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Neighborhoods Now!: Plotting a Course for change

Neighborhoods Now!: Plotting a Course for change
April 15, 2016

In 2014, CURA staff met with six community-based organizations to better understand their priority issues. Among these issues, we identified four overarching topics: collaborations; people and places; systems change; and organizations. As part of CURA’s mission to support place-based organizations to successfully take on local issues by developing the skills of community organizers and leaders, we developed an extensive training program called Neighborhoods Now! This program was designed to be an innovative community educational series to strengthen the work of individuals and organizations working in neighborhoods to:

  1. Organize to win issues for people and places.
  2. Build power to change systems for racial equity and economic justice.
  3. Build organizations whose leadership is reflective of the community.
  4. Build diverse and effective cross-cultural collaborations.

To deliver these objectives and address the four overarching topics, the training program was divided into four courses: 1. Neighborhood Issues Organizing; 2. Neighborhood Systems Change; 3. Building Representative Neighborhood Groups; and 4. Cross-Cultural Collaborations. The program was launched with the first course in the summer of 2015. The Neighborhood Issues Organizing course engaged in discussions around the basics of neighborhood organizing.

More specifically, participants engaged in neighborhood organizing as a form of leadership that works to help a constituency to turn its resources into the power to make change. We provided knowledge, skills, and tools as part of the training. Participants learned how to think critically and strategically about potential organizing pitfalls and challenges before they happen; how to identify, recruit, and develop the leaders of others; build community around that leadership; and build power from the resources of that community. Most importantly, participants grappled with the concept of relationships as a way to build community and develop leaders.

“One of the most important parts that I learned about organizing is building relationships,” said Princess Titus, the Director of Education and Training. Princess attended the first Neighborhoods Now! course and also noted that it allowed her to engage with the youth population whom she works with and helped them realize the voice they have in their community. “We know that we actually have a voice to speak in our community. No matter how old we are, we have the voice to bring our community together,” said Daeja Bryant, a youth volunteer at Appetite for Change.

In the Neighborhood Systems Change course, we explored the broader institutions and systems that fuel the issues, disinvestment, and racial disparities within and across neighborhoods; and examined the complexities of structural racism and other “isms” through local historical analysis. We also explored how systems can be deconstructed, followed by community organizing from the neighborhood level to catalyze social, racial, and economic justice.

In each of the two courses we held in 2015, we had twelve participants in each attend and complete the courses. The program was customized to issues and scenarios for individuals and groups that work with place-based organization. However, we had participants affiliated with a wide range of issues such as food justice, early education, and transportation.

Andrew Tran is currently a program coordinator for the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing. He recently received his master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Urban and Regional Planning where he focused on the intersection of design, racial equity, and planning and policymaking in immigrant communities.