Creating What People Want in Dayton, Ohio, But Don’t Think They Can Have
Everything in Life Happens Because of People and Relationships. The quality of relationships, the way of being together, is the foundation of community. Mutuality, reciprocity, and a “we not me” mindset must be present from the outset or this work and the desired outcomes cannot be realized.
My very first initiative in 1992, Sister Neighborhoods, which brought together residents of the notorious Chicago public housing community Cabrini-Green and the wealthy north shore suburb Winnetka, was predicated on the notion that the futures of Cabrini-Green and Winnetka were inextricably linked. Clearly articulating this core belief helped ensure that the people attracted to the initiative understood the intentions and expectations.
One of the most meaningful outcomes of this approach was the recognition by the founding participant from Cabrini-Green that she had as much to give as she did to get (despite what would appear to be a significant power imbalance of education, wealth, race, and age with the founding participant from Winnetka.) The importance and power of this realization cannot be overstated.
People in Chicago were generally taken aback when I would talk about the Cabrini-Green/Winnetka Sister Neighborhood Project, usually wondering aloud what residents of the two communities had in common. My response was always, “Other than their shared humanity, not much.” But shared humanity is everything.
Two Corollaries to the Importance of People and Relationships:
Labor is more important than capital, i.e. People are more important than money. While money may not be the root of ALL evil, the objectification of wealth, as a measure of success, as a goal unto itself, as something to be celebrated, stands in the way of creating a community of well-being. When wealth becomes the basis for getting ahead, too often it is done so at someone else’s expense. This mindset does not create the conditions where mutuality can thrive.
Individuals, not institutions, drive transformation. As much as we venerate our institutions, their agenda is their agenda, and not necessarily the community’s agenda. Even when we see change coming from our institutions, be they corporate, government, academic, non-profit, religious, etc., it is still people who are behind the innovation, new theories, new models, new methods, new technologies.