Tag Archives: Inclusion

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) http://www.inrc.org/ programs and events, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF)http://www.cicf.org/,  directly and indirectly supported initiatives, Velocityhttp://www.indyvelocity.com/, Quality of Life Plans supported by the Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC) http://liscindianapolis.org/, 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”. http://www.strategicpractice.org/system/files/worldview_contest_ideas.pdf

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, http://www.strategicpractice.org/system/files/worldview_contest_ideas.pdf. 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

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 http://wearecity.us/ .  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.” http://wearecity.us

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: http://equitabledevelopment.com 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,  http://kiecocenterorg.ipage.com  hosted by Executive Director, Imhotep Adisa, Jim Naremore and Amy Rubin – Partners of 3rd Sector &Whitepaper Bluesky-http://whitepaperbluesky.com 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 (http://wearecity.us/) 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 – http://wearecity.us/

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!


Filed under Community Development

“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.  http://www.wfyi.org/TheLastingLegacy.asp.  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. (http://www.cityofboston.gov/mayor)

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. mroliverblank.com/

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. http://www.latinoyouthcollective.com/

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.” http://welcometocup.org/

“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. (http://www.stoptheviolenceindy.com/).

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.(http://kiecocenterorg.ipage.com/kheprwhome/)

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.  (http://www.brightwoodentertainment.com/). 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. www.nuf.org.

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) www.nuf.org

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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