lack of courage to address the structural inequities which maintain the status quo.

I hope at some point I find myself back in the process of Indianapolis challenges to become a great City that reflects an authentic narrative, based on ideas that truly shape the terrain upon which we move. I hope at some point I can see an honest reflection from the leadership accepting responsibility for  poorly managed change processes and the courage to create space for a new narrative that adds to the landscape and truly shapes the terrain upon which we all can move. I still have hope for Indianapolis, it’s greatness can only be equaled by its courage.




Filed under City Building, Community Development

Race – “Not some cheesy contest”

Dear blog followers and new readers the following entry is from guest blogger Jim Naremore. Jim is well know to the Indianapolis community. He is Partner and Director at 3rd Sector Consulting and WhitepaperBluesky:

Jim Naremore (dba 3rd Sector Consulting), BA, Indiana University and graduate work in film studies and psychology, offers 25 years experience in public and private social change including the arts, environmental action and community development.

Dominant  American  culture  in  general,  and  the  dominant  Indianapolis  status  quo  in   particular,  seem  to  have  become  especially  enamored  lately  with  the  idea  of   competition.    This  seems  somewhat  counter  to  the  loudly  stated  “anti-­‐bully”  push   we’ve  seen  in  recent  years,  since  the  basal  notion  of  competition  in  the  social  setting   largely  stems  from  school-­‐yard  survival  of  the  fittest;  a  sort  of  adhoc  social   Darwinism  is  taking  place.     This  is  particularly  troubling  when  bully  based,  voyeuristic  competition  begins  to   spill  over  into  the  very  serious  “arena”  (there’s  a  competition  metaphor  illustrating   the  point)  of  social  progress  or  social  change.

We’ve  become  awash  in  “competitions”,  “challenges”,  and  “contests”  here  in   Indianapolis  in  the  last  few  years  when  we  take  up  the  questions  of  how  to  improve   our  community  and  our  society.    The  most  recent  example  is  the  Spirit  And  Place   festival’s  “A  Competition  about  Race”  contest  where  twenty  thousand  dollars  will  be   awarded  to  the  winning  idea  dealing  with  the  issue  of  the  “race  dialog”  and   centering  around  the  large  theme  of  “risk”.    We’ve  seen  it  in  every  aspect  of   community  and  social  efforts:  education,  community  development,  public  art,  etc.,   etc.


Probably  a  lot  of  reasons.

First  realize  that  the  masters  of  the  competition  (the  Caesar  of  the  gladiatorial   contest)  are  invariably  status  quo  groups:  corporations,  foundations,  government   agencies,  enormous  organizations,  dominant  social  classes,  or  some  combination  or   defacto  creation  of  all  of  the  above.    A  “competition”  loudly  trumpeted  by  these   status  quo  groups  to  deal  with  issues,  problems  or  questions  that  they  themselves   either  created  or  profit  from  allows  them  to  buy  off  a  tremendous  amount  of  guilt   without  a  lot  of  cost  to  themselves.    “We  are  allowing  citizens/neighborhoods/the   people  the  chance  to  come  up  with  their  own  answers  to  these  problems!    Aren’t  we   magnanimous  and  of-­‐the-­‐people?”    In  reality  what  they’re  saying  is  “We  don’t   really  want  to  spend  a  great  deal  of  effort  to  deal  with  this  stuff,  since  we’re  okay   with  it  anyway.    You  do  it  for  us.”    And  when  the  idea  fails  (which  it  usually  does   because  its  inherently  sabotaged  by  the  status  quo)  it  allows  them  to  say:  “Ah,  well,   we  tried!    Gave  it  our  best  effort.    It  won  a  CONTEST  after  all.    You  can’t  blame  us.”    It   essentially  allows  the  powers  that  be  to  check  a  box  on  their  to  do  lists.

The  second  thing  these  competitions  do  is  limit  the  communication.    What  “The  best   and  most  well-­‐conceived  idea  wins!”  really  does  for  the  status  quo  is  solve  this   problem:  “We  really  don’t  have  time  for  all  you  whiners.    There’s  too  many  of  you.     Pick  one  representative  so  we  can  deal  with  them  and  not  waste  our  time.”

Most  importantly,  competitions  ALWAYS  provide  the  safest  and  most  acceptable   idea  or  answer  for  the  status  quo.    Always.    Competitions  are  by  their  nature  tightly controlled  and  organized.    They  have  lots  of  rules.    Rules  created  and  over-­‐seen  by   the  “competition  committee”  which  is  nothing  but  the  status  quo  to  begin  with.    This   prevents  messy  disorganized  out-­‐of-­‐the  box  solutions.    And  most  obviously,  all   competitions  have  to  be  “judged”.    Who  are  the  judges?    Usually  either   representatives  of  the  organizers  (with  a  few  safe  tokens  for  the  community  tossed   in)  or  a  popularity  contest  where  the  person  with  the  most  Facebook  friends  wins,   or,  in  the  rare  cases  where  the  judging  is  actually  done  by  the  people  with  the  most   to  really  gain  from  the  answer  (I  mean  besides  the  status  quo,  who  always  have  the   most  to  gain),  the  rules  are  so  tightly  manipulated  or  created  that  its  impossible  not   to  choose  the  status  quo’s  entry.

At  this  point  someone  usually  says:  “But  resources  are  so  limited.    We  have  to  focus   our  efforts  on  one  or  two  ideas  to  get  the  most  bang  for  our  minimal  bucks,  right?     Competitions  are  the  best  and  fairest  way  to  do  this.”

Putting  aside  the  real  question:  “Why  are  resources  so  limited  if  this  is  really  an   important  issue?”  for  a moment…

No.    Competitions,  challenges  and  contests  are  spectacularly  bad  ways  of  getting   solutions  to  social  issues.    So  much  so  it  should  be  obvious  that  they  are  precisely   the  WRONG  way  of  going  about  it.

The  first  thing  these  contest  do  is  guarantee  only  one  (or  a  minimal  number)  of   “winners”.    With  real  pressing  problems  facing  society  (all  of  us)  we  need  to  have  as   many  potential  ideas  as  possible  working  at  the  same  time.    A  correlation  to  this   problem  is  that  competitions  automatically  brand  all  non-­‐winning  ideas  “losers”.    Its   really  tough  for  a  “losing”  idea  to  gain  traction  anywhere  else  even  if  its  really  a  good   idea  over-­‐looked  by  a  bad  contest  or  bad  judgment  especially  when  potential   funders  or  early  adopters  are  sometimes  wrapped  up  in  the  contest  in  the  first   place.    There  should  be  no  “losers”,  all  ideas  have  great  value  and  we  should  not   jettison  them  or  ignore  them.

They  don’t  always  give  us  the  best  solution,  either.    The  bigger  the  contest  the  more   likely  you  are  to  see  the  winner  being  the  one  with  the  best  marketing  or  packaging   or  frame  (the  one  that  knows  how  to  play  the  “game”  best)  winning.    Often  that  has   little  or  nothing  to  do  with  the  actual  quality  of  the  solution  presented.

Secondly,  contests  play  into  our  cultural  disease  of  minute  attention  span.    A  contest   allows  for  basically  ephemeral  effort.    “We  only  have  to  focus  our  attention  as  a  large   community  until  the  next  contest  comes  along.”    This  creates  the  atmosphere  of   short-­‐term  community  (city-­‐wide)  attention  rather  than  long-­‐term  thinking  and   exploration  and  trial  and  error  experimentation  with  multiple  ideas.

Lastly,  and  most  insidiously,  a  competition  or  challenge  or  contest  absolutely   inherently  cheapens  or  demeans  the  very  issue  it  sets  out  to  address.    Contests  or   competitions  are  basically  entertainment  vehicles.    As  the  leader  of  the  Central Indiana  Community  Foundation  recently  stated  “People  love  winners  and  losers”.     The  idea  comes  from  sports.    Entertainment.    Issues  like  race  or  education  or   poverty  or  hunger  or  community  empowerment  are  not  there  for  entertainment   purposes.    The  dominant  social  class  and  the  monied  status  quo  are  not  really  sitting   around  enjoying  watching  people  with  real  ideas  fight  it  out  over  peanuts  and  then   saying  “That  was  fun.    Is  American  Idol  on  yet?”  are  they?    The  notion  of  an   “entertaining  contest  that  people  will  enjoy  because  we  all  love  winners  and  losers”   in  order  to  promote  social  progress  is  really  disgusting.

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Filed under Diversity, Race

“Race” is NOT a competition

Last week I received an email from a colleague about the Spirit & Place Festival, November 1st -10th. This will be the 18th annual festival so it’s safe to say Spirit & Place know what they are doing.  For context, Spirit & Place is a project of The Polis Center, a unit of the Indianapolis University of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. This year’s festival theme is RISK,  As part of the theme the organizers and coordinators thought it was a great idea to lift up the issue of Race, as an opener for the festival and in the form of a competition: “A competition about Race” . For several days I sat on this email trying to work through what is it exactly about this so-called opportunity that did not agree with me. This past Sunday sitting with a group of colleagues and peers I was finally able to articulate why I am troubled and why this time Spirit & Place after 18 years, as well intended as it is, their organizer, planners and sponsors have it wrong.

First let me start with the title, “A Competition about Race”. The notion of addressing Race through a competition I find highly offensive. As a person of color who has experienced overt racism, stop and frisks, driving while black, followed in department stores as well a myriad of ongoing micro-aggressions to this day; I find to relegate my experience and others like me to “A Competition about Race” denotes the lack of sensitivity of the sponsors, organizers and coordinators. Some may argue it’s a start that there is courage in this opportunity and Spirit & Place should be commended. May be they should, however, with all of the many initiatives underway from Velocity to the Bi-Centennial real courage would be to address the issue of Race though all of those and many other structural mediums.

As person of color the issue of Race has never in my experience been a competition but rather a way of life which has resulted in less than savory outcomes. It is obvious to me that sponsors and organizers have never experienced the ugly and vile atrocities that racism has dispersed on boys, girls, men, women, old and young.  It appears; the issue of race has been relegated to their catch phrase, “One energizing night. Four innovators. One $20,000.00 award”.  I’m left to believe in their estimation addressing Race is a side-show to highlight a superficial approach to address an issue that has deep seeded roots in a City and State that has on all accounts done its best to limit and /or relegate people of color to have significant impact within its landscape. To say I am conflicted is an understatement. Yet in a juried fashion we find not only the discussion but the speculated planning process on Race being shaped by members of the dominant culture.

The language used to define the awardees ideas is “daring” referencing the implementation of their respective projects. From my lens and the few community members I have shared my thoughts; anything that is established or constructed around Race is not “daring” but rather “much needed and long over-due” Furthermore, they state whatever idea the awardees come up with is “for reshaping notions of race in Central Indiana”. I put forth, how can we develop an approach to address the burning issue of Race when there has not been an adequate and intentional conversation about what is the notion of Race in Central Indiana? In essence we have avoided the uncomfortable and foundational conversation for an event that reduces my experience and many others like me to a competition.

If Spirit & Place really wanted to uplift RISK it would have more courage in developing a serious foundation and not another check the box to support its and other organizations imperatives grounded in a façade of “inclusion”, “equity” and “diversity”

I think everyone knows that Race is complex, just look at the many cultures and ethnicities that make up Central Indiana and America.  The many cultures and ethnicities that add to the economy and social fabric but experience the highest rates of unemployment, mass incarceration, inequity, exclusion, segregation and an onslaught of micro-aggressions. When it comes to the experience of Race(ism) for people of color, it is NOT a competition. It’s our way of life; it’s the way we have been continuously systematically and negatively impacted from the playgrounds all the way through to the boardrooms.  We just celebrated 50 years since the March on Washington where it was concluded, we have come not far enough and  have a long way to go; 50 years since the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that took the lives of four little girls, Yusef Hawkins, Eleanor Bumpers, James Bird, Amadu Diallo, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell, I put forth the question:

Was Race a competition to them?


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We Are City Summit – Are We? – We Shall See!

“While growth is important, it is also imperative that growth becomes more inclusive because if certain regions, sectors or groups of people are denied economic opportunities for long periods, the spread and sustainability of growth itself is threatened. Hence, growth, to be inclusive, must take into account the betterment of every section of society.” Dr. Anil Kumar, Professor of Economics, Banaras Hindu University, India.

Next month we have the Second Annual We Are City Summit – Thursday August 22, 2013 .  I expect it to be an interesting half day.

It’s goal:  “The goal of We Are City is to enhance the conversation about city-building and celebrate the people and organizations that are doing it well.”

Last year it’s goal, “’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis.”

 A month after the 2012 We Are City Summit, I wrote about the juxtaposition between the theme of We Are City and the fact that the presenters were the only diverse part of the summit. In fact I went further in my analysis, feedback and critique to say the following:

We are City” displayed a focus of “Advancing ideas that make a better city”. However, like the Urbanized Summit, the company was sparse on diversity; so much that I could count the number of people of color in the room (including several of the presenters) on one hand.  Yet this was “We Are City” Summit“.  Not even a quarter of the persons in the room, let alone the majority looked like me, nor many others like me, engaged and invested in Indianapolis…Scanning the program, I immediately noticed the list of presenters was more diverse than the make-up of the audience…What a contrast, that the presenters at a summit entitled “We are City”, should be more diverse than the audience in the room…” 

Now let me make this clear last year’s We Are City Summit’s content was interesting, relevant, applicable and innovative. The presenters by all estimation were good. In the break there was what seemed to be genuine interaction grounded in meet n greet, colleagues catching-up, some slipping in work by sending an email, others texting and the presenters being  bombarded by inquisitive folks like myself who seek connectivity to their work as they walk through this life. As for the format it was rather academic with a traditional presentation style. The presenter speaks, Q&A’s at the end and an emcee popping-in and out between presentations with your standard break.

We are City - Summit 2012

We are City – Summit 2012

In my  response to last years summit I quoted one of the organizers from an interview in the Indiana Business Journal about a month before the event:

 “’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis,” said Michael Kaufmann, director of special projects and civic investment at Health and Hospital Corporation, one of the co-founders and organizers of the event. “The goal is to propel us forward through both an analysis of our past, an acknowledgment of our present, and a hope for our future.” (IBJ News Release – August 30, 2012)” 

In the summation of my article I highlighted  that We Are City Summit in it’s attempt to claim an absolute “We”, had failed; given it’s glaring lack of representation of people of color from all walks of life in Indianapolis who play a vital role in shaping this City’s future. In fact here is what I said and what I continue to purport not just for We Are City (Summit) but for Indianapolis at this pivotal time in it’s development.

“The “We are City” Summit may have started the process of building consensus around these topics. As for creating  a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis, it will surely have to include a broader, more inclusive and reflective audience in a City that is moving toward a majority minority. If the hope for this City’s future is centered around truly shared values of all stakeholders, cultures and ethnicity’s  propelling Indianapolis forward, “We are City” will require an even more thorough  analysis and acknowledgement of the present, with a willingness to move outside of its traditional relationships and comfort zones.”

Following my blog two of the organizers  met with me, wanting to get to know more about me but to really talk about the observations/critique in my blog. Both of the meetings were civil, a healthy exchange of ideas an elaboration on my closing remarks from my blog and a brief update by me on the emergence of project that was sparked by one of the presenters. In fact, they were so excited about the project, this February I was asked to write a brief for the We Are City bi-weekly emailed newsletter/brief. Needless to say the brief never made it to press.

So here is the “Brief” that never was:

My experience being part of Indianapolis’ community of change makers hinges on uncertainty and hope. Uncertainty because one never knows what’s the next feel good initiative popping up to meet some foundation or funders imperative; usually under the guise of making Indianapolis an innovative, transformed and inclusive City.  My hope, this change maker community will reflect on its thinking and behavior and recognize the change they envision is hampered by their cultural tunnel vision.

Looking ahead, I have no idea what the next, We Are City Summit will offer or if the outreach efforts will develop a more inclusive and diverse audience. However, organizers did reach out in response to my blog: regarding We Are City’s lack of a diverse audience. I refer to the attendees as “usual suspects.” Were the organizers encouraging building of relationships in an attempt to understand “those neighborhoods” or were they covering their bases? I do not know.

Here is what I do know. As a result of the last We Are City, myself and a group of stakeholders (Prosecutors Office, Juvenile Probation, HITS and Collabo) have come together to replicate the “You Got Arrested-Now What?” comic book, presented by the Center for Urban Pedagogy. This would be a response to the issue of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC), reflected by the increasing number of young men of color entering the juvenile/adult criminal justice system. The belief being that education is the best prevention for young men of color becoming another statistic.

Simultaneously, panel discussions surrounding job creation exploring the feasibility of the Evergreen Cooperative and it’s like being replicated in Indianapolis are taking place at Ki-EcoCenter,  hosted by Executive Director, Imhotep Adisa, Jim Naremore and Amy Rubin – Partners of 3rd Sector &Whitepaper Bluesky- and myself. These conversations will hopefully open doors for additional job-created cooperatives in Indianapolis creating pathways of prevention for community residents and the same young men targeted by DMC.

Another outcome of We Are City aligned with the current conversation regarding Mass Transit. Javier Barrera (Latino Youth Collective) presented on how to make T.O.D. user-friendly, essential, relative and lucrative. Improving infrastructure and converting bus stops and buses into Wi-Fi hot spots, will give patrons from all walks of life continued connectivity.

My hope is We Are City is bold and authentic enough to challenge this community of change makers by creating space for authentic engagement with individuals and communities that do not look like its organizers, sponsors and gatekeepers.

I plan on attending the We Are City Summit next month ( as you should too. From the line-up it is shaping up to be a good mix of interesting, innovative and creative presenters.

We are City Summit 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013 (12 - 5PM) The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center home of the Indiana Historical Society

Thursday, August 22, 2013 (12 – 5PM)
The Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center home of the Indiana Historical Society

We Are City Summit – 2013 Goal

“We Are City SUMMIT”, presented by Indianapolis Downtown, Inc., reemerges this summer with an eclectic mix of national and local speakers who work and play in the trenches and front lines of city-building. The second annual SUMMIT is designed to amplify city improvement conversations throughout Indianapolis and challenges local leaders to think innovatively and act boldly. The half-day conference will celebrate smart, unique and bold city-building with discussions, presentations and interactive projects.” – Thursday August 22, 2013 –

So, if you live or work in/with communities that are far too often traditionally under-represented at these events, if you represent the “priority population” one of those “marginalized communities” which is deemed “hard to reach” you may consider freeing-up your afternoon on the August 22nd.  In the same breathe, may I remind the organizers, funders and sponsors of the summit, because there is innovation and creativity with a feel good sense of change that does not inherently translate to progress.

The “We” in We are City is a bold statement that is grounded in the authenticity of community representation at all levels, from all races and backgrounds. However, if the “We” is a reflection of the current planning efforts and initiatives that far too often is built on an illusion of inclusion through buzz feel good language like “transformation”, “community”  or  “creative ways that people engage with cities” then the sponsors, funders and organizers have once again mirrored the “cosmetic diversity” we are all to accustom and taken one more step in widening the gap.

Julianne Maleaux, economist, educator and author  expresses it best: “You cannot have an inclusive society unless everyone has access. You cannot exclude people of color from commerce and expect them to be full participants in our economy” 

Change does not always equal progress and Progress does not always equal change. However, it is the delicate balance of intentionally marrying both of these, at times competing tensions, which are the central tenets that breathes life into the “We” whether it be  an individual, neighborhood, community or City.  

We Are City (Summit) –  Are we? – We Shall See!


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Mass Transit and Equitable Development P.1

Several weeks ago legislation, House Bill 1011 passed the Indiana House getting one step closer to expanded mass transit for Central Indiana. However, according the Chris Sikich, writer for the Indianapolis Star and other advocates the proposal faces more obstacles in the Indiana Senate, where leading Republicans have questioned the cost and scope of transit advocates’ vision for a 10-year, $1.3 billion expansion. (Central Indiana Corporate Partnership)

A good majority of  Hoosiers  see no need for improvement and expansion of this infrastructure. In their analysis there is no added value and they would be damned if they have to pay for something they will not use. Essentially, give me my 2 cars and leave that awful contraption to the, go green geeks, undeserved and marginalized. Some arguments have been a bit more rationale, based on a lack of density to support such an improvement. “Central Indiana does not have high-density employment hubs or neighborhoods to justify mammoth investment in public transit. Yet once again, the movers and shakers are pushing the Legislature to pass a bill that would be the first step of a costly process setting up a regional mass transit system” (Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation)

Transit For All

Transit For All

As they say for every action there is a reaction, so what would our democracy be worth if we could not debate the merits of such an important component impacting our lives. I for one am pro-mass transit. However, there are several reasons I do not use the current transportation system in Indianapolis: For one I’m spoiled by my London and New York City experience, the lack of frequency, poor infrastructure while waiting for a bus, lack of timeliness, poor planning of routes, times and locations. Otherwise, I would a frequent user with backpack in tow.

For a while now I have been following Transit Oriented-Development (TOD) discussion in Central Indiana. As a proponent, I have a biased view and while I understand the oppositions position I can not see tangible basis for arguments against expanding and improving mass transit. In fact, I have a history of being part of two TOD processes, East Harlem (102nd, 116th, 125th Street & Lexington avenue Stop) and South Bronx (Hunts Point Stop). Since NYC is transit friendly as a community member our conversations were focused on, frequency and connectivity, traffic patterns, children safety, local business development, job creation and stemming gentrification . In essence as resident stakeholder’s there was concern about equitable/balanced development.

Which brings me to the uphill battle of going before the Indiana Senate. As part of the legislative process the bill needs to pass the Senate to allow for a referendum. Simply, In Marion County, the city-county council decides whether to put the issue on the ballot. In the outlying counties, it depends on how they govern income tax collection. Essentially the plan suggests the required local funds be paid for with a .3% (three-tenths of a percent) increase in the local option income tax in Marion and Hamilton counties. For a family earning $50,000.00 it’s about $10month. (Indy Connect website).

Central Indiana Mass Transit Plan

Central Indiana Mass  Transit Plan (click to enlarge)

As you review Indy Connect’s website you can find all the information needed to better understand Central Indiana’s Mass Transit Plan. Upon review you will find ongoing community outreach and I emphasis “outreach” efforts to inform the public of the plan for mass transit. Bear in mind this a narrative that is shaped to build a ground swell around the legislative process pushing for community support for a referendum. On all accounts thus far this narrative is well-intended but far from holistic.

From my numerous conversations there seems to be the need to convince those earning $50,000.00 and above for an improved and effective mass transit. This narrative in my experience is an approach appealing to the upper-income communities and well to do,  increasing their comfort,  efficiency of daily living and discretionary income. A good strategy but one that has started out  relatively exclusive and at the expense of Low and Moderate-Income (LMI) communities.

Following the same script as the vast majority of economic and community development models in Central Indiana; this is a model approach laden with disproportionate representation at the leadership level and limited inclusion. It is clear why this mass transit narrative from the onset did a poor job of  including  LMI communities.  These communities historically are the last to be addressed, consulted and  thought of as involved  stakeholders and beneficiary’s until after the fact.  According to Matthew Soursourian, Equipping Communities to Achieve Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Community Investments, Summer 2010/Volume 22, Issue 2:

“Most TOD projects, however, do not focus on LMI communities the population that stands to benefit the most from increased access to transit. In fact, many TODs target upper-income communities and seek to capitalize on the recent revival in urban living. In some cases, TOD can price LMI residents out of their neighborhoods and push them farther away from jobs and transit, since in order for a TOD to be successful, it will necessarily increase land and housing costs. When this happens, instead of benefitting LMI residents, TOD projects can have the opposite effect, dramatically disrupting low-income neighborhoods”

I would like to think that Central Indiana’s mass transit process moving forward will move closer to an intentional and granular level of engagement. Frankly,  there is a shared responsibility in this initiative and LMI communities  are equally responsible to inject itself in the conversation. Since this conversation and narrative has already been shaped it is difficult to feel included in a process that from the onset started out exclusive.  It’s time to expand the narrative even as the Bill is before the Indiana Senate, move beyond the community forum meetings and develop a strategy that drills down in specific neighborhoods.  Illuminating the benefits that are central to LMI communities may very well increase the level of resident engagement, education and involvement  this plan desperately needs. Matthew Soursourian, states:

“Transit-oriented development (TOD) is uniquely positioned to positively impact low and moderate-income (LMI) communities: it can connect workers to employment centers, create jobs, and has the potential to spur investment in areas that have suffered neglect and economic depression. Moreover, TOD reduces transportation costs, which can have a greater impact on LMI households since they spend a larger share of their income on transportation relative to higher-income households. This frees up household income that can be used on food, education, or other necessary expenses. Low income people are also less likely to own personal vehicles and therefore more likely to depend exclusively on public transportation to get to and from work, making reliable access to transit a necessity for their economic success.”

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

There is a shared responsibility and nonprofits, faith-based institutions, schools, local business and local health centers etc.  can impact this ongoing narrative by challenging the current process. It’s  time for those grass tops organizations/leadership to move to be fearless in challenging and crafting the opportunities that mass transit can bring to the residents of the neighborhoods they service. Do your research, investigate how Metro Planning Organization’s (MPO) are created and the type representation that is on the board. Question the specific job opportunities and help craft and shape them. Raise questions about the connection to the development of a new workforce and preparing  the  young men and women  for this 10 year 1.3 billion Phase One plan. Start thinking about Phase Two and what it looks like and where and how does your neighborhood ensures being a beneficiary. Mass transit is marathon, put your shoulder behind moving House Bill 1011 through the Senate while simultaneously challenging the current narrative. Remember:

Change  is a choice. You either stick with the status quo or confront it – you choose!

Equitable Transit

Mass Transit = Equitable Development

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“We Are City” Summit – Are We?

“It is virtually impossible to pass a day in the United States without making use of race. Race is the main characteristic most Americans use to classify each other. It is the first or second thing we notice about a stranger we pass on the street or a new acquaintance approaching to shake our hand. Race determines which church most Americans attend, where they buy a house, the persons they choose to marry, whom they vote for, and the music they listen to. Race is evident in the color of inner-city and suburban schools, prison populations, the U.S. Senate, and Fortune 500 boardrooms…” Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How science, politics and big business re-create race in the twenty-first century, September 2011.

Last month in my two-part blog titled: An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy, one of my central points was inclusion  and parity of under-represented people of color and minorities in the public service sector, economic and community development, nonprofits and philanthropic industries. Working from a premise of “Nothing about us, without us” I attempted to highlight in part, how the lack of diversity in leadership (central and key positions) plays a role in communities of color being and remaining on the margins.

Last month I attended the “We are City” Summit and much like Erika Smith, Metro Columnist for the Indianapolis Star, “I didn’t fully know what to expect when I walked into the Harrison Center for the Arts on Friday (9-21-2012) for the five-hour-long We Are City Summit.” (Indy Star: 9-22-2012). 

We are City – Summit

What I was not hoping for, was an experience and audience similar to the likes of the Urbanized Summit. Held last year at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), the attendance was limited in diversity and was comprised of the usual suspects. “We are City” displayed a focus of “Advancing ideas that make a better city”. However, like the Urbanized Summit, the company was sparse on diversity; so much that I could count the number of people of color in the room (including the several the presenters) on one hand.  Yet this was “We Are City” Summit“.  Not even a quarter of the persons in the room, let alone the majority) looked like me, nor many others like me, engaged and invested in Indianapolis. I proceeded to transcend this reality to focus on the day’s presentations, opportunities to fellowship with colleagues and peers and engage in “real talk”; a main ingredient in advancing neighborhoods, communities and cities.

Scanning the program, I immediately noticed the list of presenters was more diverse than the make-up of the audience. In addition, 50% of them were from other mature city’s such as: Boston, New York City, Cleveland & Pittsburgh. What a contrast, that the presenters at a summit entitled “We are City”, should be more diverse than the audience in the room.  What does this say about the planning process, the event organizers and sponsor perception of “We are City?” Why was there such a sparse representation in the audience of  people color? Was I the only one who noticed this glaring reality of lack of representation? Or is this  audience the true representation of the citizenry “We are City” envision’s for Indianapolis’ growth and development?

None-the-less, the presenters were awesome, diverse and unique in their respective fields and producing ideas impacting and propelling their respective City’s forward. Let me first apologize to the last presenters  Medrick Addison, Brad Beaubien and Michael Huber for missing their presentations. I was obligated to another appointment. I worked with Brad, a fine educator and urban planner, on the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan and Michael and I served on a panel together: The Lasting Legacy, discussing the lasting legacy of the Super Bowl.  More importantly, Michael is an avid EPL (English Premier League) follower, making for good football talk.

The Summit was divided into three sections, Measure, Interpret and Connect. The work these presenters are engaged in and suggesting is impactful in making Cities inclusive, collective, livable, artistic, practical and a base of learning and critical inquiry, all the while being relevant.

Nigel Jacob (Measure), Senior Advisor for Emerging Technologies to the Mayor of Boston, in part focused on emerging technologies inclusive of citizens; describing specifically designed phone applications allowing citizens to interface with City Hall in real-time. For example, one particular application enables residents to capture and upload photographs of infrastructure needs for their community.  Another application allows a city worker to upload images upon completion of a repair, building or infrastructure project. My favorite was the  app that tracts bumps in the road as one drives; sending real-time information back to the City to determine and report the stress level of that street or thoroughfare. (

Oliver “Olly” Blank (Interpret) a composer, born in Manchester,  lived in London and now resides in both New Orleans and Helsinki. His music is the environment; created by his ability to build “sound toys” that can transform city noise into a symphony. His compositions can  be found in various piazza’s in parts of Europe, adding calmness to the hustling, fast paced and sometimes scary places (especially to those getting used to city living). During break, we were able to engage in some “real talk” with Valeria Magilevich. We shared various experiences about living in a city, especially being individuals of color. We talked about Indianapolis and its current phase as a developing city. We compared and contrasted New York City, London and Indianapolis and of course we talked football (soccer). Actually, it was my second question to Oliver, “So Manchester City or Manchester United?” His answer, “United man!” Music to my ears, from there we cracked on.

Oliver Blank

Oliver Blank

Javier Barrera, founding board member of Latino Youth Collective,  shared an insightful presentation as to why increasing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) can be both user-friendly, essential, relative and lucrative. His opening remarks drove home a cultural difference. Drawing  on his experience growing up in Veracruz, Mexico where all youth use public transport to get to and from school; elementary school through college. Unlike the U.S. (Indianapolis included), school busing has become a necessary evil. Busing provides some sense of safety for the children but also decreases their ability to learn, explore and connect to other  parts of the City through experiences. His presentation was simple: turn bus stops and buses into wi-fi hot spots. While waiting for the bus, students of all ages would be able to complete homework, prepare presentations or do coursework from GED to SAT to GRE/GMAT.

In addition, since in most cases students will have at least a one hour trip (given current transit patterns), the buses could be equipped with the same wi-fi, allowing connectivity to continue during the ride.  User-friendly and essential, these options allow students to make use of their waiting time, then carrying their work onto the bus when it arrives. Lucrative, this system would increase ridership for Indygo; supporting the need for increased routes and current discussion around developing a light rail system.  The Latino Collective is a program that provides opportunities for youth to engage in community development through critical pedagogy, grassroots organizing and collective action.

Valeria Magilevich, Program Director at Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) (Measure), was by far my favorite presenter, sorry Olly! In reviewing the summit with my colleagues, it was determined that she presented material that was most connected to “the work on the ground”; developing a  base of learning and critical inquiry, civic engagement and action. CUP creates projects that demystify the city’s complex system in an effort to increase meaningful civic engagement. Their project-based learning and community engagement works with youth and adults throughout the city, on everything from What happens after one flushes the toilet? to What is affordable housing? And what does it mean for you? Using physical objects as tools of education, learning, decision-making and actions, CUP empowers youth, adults and low-communities on current issues which impact their well-being.  As Valeria said, “We are making policy public” and addressing economic and community development – “nothing about us, without us.”

“Nothing about us, without us!” captures my earlier point of “We are City Summit” being grounded on a premise “to advance ideas that make a better city” yet lacking important representation from other ethnicity’s and cultural groups. These groups make up the social and economic fabric of Indianapolis. As we know, there is a strong East Indian contingency in this city, an equally strong Caribbean cohort and likewise, a strong African and Latino base, which adds daily to the growth and development of Indianapolis

“Nothing about us, without us!”  Sitting there I wondered why various resident and organizational stakeholders were not present in the audience (or participating as presenters). Anthony Beverly, Executive Director of Stop the Violence, works to decrease gun violence in the city. Working tirelessly with his own resources, offering workshops in working with gangs in an effort to turn in guns. Stop the Violence presents alternatives to youth in communities fallen victim to the science of social deprivation, a place “We are City” has yet to visit. (

Imhotep Adisa, Executive Director of Kheprw Institute participates in the Mid-North Quality of Life Plan. Kheprw’s organization mantra is “Community Empowerment through Self Mastery”. This simply means, the things we ourselves can do and improve upon, can lead to community empowerment. Kheprw Institute includes Ki NuMedia, an entrepreneurial youth engagement medium, providing local website building and printing services. KI’s “Real Talk” focuses on current social issues and Friday night at 317 Cafe: Omni-mic allows young and old  artists to come together and share vision, experiences, pain and dreams through spoken word or whatever medium one chooses. KI places specific focus on documenting and discussing the complexities of  issues facing our time. The Institute has ventured into Aquaponics; connecting education to entrepreneurship.  In addition, KI Community School and The Ki EcoCenter, houses the majority of the Kheprw Institute’s initiatives.(

Imhotep Adisa

Imhotep Adisa

“Nothing about us, without us!”Brightwood Entertainment, Tyrone Davis editor and publisher of, Twenty4Seven magazine in Martindale-Brightwood. This local entrepreneur, holds a full-time job, hosts a local radio show “The Cut” and manages a hip-hop magazine of local artists and events in his spare time. Tyrone, has a passion for Indianapolis and understands the challenges of developing a big cities uses of creative and safe spaces.  ( My list could go on as I am sure the list for the sponsors and organizers must have been exhaustive.

“’We Are City’ is an effort to build consensus around a variety of topics, to form a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis,” said Michael Kaufmann, director of special projects and civic investment at Health and Hospital Corporation, one of the co-founders and organizers of the event. “The goal is to propel us forward through both an analysis of our past, an acknowledgment of our present, and a hope for our future.” (IBJ News Release – August 30, 2012)

The “We are City” Summit may have started the process of building consensus around these topics. As for creating  a shared narrative of our values and vision for Indianapolis, it will surely have to include a broader, more inclusive and reflective audience in a City that is moving toward a majority minority. If the hope for this City’s future is centered around truly shared values of all stakeholders, cultures and ethnicity’s  propelling Indianapolis forward, “We are City” will require an even more thorough  analysis and acknowledgement of the present, with a willingness to move outside of its traditional relationships and comfort zones.

I think William Sloan Coffin Jr. activist and clergyman, captured the challenge facing Indianapolis’ organizers and sponsors of “We are City” as it advances ideas that make a city better:  

“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without”


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An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part 2

“Until public service leadership becomes truly diverse—where the representation and perspectives from communities of color begin to approach the proportion of the overall population— the total capacity of our full efforts will remain unrealized. The potential for contributions to solving social ills is going untapped because the treasure talent within communities of color remains on the margins of leadership.” Diversity Counts: Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Public Service Leadership Report ,May 2012: National Urban Fellows -Public  Service Diversity Leadership Initiative.

Young women and men of color, whether in  low-income local communities or parts of London or Chicago, live under a constant cloud of rejection through attitudes and behaviors considered microagressions or micro-insults. Reflected as an embedded tenet in our current culture and related to my assertions in Part 1 of this blog article, are for some of you a diatribe;

“In essence, there are three  significant challenges in the current practice in Indianapolis’ “theory of change”(Including a good portion of Cities throughout the United States), a) planning from a place of cultural tunnel vision, b) cherry-picking of communities and neighborhoods and c) Structural Racism embedded in the process of philanthropic, economic and community development…” 

More often than not, every turn is greeted with a distinct microaggression that reminds the black male/female of color  that he/she is not welcomed and does not belong. This is even more evident, when he/she embraces his/her authentic self-expression while keeping in line with the status quo. Acceptance is less than marginal; making  navigating  the world of work like walking through a  minefield without a map. Not that a map makes a difference,  as witnessed by countless educated black males who have been duped by the illusion of opportunity, only to be smacked in the face with lack of access.  It is the silence, the coded language, uninviting posturing that rips any hope of social and professional movement. Bear in mind that these encounters are a constant. Embedded so much within the social fabric, that they go unrecognized by the status quo (those who fail in employing their own sense of self-accountability). Other cases of microaggression or negative encounters are more intentional, only confirming the lack of hope and the possibility of “transformation.”

“Racial microaggressions cause considerable psychological distress among Black Americans and are manifested in nearly all interracial encounters. They set in motion energy-depleting attempts to determine whether incidents were racially motivated. Reactions can be classified into 4 major themes: healthy paranoia, sanity check, empowering and validating self, and rescuing offenders. Microaggressions result in high degrees of stress for Blacks because of denigrating messages: “You do not belong,” “You are abnormal,” “You are intellectually inferior,” “You cannot be trusted,” and “You are all the same.” Feelings of powerlessness, invisibility, forced compliance and loss of integrity, and pressure to represent one’s group are some of the consequences.” Racial Microaggressions in the Life Experience of Black Americans: Professional Psychology: Research and Practice © 2008 American Psychological Association: Derald Wing Sue, Christina M. Capodilupo, and Aisha M. B. Holder -Teachers College, Columbia University

Executive  America  continues to assume zero responsibility for an ongoing slaughter of the black male and persons of color psyche. Yet, individual responsibility and the lack thereof, are preached as the main stay to why men  and women of color cannot succeed. Stereotypes and microaggressions manifest at every interaction, intersection and crossroad: the grocery store, cinema, department store, job searching, hailing a taxi and yes in schools, universities and the work place, seeming only to reinforce the assumptions and facts that low-income males and all males of color are not welcomed in this citizenry.

Nivea tried tell blacks to re-civilize themselves

Understanding the manifestations of these microaggressions lends credibility and confirmation  to encounters which are far from being experienced inside out. Those of us who engage in authentic, honest and transparent transformative and restorative work are left with the burden and responsibility to placate Executive America and ensure its comfortability comes first. The reactions from  Executive America when issues with microagressions are raised, results in the following categorization and positions (too mention few):  a) the angry black man b) playing the race card and c) “Why do we want to go there? That’s not the issue. You have a black President”. All without an iota of responsibility for personal actions and limited worldview.

Race Matters Image – Illustration/Stokely Baksh

Before I sound as if I’m making baseless assertions, accusations and uniformed analysis, let me say that I agree with National Urban Fellows, Diversity Counts Report; “The United States of America was founded on the principles of justice, equality, and inclusion. As a nation, we continue to strive for full participation and equality for all citizens, upon whose shoulders rests the responsibility for upholding these principles.”

Although growing in population, people of color remain under-represented in leadership of the public service sector. This is an issue that can and must be resolved if we are to successfully address the nation’s most pressing social issues—from education to health, environment and justice.  People of color now make up one-third, or 36 percent, of the U.S. population—a population that is projected to grow to 54 percent by 2042. The public service sector—from government and academic think tanks to foundations and nonprofit organizations—must become more inclusive and representative if we are to develop fair and effective structures to fulfill the intention of our democracy.

As a Negro with a graduate education, one does not need research or data to see and experience that which is readily visible with the naked eye. Lack of representation is  in all facets but especially in the non-profits and philanthropic realms, where imperatives are driven to impact change.

“Nonprofit organizations play an extremely important role in our society; helping both the government and the private sector to address many of our nation’s important social issues. Board Source reports that among directors of nonprofit organizations in 2010, 86 percent were people of White, non- Hispanic heritage and 14 percent were people of color”. Specifically, “7 percent were African American, 3 percent Latino/ Latina, and 4 percent other. The leadership and boards of directors for nonprofit agencies tended to be less ethnically and racially diverse than the staff in this segment of the public service sector.

As with boards of directors, there is also little diversity among executives of nonprofit organizations.”The vast majority, 88 percent of nonprofit executives are of White, non-Hispanic heritage. Only 4 percent are African American, 2 percent are Latino/Latina, 0.6 percent are Asian Pacific American, 0.2 percent are Native American and 6 percent have a heritage of two or more racial groups. The lack of diversity among nonprofit leadership is also evident throughout the nonprofit sector. It is estimated that among all nonprofit employees, 82 percent are of White, non-Hispanic heritage and 18 percent are people of color. Specifically, 10 percent are African Americans, 5 percent Latino/Latina, 3 percent other and 1 percent Asian Pacific American” . (Diversity Counts Report p.14)

“The field of Philanthropy is one of the most important segments of our nation’s public service sector. As the financial backbone of  programs and services, philanthropy makes it possible for our nation’s nonprofit agencies to address key social issues such as education and healthcare. Philanthropy influnces not only our awareness of important social issues but also our responses to them. Philanthropic boards are often the key decision-making bodies determining which organizations and programs receive funding. Previous research has shown that foundations with diverse boards are more likely to support activities led by and in diverse communities. According to the most recent research presented by the D5,  people of color make-up 34 percent of program officers at foundations; however, individuals of White, non-Hispanic heritage represent 92 percent of foundation CEOs and executive leadership. Specifically, recent reports reveal that only 3 percent of CEOs are African American, 3 percent are Latino/Latina, 1 percent are Asian Pacific American, and 0.5 percent are Native American. Similarly, 88 percent of full-time executive staff are of White, non-Hispanic heritage, while only 12 percent are people of color”. (Diversity Counts Report p.14-15)

Inspire a Generation!,should be a motto for all metropolis, whether  London, Rio, Beijing or Indianapolis and should not be relegated to minor community trade-off’s the likes of Legacy Projects and Quality of Life Initiatives.  The next generation, the majority of which are minority groups, opportunities rest on “transactional” premises of philanthropic and community development initiatives. It makes one shudder, knowing that current planning imperatives are under the disguise of  language like “diversity” and “transformation”, yet are short on inclusion from the onset. This surely serves as  reinforcement and a reminder that low-income and communities of color are not reflective of  a “rising tide lifts all boats.” In fact, in these communities, there is no tide; only small waves creating an illusion of progress.

New Paradigm Ahead

New Paradigm Ahead

If you want to Inspire a Generation, you must start with inclusion in the planning process; equity, validating young voices and opening up the board rooms and staff meetings to more people that do not look like you. Stop engaging in “cosmetic diversity”; embrace and appreciative inquiry as a method to advance your organization, as the external landscape changes. Refocus your attention on the true emerging markets (low-income). The next wave of  workforce and economic development has the potential to be a driving force to combat austerity measures. Stop driving personal agendas and imposing cultural tunnel vision regarding expectations that reinforce the status quo. Leave more than just bite sized portions of huge investments, which often take longer in development and redevelopment than it would take to pocket the profits, secure a six figure income and increase stock/shareholders revenue.

Even before the recession/austerity measures it was apparent that traditional education and employment landscapes would not readily take into consideration the myriad of challenges for low-income young adults, as they wrestle their way into the labor market. Through  lack of inclusion, “cosmetic diversity” and  microagressions; an added ingredient in philanthropic, community and economic develop, it makes me  wonder on the real motives of those in leadership. Inspiring a Generation starts with changing your thinking, attitudes and behaviors. Creating real space demonstrated in actions not rhetoric, which at times is condescending at best.

Hosting an Olympic’s or a  Super Bowl are great achievements but the true achievement is in how legacy projects present opportunity and access across all communities, especially those the hardest hit by an economic downturn. “Transformation” to form a strong City is grounded in a process of inclusion. Creating a City by erecting buildings is grounded in a process of merely valuing “transactions”.  Building a stronger City that has a pulse, a soul, a vibrancy and colorfulness that draws people in,  intentionally  reflecting  leadership of the nation’s  increasingly growing population is “transformation” and “community” at its best; especially in City’s the likes of Indianapolis.  National Urban Fellows  Diversity Counts report:

“While there are segments of public service leadership that have effectively engaged people of color, in too many areas of leadership there is an under representation of people of color. Even in some of our nation’s most diverse communities, people of color are not represented in public service leadership at levels commensurate with their percentage of the population.” 

You can not Inspire a Generation when a particular segment of that generation is  not seeing or experiencing inclusion. Einstein said it best:

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”


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An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part -1

“Inspire a Generation!” was the London 2012 motto. It was everywhere, billboards, buses, cars, the underground (tube) and television commercials. It was powerful enough fuel for the Great Britain (GB) athletes, as evidenced by the most amounts of medals (65) for team GB in 100 years of Olympic Games. With the feats of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah’s, Gabby Douglas (USA) and other Olympians, their successes will be inspiration for many young men and women for years to come.

Jessica Ennis  won the gold in the heptathlon – Mo Farah double Olympic gold medalist and Victoria Pendleton Olympic gold cyclist

For some, the dream will continue with  increased training time on the tack, in the pool or in the boxing ring. Their focus will be in stepping-up their dedication with increased execution. For others, a vast majority, the challenges will start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags. For these young men and women, their lives are a far cry from Hyde Park, The Mall, Trafalgar Square or Earls Court.  It’s more like Finsbury Park, Kilburn,  Holland Park, Neasden,  Stratford,  and the likes; the “cobbles”  is where their respective futures are being shaped. Much like  inner city low-income communities  in the United States, the challenges for these neighborhoods at times seem insurmountable  appearing to outweigh the allocated resources.

Nearly every city that has served as host to the Olympics has left some sort of legacy.  In all cases, the legacies have been paved with good intentions. London’s Olympic 2012 project  investment was originally estimated to cost  $4.8 billion; the final cost was $18 billion dollars.   The London Legacy Project:

  • The construction of five new neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, will see up to 8,000 homes built-in the Olympic Park by 2030
  • Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will provide an escape with its green, open spaces beside tranquil waterways. Elsewhere will pulsate with a multitude of events. The five world-class venues built specially for the Games, will now be host to local, national and international sporting competitions, concerts, festivals, temporary attractions, installations and more in its many public spaces.
  • The London Legacy Development Corporation see’s employment and business growth as key to the regeneration of east London. To deliver this, they intend to promote high-quality education and job training opportunities; making sure they meet employers’ workforce requirements. This will allow unemployed local residents the opportunity to access jobs throughout the Park.
  • Development plans include 1.3 million square feet of housing, 480,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of hotels, shops, a health center,  community centre, nursery school, gym and parking.

The Athletes’ Village at Stratford will be retro-fitted to create nearly 3,000 new homes after the 2012 Olympics

The final result is a complete reshaping of the East End.  Winning an Olympic bid was both huge and historic for London and Great Britain. Serving as a  lasting legacy of English and London pride; where “Club and Country” is as sacred, if not more so, than “God save the Queen”.  As expected, Brits’ and Londoner’s alike shined in extending the United Kingdom’s hospitality. However, this hospitality  maybe considered a new normal for the likes of  an Indianapolis, Indiana. London is a City where one’s olfactory senses are tantalized with unique scents and your hearing and vision are greeted with varied dialects and appearances  of  African, South African, East Indian, Eastern European immigrant, Asian, Latino and West Indian culture at every turn. In every  pub (bar), bus, tube,  newsstand, restaurant, cinema, football (soccer) game, concert and corner store. London, is not short on diversity, in fact it serves as the future of what communities and neighborhoods are to become in United States, including  Indianapolis.  London’s ability to embrace its ethnic and cultural differences as part of the new enhanced British culture, represents the new normal. As such, I find it increasingly difficult to hear this current  mantra and position of “art, beauty and nature” from leadership in the fields of  philanthropy, economic and  community development in Indianapolis; when some of  these very organizations in the  field continue to plan with a blatant insensitivity to the changing demographics.

“Transformation” seems to be the constant language being used as Indianapolis wrestles through its identity crisis. Yet, the methods used in economic and community development and philanthropy  are “transactional”; defined by  “asset mapping”, “investments” and “asset-based planning”and are devoid of any real transformative  and restorative imperatives. In essence,  my estimation is  there are three  significant challenges (assertions) in the current practice of Indianapolis’ “theory of change”, a) continued planning from a place of cultural tunnel vision, b) cherry-picking of communities and neighborhoods and c) Structural Racism embedded in the process of philanthropic, economic and community development. At a glance, these may seem to be far-reaching assertions but from the various seats on the bus (which I occupy), it cannot be any more glaring.  But this paragraph will be expounded upon at a later time, in another blog.

Back to “Inspire a Generation!” For other persons, a vast majority, the challenges start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (the Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags.

These concerns and sentiments are echoed by London Funders. In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership, whose members include Comic Relief, the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and London Funders network, says “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer is a call to the government to commit at least £100m to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident, successful people and all-round better health?

These concerns and sentiments were echoed by London Funders network, whose members include Comic Relief and Community Development Foundation (CDF). In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012 – Rachel Williams ), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership and London Funders network agreed “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer was a call to the government to commit at least £100 million to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: “why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident successful people and all-round better health?”

CDF’s chief executive Alison Seabrooke, “We want to fill the gaps,” she says. “There’s a lot of noise around the different government departmental provisions in sport and where it’s lacking and what it doesn’t tackle is the people who aren’t sporty, who aren’t active. Everything we see is all about sports’ outcomes – the number of footballers you produce, or the number of boxers, and the increase in sporting achievement. What we don’t look at is sport as a tool for doing other things in the community. We want a fund that will cut across different political cycles that will protect the money and make it work really hard.”

The challenges that  low-income young males  and females of color face in London is no different from any urban or suburban area in the United States. The main distinctive difference seems to be class, especially in the Council Estates (America’s equivalent to Public Housing). There is council housing (Flat’s & rented houses) available outside of the estates, in middle-income communities, adding to the diverse population representing community.  However, even with the vibrant colors that make up London, young men of color (often in the lower-class)  are so weighed down by social and psychological deprivation they borough-in rather than dig out. Seeing themselves as the beneficiaries of the London Olympics’ Legacy Fund will require more than ambitions of developing a Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or building a new generation of elite athletes. With an eye on success in Rio in 2016, whether it be London or Indianapolis, there is a need for more tangible imperatives than “art, beauty and nature” in transforming low-income communities. Developments the likes of an Olympic Legacy or Super Bowl Legacy need to reflect the faces and culture of the current residents. Taking into account changing demographics; ensuring long-term employment and stability over gentrification.

Planned Development after the London Olympics - The East End

London Olympic Legacy Redevelopment Plan

In Ilford, community youth worker Mehbub Ahmed agrees. The 24-year-old runs a non-contact boxing project at Frenford Clubs’ Jack Carter centre…”[The government is] only looking for elite athletes and nothing more than that. It’s not looking to help the community as a whole. It sees it as more about collecting medals than looking out for where young people are going with their lives.”

Whether, Haughville, South Bronx, The East End, Martindale-Brightwood or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, planning, redevelopment and regeneration must include those who are disenfranchised. There must be clear, honest and authentic dialogue that forces reflection  of one’s assumptions of a shared vision of community and, what is looks like? Planning investment and attracting assets are central to restoring the economic base of local  low-income communities, cities and regions, which makes  inclusion an even more vital piece to the redevelopment process. The notion that communities that are “dis-invested” also lack the intellectual capability to grasp the technicalities of community restoration is a sorely perpetuated myth. There is no doubt that the East End will thrive, pockets of Indianapolis will continue to grow, communities will feel safer, school facilities will improve, housing will be created, jobs will increase and some of the local residents will benefit.  But to inspire a generation, the next generation needs to continue to see like faces in the process, occupying program manager, project manager, senior or  lead planner positions. Being part of the management and executive team, in a manner that is  more than “cosmetic diversity.”  Listening to a  radio show about community and economic development a caller by the name of Grandpa said the following;  “the recent calls reek of people who are completely cool with gentrification and who see cities as playgrounds instead of what they really are. The hierarchy of America and the world elites laugh at how the people are worried about the look of the city when there are absolutely enormous problems with racism, education,  jobs and pollution. Poverty and ignorance are all over the place in every city  but hardly ever mentioned. Be careful when you try to make empires places where you can go and play pretend all day.” 


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Adisa: “One who makes his meaning clear”

Community Building , Econ0mic and Community Development, Sustainable Communities; whatever you want to call it, whatever the “buzz” word, it has an essence, a soul and a spirit that manifests in Passion.

For Carrying-Capacity’s launch I am excited to introduce a young man with a seasoned perspective; resident philosopher, writer, music business entrepreneur and all round Renaissance man – Diop Menelik Adisa! A man in his mid-twenties, he represents one of the new voices presenting with critical inquiry. Diop serves as the Youth Director, Outreach Director and Grant Writer for the Kheprw Institute and Ki-EcoCenter. He is an IUPUI graduate with a Bachelors in Philosophy and is every bit his father’s (Imhotep Adisa) son, especially when it comes to deduction and “breaking it down.” The definition of his name according to him: Diop – “Named after his grandfather a self-taught Senegalese scholar” Menelik – “Son of the wise man, bringer of the knowledge”. Adisa – “One who makes his meaning clear”.

Diop Menelik Adisa

Diop Menelik Adisa

Keep in mind as you read his blog writings, he is both refreshing and gritty.

“The past few months, given the work I and my organization have been involved with, have lead me down a road that requires a critical examination of the mindset difference between those that build from the ground up from those that “build” from the top down. The second build is in quotation due to the fact that I have never witnessed the construction of any standing building from the top down”

Diop’s description of this all too common practice of economic and community development crystalizes the difference between accessing resources and being resourceful. He states:

“Grass Roots as a mindset understands the simple idea of starting with whatever and whoever you have. They understand how to survive by bootstrapping instead of bootlicking. Power is needed to empower. Non-profits/people that chase funding and approval can never empower community because they have relinquished their own power. They have fallen subservient to the status quo and as a result no longer possess an authentic autonomous voice, which is the exact voice being called upon in these turbulent times. The funding chasers are not in a position to critique the Grass Roots mindset primarily because they have no knowledge of how to build from the ground up.” The Kheprw Institute

Both models have a place in the plethora of approaches to community development. The question remains, which model provides the best opportunity for long term sustainability? It is crystal to me, but I’ll let you decide. Still, Diop’s analysis of the top down approach as a change process, reminds me of an eloquent statement captured by Henry Ford in 1908 in reference to his Model-T automobile, “You can paint it any color, so long as you buy it black”.

Diop’s fearlessness is reflected in his philosophy of self-mastery as he calls out the traditionalist;

“Far too often non-profit ‘know it alls’ spend their time doing the exact antithesis of the term non-profit. Funding first and change second becomes their mantra.”

This is by no means an accident. Remember his last name, Adisa: “One who makes his meaning clear”. I invite you to follow this new voice, the Kheprw Institute, and Ki-EcoCenter as they continue modeling the difficult work of “self-mastery” as a core value of sustainability and “grassroots as mindset.”

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