From Coast to Coast: Lady Leaders Doing Community, Part 1 of 3: Majora Carter

This past month I had the privilege of being a panelist and workshop leader at The Parish Collective’s Inhabit Conference in Seattle, Washington. I had a wonderful time seeing old friends who stand with us in solidarity in rooted, place-based, asset-based, Christian community development principles and practices. By far, the highlight of the experience was meeting so many remarkable leading ladies who are integrating transformative community development in the places they call their own. Please, allow me to share with you a glimpse into the work of three of these incredible women: Majora Carter who is serving in The Bronx, Anna Golladay who is hankering down in Chattanooga, TN, and Coete Soerens, who is rooted in Seattle, Washington. Each of them are integrating ABCD practices into the work they are doing WITH community, though not all in the traditional way of connecting through neighbors. Over the next 3 newsletters, I will use this space to highlight the work of these incredible women, in hopes that you will connect with them, share with them, and learn (as did I) from their practice.

Majora Carter is a mastermind in community transformation initiatives that infuses a business startup model using ABCD principles. Having successfully led alongside her community of leaders in the Bronx, Majora, worked with a neighborhood team, and together, they were able to leverage the support of the city to maximize the park the community had already developed to include a substantial enhancements with the support of Mayor Bloomberg (New York). This collaborative continues to be a testament to what is possible when communities together identify what they desire, and together, live into the possibilities. And while having a new park in the Bronx has created space for families and friends to gather and connect, people continue to articulate a desire to participate in the economic development of their community.

In Majora’s presentation at Inhabit, she illustrated as process to consider as we work together with our communities that actually does broaden the status quo model that non-profits take towards funding and economic development in community. Majora asserts that more non-profits need to consider identifying a market or policy need, and then along with the community, designing an attractive solution to that market or policy need. This approach is very different from how we have thought of community development in the past. Instead of thinking about what the community needs, Mrs. Carter challenges us to think about what a larger market, outside of our community could use, that we, for which, as a community, we might create a profitable solution. From there, we should work to obtain angel investors who have a passion for addressing the market need, AND who believe in the capacity of the community to create and effectively implement the solution. Mrs. Carter then suggests launching a Beta version of the solution so that the collaborative can learn from the pilot and refine it based on the real world implementation experience that happened in Beta testing. By listening to the community, and identifying their skills and expertise to develop solutions to the challenges of an identified market, community members can become collective participants in the economy. This is a dignifying means by which to employ people and their gifts, while creating economic participation with the community, and it reeks of an asset-based approach, as it allows people to identify their gifts from within and mobilize them towards business startups, sustainable community, and economic development.

Majora has deployed this model, and along with a team of millennials who also live in the Bronx, they have created The Startup Box (www.sbsq.org). This organization employs the talents of this group of leaders from the community to provide tech solutions for several companies, both local and publicly traded, who were in need of their collective services. Together, they have generated enough revenue through the use of their collective gifts and talents to turn an old, condemned storefront in their neighborhood into an office space in the Bronx to do their work. They now also open this space up to the community for video gaming tournaments between community youth and the local police to alleviate tensions that have become a national issue.

As is the case for all leaders in community development, Majora also bumps up against challenges to change. As she spoke with us in Seattle, she was grieved, as just the week before, she had thrown her collective’s name in the hat to revitalize an eyesore of a juvenile detention center to transform it into a shared workspace facility, among other things that the community had identified as valuable unto itself. However, she had just received news that her community’s proposal had been rejected, and as such, it is possible that an ultimately gentrifying project that does not take the community’s felt and expressed needs into account could be granted access to renovate the space. This is an ever growing tension in our country as well; one that requires our attention and our prayers.

Indeed, Majora Carter is doing her part to apply an ABCD framework to how community is regenerative and included in the marketplace. I will close with a quote from Mrs. Carter which envelopes why she is so passionate about doing the work she does with her community in this very particular kind of way:

“Jesus completely changed the way people were looking at women, and children and the poor…we need to think a little bit more broadly about how we send the message out to folks who have ‘their own world view.’”

To get to know Majora and her work, please connect with her: @startupboxSBx, @MajoraCarter, www.sbsq.org, www.majoracartergroup.com



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