I’ve learned a lot this month, mostly insight from my passionate and talented peers and coworkers. I am [always] learning. Some parts of this city are still new to me, even 6 years later, but mostly I am always discovering something new about the social dynamics of Detroit’s many neighborhoods.
Whenever nonprofit work is supported by a foundation or corporate institution, our work needs to be targeted because the funding is typically designed to support a specific ask or need. EcoWorks just had a meeting last week to discuss the idea of adding more to our mission and focus, but we realized that were starting to move away from sustainability, which is our specialty. Together we came to the consensus that it is certainly okay to have social justice and care for humanity as a primary lens to our work, but we have to let our focus still be a priority- in our case, water, energy, and sustainability. Sometimes it might seem like we’re leaving people out of the equation at times, but this is where we can consider them in the bigger picture and the long-term possibility of a project.
I also learned that we, as community developers, need to be really careful about the way we approach people in our outreach communities. We should refrain from using words like help, save, or improve because it implies someone is incapable of doing something without us. Even if that is the case, we have to be mindful about our “superiority” as it might be viewed from the community. Rather we should look to collaborate, co-liberate, and serve in our communities. We are servants of our work, not masters. Our communities are the masters and decision-makers… or at least they should be.
Also also, I recently realized from working in a low-income neighborhood in Detroit that the primary concern of a family is usually the short-term, like “how will I buy food today”, “how will I pay for electricity this month”, “how do I get my car fixed”- things that need immediate attention. We realized this as we were trying to get the neighborhood to buy-in to sustainable practices like a green alley project, solar panels, and rain barrels. We realized that all that fluff about saving the planet and going green just didn’t appeal to them… until we re-framed it in a way that told them they could save money if they collected free water from the sky into a barrel to water their grass or wash their car. Once they bought in to saving money, then we could educate them on the bigger picture impact- saving the earth’s resources by adopting sustainable practices. I am still so impressed at the Hope Village Challenge team for coming up with the phrase “A more stable today, for a sustainable tomorrow”. They met their residents where they were at, prioritizing their needs and humanity above all, before trying to convince them on sustainability practices outside of their personal need.
It’s tough to scale down our work because you want to make the biggest impact as possible. I think it’s natural that we want to think big, but it’s also helpful to look at our work as more of a ripple, one that spreads into other communities because we are inspiring others to make educated choices. Work in Detroit communities is not easy by any means. We must go at our work with integrity, grit, patience, perseverance, and the willingness to feel out of place. Accepting uncomfortability is the only way someone like myself, a white woman in a predominantly black city, can even begin to relate to what it is like being a minority in community much different than myself.
#citygrind #challenge #ChallengeDetroit