LF Blog

Senior Associates

Is leadership born or bred? The theme of this month’s City as Playground podcast was Eucharistic Leadership. As Dave and Rick discussed, one tenet of Eucharistic leadership is that the ability to lead is just as much, if not more, a product of nurture as it is of nature. At Leadership Foundations, one of the ways this nurturing occurs is through our Senior Associations. In April, all 20 Senior Associates gathered for a three-day Stages of Impact and accreditation training in Dallas. This was a rich time of education, resourcing, and growth as a community in mission.

 

Senior Associates are committed veteran leaders who have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields of leadership. They come from backgrounds in ministry, non-profits, consultation, and a variety of other environments both inside and out of LF. This experience equips Senior Associates to resource and support LLF presidents.

 

Being a Senior Associate is no simple task. They play an integral role in LF’s mission as they meet monthly with LLF presidents to deepen the impact of the LF network. Senior Associates serve as a personal coach to LLF presidents delivering LF’s menu of baseline and ancillary services. They are also conduits between members and LF as information and opportunities arise in the LF network. Senior Associates mentor LLF presidents working to operationalize the wheel of change in their city. In addition, they are consultants to LLF presidents as inevitable problems arise. Lastly, Senior Associates are guides that listen to and spiritually support LLF presidents on their personal and professional journeys leading an LLF.

 

Senior Associates are one of the essential elements that allow LF to equip LLFs to do the difficult and joyful work of turning cities into playgrounds.


2016 Annual Report

We are excited to share the Leadership Foundations’ 2016 Annual Report with you. Last year was filled with a remarkable number of developments that have further positioned Leadership Foundations (LF) and our members as a force of good will on behalf of cities throughout the world. In this report, you will learn about the intentional process LF has taken to cultivate and drive global impact.

 

Click here to download the 2016 LF Annual Report

 


2015 Annual Report

Leadership Foundations took many important steps in 2015 that have further positioned us to positively impact cities around the world for generations to come. Through this report you will learn about the processes, decisions, investments, and strategies taken to achieve these impacts. It is our sincerest hope that you sense our deep thankfulness for your contribution to making cities better and that you receive further encouragement to invest in LF moving forward.

 

Click here to download the 2015 LF Annual Report

 

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The “Faith Factor”

This blog post was written by Samuel Acevedo, Pastor and Executive Director of Boston HERC, the Local Leadership Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

I often ask God, “What is the role of the church and faith-based institutions – what is the role of ‘people of good faith’as we seek to serve and love the youth of this increasingly skeptical city? How do we make it a playground for our young people? We certainly have a role in convening ‘people of good faith’ and ‘people of good will.’ But is there more? Should there be more?”

 

In the summer of 2015, the Boston School Committee asked me to serve as the Co-Chair of a body called the Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Task Force. Of the 19 members of the Task Force, I was perhaps the sole person of good faith (as a vocation, anyway) among some of the brightest, most committed people of good will I have ever worked with. Two weeks ago, the Task Force, with great relief, presented to the Boston School Committee the results of our twelve months of toil. We had competed our revisions – really, a thorough re-casting – of a ten-year-old policy aimed at closing the gaps in academic performance afflicting Boston’s primarily black and Latino youth as long as anyone could remember. This achievement gap influences, more than anything, the long-term likelihood these youth will ever achieve a college degree, break into a profession, or earn a decent living.

 

The goal is that Boston would be the first city in America to close these gaps. It is perhaps the most ambitious challenge the School Committee has taken on in decades. Whether we achieve it, however, may depend on the role that the church (Boston’s “people of good faith”) plays in the days and months ahead.

 

What should that role be? What is the role of people of good faith in addressing the challenges facing black, Latino, and other children of color? Indeed, what was I, a Pastor and Executive Director of a church-based resource center, doing co-chairing this Task Force to begin with?

 

Four years earlier, the Boston Foundation (one of our city’s leading philanthropic institutions) launched this conversation by convening fewer than a dozen of Boston’s “Black and Brown” clergy. They gathered us around the idea of finally reversing what they referred to as the “underperformance of black and brown boys.” I had the privilege of being in the room that morning.

 

But why the clergy? I posed this question to the Foundation. I am not sure that even they realized why this, decidedly-secular, institution felt compelled to begin this conversation with a gathering of the city’s clergy. One reason the Foundation may have been interested in the clergy was the sense that they have an important constituency; these clergy men and women are significant “civic leaders.” But that only begs the question — what makes them “civic leaders”? Is it purely a manifestation of Black and Latino historic tradition? Or is there more than mere tradition at work here? Is it that our community’s churches and religious institutions possess a unique galvanizing and life-transforming power that could be harnessed to reverse the destructive trends that would otherwise claim another generation of our young men and women of color? And if we were to discover that they do possess such a life-transforming spiritual energy, would Boston have the courage to do what is necessary to unleash it?

 

There is actually a good amount of social science indicating that church involvement is one of the factors contributing to the success of those youth who grow up in “high-risk neighborhoods,” and still manage to complete college and achieve great things. (One seminal study- by no means the only one- is the federally-funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. After studying 13,500 adolescents in 80 communities across the nation, the study concluded that youth living in “high-risk neighborhoods” were far more likely to stay in school and do well if they attended church regularly, than if they did not. See: http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/ISR-Making-Grade_071.pdf)

 

But determining the proper role of the church in attempting to close the achievement and opportunity gaps haunting our youth is not so simple a thing as merely following the data. There is a sense (shared even among those who do not consider themselves religious) that a kinetic energy is locked in our houses of worship that could be unleashed to transform the lives and vision of our failing youth and the shape of our cities. But the “governing community” – the government, philanthropic institutions, corporations, etc. – is nevertheless reluctant to unsheathe that energy as a consequence of legitimate, countervailing considerations such as the separation of church and state, or a host of other issues emanating from operating within a diverse, pluralistic society. Releasing that spiritual energy, at least in its purest form, may be too high a price to pay. Even if we knew it worked.

 

I continued to contemplate these questions and ideas as I drafted the preamble and much of the language of the six core goals of our new Opportunity and Achievement Gap Policy. I think what Boston is attempting is truly heroic and noble. I pray for its success, and would be honored to contribute whatever time and energy is needed to arrest and reverse these trends that have clouded the future of our youth for far too long. Something has to change; whatever is broken needs to be fixed.

 

But the “fix” may require that Boston – and its carefully-assembled collaborative community of “people of good faith” and “people of good will” – implement solutions too unsettling for our current comfort zones. Solutions that allow the church to be “the Church”; the Church assuming the soul-saving, life-transforming role that it was created for, but has all but forgotten. To work for both its social and spiritual renewal, so that the city can truly become a playground. A role for which our broken cities, and our lost youth, have no substitute.


Changing the Metaphor: Competitors or Colleagues?

Deraa, Syria, 2011. Fifteen school children are arrested for graffitiing anti-government slogans. Locals take to the streets to protest. Military police open fire and kill four; the next day the same. Syrians all over explode into protest. The crackdown grows worse as armed resistance intensifies. Before long Syria devolves into a civil war where brutal atrocities rule the day and chance encounters can land you in prison and tortured. <1>

 

Four years later we are witnessing the largest mass migration in recent history as hundreds of thousands of Syrians, the peaceful and the practical, escape the hell of civil war in search of a better life for their families. Their goal? Wealthy Northern European countries with near-zero birthrates who urgently must replace an aging workforce. Germany alone agreed to accept a half-million immigrants per year quite literally in order to save its economy from ruin. <2>

 

Then Paris, the horror and the aftermath. The Islamic State, the new Al-Qaeda, arms and trains a group of French and Belgian ethnic Syrians to strike terror and inspire fear. And the world reacts accordingly. Syrians en masse are cast as terrorists. Suddenly they are no longer welcome anywhere.

 

By the logic of the terrorists Paris is a big win, and we should recognize it is. Their goal is to recruit the ethnic Muslims who lead lives of desperation in the dismal suburbs of Paris and Brussels. To expand jihad to the West, terrorists must convince the oppressed that jihad is the better alternative. Our reaction plays into this. For the more we vilify Muslims as terrorists the more permission we give ourselves to oppress. The more we oppress the greater their desperation. Desperation mixed with fatalism makes jihad appealing.

 

Consider Paris today in the context of the riots of 2005 <3>, when bitter, second-generation Muslim youth set fire to the outer suburbs. Over weeks nine thousand cars were burned, three dead. While the body count today is much higher, the biggest difference between now and then is simply an infusion of weapons, knowledge and a cohesive ideology.

 

Leadership Foundations urges leaders across the world to not play into the vilification. We urge leaders in media to refrain from stoking the flames of fear. And we urge our local leaders to open their communities to those who most need the support of community. Let us focus less on the act and more on relieving the social and spiritual malaise that drives desperation. How can we loosen the binds of oppression that are at the root of so much evil?

 

First we must overcome fear. Shun the voices that incite fear, and let our reason check emotion. See fear for what it is: an ever-effective way to divide, coerce and exclude. History repeatedly shows it is all too easy to succumb to fear, but let us find strength in our common humanity, our common home.

 

And let us examine ourselves. Do we regard immigrants as competitors carving out ever-smaller pieces of a fixed resource, or do we see them as colleagues with the talent and good will that will ever expand that resource? This crisis reveals a Rorschach test for our souls. Do we orient toward scarcity or abundance?

 

The Incarnation teaches that the will of God resides in flesh through Jesus. When we truly follow Jesus we take into our core being, our flesh, the will of God. It animates us and shapes who we are, how we live our lives, where we shop, how we interact with others. And it is a metaphor for humanity. We all hold in our being the will of God. When we acknowledge the divine in those who look different, have different customs, we truly may walk hand-in-hand. Let us move with grace toward each other.

 

In the end we are confident fear and vilification will subside and cooler heads will prevail. And as we set about incorporating the Syrian diaspora into our communities let us remind ourselves that how we regard our new neighbors, as neighbors, will set the tone for generations to come. Are they competitors or are they colleagues?

 

Joseph Campbell tells us that if we want to change the world, we must change the metaphor. Our communities, our common humanity, are not battlegrounds to maneuver but playgrounds to celebrate.


What National Leadership Can Learn

At the end of September we witnessed the second in a series of political cage-matches otherwise known as U.S. presidential primary debates. Afterward an article in the New York Times, Trump Remains Center Stage, wryly summed up the debate with cheerful info-graphics charting each opponent’s attacks and counter attacks. Tellingly the article reveals just how much we’ve come to regard our national politics as a spectator sport.

 

Of course spectator politics is nothing new. We root for our team, we enjoy the give and take, the strategy of outmaneuvering our opponents – it helps us stay involved. And like sports we have generally taken a view that sometimes your side wins and sometimes you lose. But in the last decade or so it seems our better natures have soured, with less give and take, more rancor and an unyielding attachment to entrenched ideologies.

 

Fueled by a cynical media we have devolved to take a more hardened approach. One that stems from a scarcity-driven mentality which assumes anything you gain I must loose. Tolerance and respectful rivalries have ossified into a false dichotomy of conservative vs. liberal, believers vs. nonbelievers, the tolerant vs. the haters. You’re wrong, I’m right. From our national politics to our personal Facebook pages we shout loud and long, vilifying our opponents by proclaiming our own righteousness.

 

What we need to do is to step back and collect ourselves, examine our consciences, and consider our motivations. We need to open ourselves to others; to put ourselves in their shoes, see the world through their eyes and, in the spirit of Jesus, work toward reconciliation rather than perpetuate animosity. All of us.

 

At Leadership Foundations we think of this as the third-way of leadership. We reject the false dichotomy, the either/or scenario, and embrace a leadership inspired more by abundance than scarcity, reconciliation over obstruction — servant leadership that seeks to nurture our common home and sublimate ego to the common good. Our work in cities around the world teaches us that this is the best path to take; to bring together opposing sectors and mobilize them around a common vision or set of values. We achieve lasting progress only when all are considered, all have a say in the outcome.

 

And while we seem mired in the zero-sum game mentality at the national level we are inspired by what is happening locally. We take heart as more and more people discover grace through community. Younger people coming into their own, less bothered by color, gender, sexuality. Who eschew the divisive and embrace that which is larger than themselves – God and our common home.

 

From Pittsburgh to Sioux Falls our cities are undergoing a renaissance. They are becoming centers of innovation, laboratories for democracy and conduits for spiritual growth. Consistently across the US our cities are transforming from places once characterized as battlegrounds into interconnected communities seen more joyfully today as playgrounds.

 

Leadership Foundations knows it is exactly this third-way, this servant style leadership that is enabling transformation to occur, and we are proud of the role we have played cultivating servant leadership in cities across the US and beyond. Our cities are becoming playgrounds not because of ideology or partisan politics, they are becoming playgrounds because local leaders of all walks are putting differences aside, checking their egos and making way for the common good.

 

We think our national leadership could learn a few things from the folks at home.

28
Aug

Hurricane Katrina: Ten Years Later

Ten years ago today category five storm surges breached the levies of New Orleans and triggered a fast moving flood that rose 20 feet and swallowed whole swaths of the city. The devastation was utter and complete. The response slow and inadequate. The situation gut wrenching. It was a momentous event that affects our psyche still.

 

Momentous for the response by our national leaders which caused a proportionate breach in trust that lingers with us. A cynical response that bet Americans did not care about poor black people or that we could be consoled by political theater. It revealed a leadership marked more by cronyism than competence, as if the very notion that “government is the problem, not the solution” had come home to roost.

 

But Katrina was equally momentous in that she showed us the brighter side of leadership too. Leadership that is local and can-do, genuinely inclusive and anchored in belief, and most of all, effective.

 

When the storm hit, Kevin Brown had been the director of Trinity Christian Community, a local leadership foundation, for six years. Their work was based in Hollygrove, a working class neighborhood of modest homes, higher than average unemployment, and its fair share of New Orleans crime. Hollygrove was a part of the 80% of the city underwater. The foundation office was destroyed, computers ruined, records lost.

 

Kevin, who managed to evacuate, was turned back by the National Guard as he tried to enter the city the day after. Aboard a boat one week later he was able to sneak past the guarded perimeter. There he found a city devastated by water, its easy spirit deep in shock.

 

As we reflect on the storm and its aftermath we reached out to talk with Kevin Brown about his effort to rebuild Hollygrove and the city of New Orleans.

 

The storm destroyed everything: your home, your staff’s homes, your office. How were you able to get back up and running?

 

It was devastating on so many levels. We lost everything; our homes were inhabitable for many months. Right afterward Reid Carpenter and other senior leaders came down and offered us a collective shoulder to lean on. They listened patiently to our stories, and were a tremendous source of healing and support. They helped us regain our confidence.

 

As we talked through how to get back on our feet, we knew we needed to do three things: 1) relocate people who had lost their homes, 2) rebuild our city, and 3) create a city that is better than we had before.

 

You managed to find homes for a couple thousand people. How?

 

Teamwork, mostly. My friend John Wiseman went from motel to motel talking to refugees, understanding their situation. Each night his wife Karen would write up his notes and send them over to me. Then I’d reach out to the Leadership Foundations network. I’m proud to say our network reached back in a big way by adopting families who needed temporary relocation. We asked the network to help folks with transportation costs, initial rent and utility expenses, provide job leads and connect each family to a house of worship, and they did. Everyone wanted to help.

 

Why was the connection to worship such a priority?

 

These people are relocating with nothing but the clothes on their backs, far away from everyone they know. Churches are full of people predisposed to care, to offer aid, to witness another’s story. It was the most practical way to connect people to community.

 

You grew up in Hollygrove and based your ministry there. What was it like when you first returned.

 

Complete destruction. Besides the overwhelming smell of rot and decay the first thing we noticed was that everything was dead. Saltwater had killed the trees, the grass, had rusted out all the cars. There was a thin white layer of salt all over everything. Eerie, like all those descriptions of nuclear fall-out made real.

 

Incomprehensible. With all that devastation where do you begin?

 

There was a long period when we couldn’t do anything. Only those with hazmat suits on official business could get in. That was when we were focused on relocating people. It was also when I became obsessed with how to rebuild flooded houses. How do you get rid of mold? Well it turns out it’s not rocket science; you tear out the old drywall and spray the framing down with boric acid. Let it dry out then put up new drywall.

 

When we got back in and were ready to build we were blessed with thousands of volunteers. Church groups from across the country came to spend their vacations helping us rebuild. Over a period of seven years they repaired or rebuilt 221,000 houses in New Orleans.

 

That’s where AmeriCorps comes in right?

 

We had a standing partnership with AmeriCorps for tutoring and mentoring. Of course the storm hit right as the school year was starting. All of a sudden we have no schools. No kids to tutor. I told them what we really needed was help repairing and rebuilding houses. “Oh we don’t do that!” But they came and saw what we were up against, and they gave us 100 AmeriCorps volunteers. How do you organize those thousands of eager and enthusiastic church volunteers? You call AmeriCorps!

 

When other organizations saw how our partnership worked they wrote their own grants. AmeriCorps was amazingly instrumental in helping New Orleans rebuild. Afterward they added disaster relief & recovery to their areas of service.

 

Sounds like it was a time to think creatively.

 

Months after the storm Mayor Nagin was waging his reelection campaign, which, given the city’s reality, was rife with a number of divisive issues, including, but not limited to, race; religion; and money. One example of the creative thinking that took place was how we used the Mayor’s campaign signs, that we believed further divided, and we cut them into strips and painted them to make new “make-due” street signs. Understand that New Orleans was crawling with insurance adjusters who could not find their way around the city — the storm blew away our street signs! Nothing was getting done because the insurance adjusters couldn’t find their way around. They were able to find their way around Hollygrove.

 

What about the third part of your plan – to recreate a better city?

 

In many ways New Orleans is in fact a better place to live. Hollygrove definitely is. In addition to rebuilding, we were able to construct ten new houses, something that hadn’t happened in decades. Those ten houses spurred more development till some 30 more houses were built. Our school was a decrepit relic from the days of segregation. Now we have a new school and a new senior center.

 

We built a hugely popular pocket farm that brings people together and feeds them. By organizing block watches we were able to shut down a notorious bar long the source of drug deals. Crime in Hollygrove is down 70% from pre-Katrina levels.

 

Even Costco! They redeveloped a moldering strip mall into their very first store in Louisiana. Say what you want but Costco brings in folks from all over the city and provides the neighborhood with good-paying jobs.

 

Perhaps most telling is that some people who came to help us rebuild actually stayed. White folks, Latinos, black folks – they’ve bought houses here.

 

I imagine those first few years were a time of amazing personal and spiritual growth for you and your team. What are your big take-aways?

 

Katrina taught us that no matter how bad things get, the way you see will greatly determine how things will work out in the end. When one of my kids is going through a rough patch I find myself telling them that if they can just make it through today, and tomorrow, and maybe the next day, it will get better. Things do get better if we orient our focus on what matters most – loving and serving each other through the good and the bad.

 

Katrina also taught us to let go. We lost our kid’s photographs, their artwork. I lost my treasured record collection. Eventually you realize it’s all just stuff. And when you can let go of that stuff you are truly set free.

 

It was an awful time in many ways. We lost a lot but in the end we gained more. We’ve developed friendships we never would have before, we improved our city, and we’ve come to know ourselves deeply.

 

As I often do I’ll quote Romans: Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope.

 

Words to live by. Thank you Kevin.

 

You can read more about the story of Trinity Christian Community’s response to Hurricane Katrina in the LF Book, Cities: Playgrounds or Battlegrounds? Leadership Foundations’ Fifty Year Journey of Social and Spiritual Renewal. Copies are available through Amazon or the Seattle Book Company.

10
Aug

Caring For Our Common Home

While controversy and debate swirl around Pope Francis’ revolutionary encyclical, Laudato Si, what strikes us most is his subtle but profound insight into the “Care For Our Common Home.” Yes, our shared home is our planet, our cities, neighborhoods and homes. But it also resides within our hearts. Our common home is more than the environment alone, it is our shared humanity. Environment and humanity are so intertwined they exist as one. That it is the very union of society and environment, both natural and built, which constitutes our common home.

 

Throughout his encyclical Francis stresses that how we treat our common home must change if we are to live our lives with grace. He calls on us to reject what he calls our “throwaway culture” where not just unwanted things, but unwanted people – the poor and the disenfranchised – are treated as waste. He challenges us to build a worldwide culture of stewardship that will repair the abuses inflicted on our earth and on our humanity.

 

In no other place is this interdependence of people and environment more apparent than in our cities – microcosms of our common home. How we have treated them and the people they contain is, according to Francis, much how we have treated our world. In the second-half of the 20th century we threw our cities away. We saw them as dirty, used up and spiritually bankrupt. We largely abandoned our cities and left them to the poor and the disenfranchised, battlegrounds to be contained.

 

Thankfully, times change. Today we are remaking our cities into places of innovation, opportunity and participatory democracy – into places of connection. People are rediscovering the joy of interconnection found through sense of place – dense, walkable and sustainable neighborhoods, local shops and goods, festivals and farmers markets, inclusive churches – that are in many ways beginning to fulfill what Francis calls us to do.

 

To echo Robert Frost, “we have miles to go before we sleep.” And continue the journey we will. Leadership Foundations sees the shift back to cities as an opportunity and a challenge. How can we tap into the newfound urbanism happening in neighborhoods that are more characterized as playgrounds and spark healing and renewal in areas too often seen as battlegrounds? How, at the civic level, can we answer Francis’ call to become better stewards?

 

Our answer is inspired by exactly that quality of interconnectedness the Pope emphasizes. Grace is inherent in all of us. Most of us want to help others; want a peaceful and meaningful society. Since Sam Shoemaker first rallied leaders in Pittsburgh, local leadership foundations across the land have focused on bringing people of goodwill together so that we may bridge the gap between those who have and those who do not.

 

LF takes inspiration from the Pope’s challenge while we take heart in our part of meeting it. As we reflect on our responsibility to the environment we see local leadership foundations taking up the task. In response to issues of food scarcity among the poor and marginalized, Urban Ventures runs an urban and a country farm, two greenhouses, and two apiaries. The produce grown is sold at an affordable price at their mobile farmers market in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh food. Additionally, Urban Ventures provides healthy cooking classes for families across Minneapolis and employment opportunities for local youth and women. They see access to healthy, sustainable food and meaningful employment as a way to build and strengthen thriving communities in their city. Stewardship of resources, yes, but also a sum of activity that results in thousands of connections made between neighbors. Farms and food driving community.

 

Francis reminds us that all are worthy; the poor are as valid as the rich. And we know that it is the connections we make between the two and with each other that drive change. Connections grow into relationships. Relationships yield understanding and insight. Understanding and insight are the very foundation of social and spiritual progress.

 

 

 


#CatLivesMatter?

 

Last week the whole of America seemed obsessed with Cecil the Lion, who, lured from a protective reserve and killed as a trophy animal, spawned near universal outrage on Facebook and other social media. Tragic as it was, many of us are left wondering what it was really all about. How can killing a lion in Africa generate a buzz more powerful than our problems here at home?

 

We believe posts like #CatLivesMatter are more about making us feel better about ourselves than they are about effecting change. By focusing our indignation on a trophy hunter from Minnesota we create a convenient scapegoat that allows us to offload our rage and place ourselves firmly in the camp of the Good – without having to do much more than share our opinion.

 

Did we really believe that if enough of us sported “Free Tibet” bumper stickers we could reverse the Chinese government’s actions? Or were we in reality simply advertising our own goodness?

 

Certainly social media can contribute to change — South Carolina did remove the confederate flag. However we can’t escape the feeling that much of the tit-for-tat one-upmanship that so riles us on Facebook rings hollow. Hollow because it’s mostly unbacked by action. Outrage expressed? Check. But what are we actually doing about it?

 

Like many organizations working for change, Leadership Foundations challenges us to turn our opinions into actions. Think globally yes, but act locally. For it is in our own cities that we can have the most impact, both on our communities and on ourselves. Through action, and interaction with others, we gain understanding and insight into the plight of our neighbors, and in the process examine our beliefs more closely. Through action and interaction we discover what it is we actually believe.


What Can We Do, Together?

A while back syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a moving and nuanced reflection on the riots in Baltimore. In it he highlighted the hand-wringing exasperation of those who want to help but simply do not know how. Pitts closed by challenging his readers with a question: What can we do, each of us, to address the disparities that drive the riots we are seeing in cities all over?

 

As our hearts break over the horrific violence that occurred in Charleston earlier this week, the question lingers. What can I do to help?

 

While it’s everyone’s responsibility to confront racism, in our own hearts and in the words and actions of others, Leadership Foundations believes the deeper answer lies less in what any one person alone can do but in what we can do together, collectively.

 

This starts with how we approach the issues that lead to social problems. Too often we approach them from an outside-in perspective. Experts study the issue and as if practicing medicine, prescribe solutions that, while well meaning, often miss the mark.

 

How often do we consult those directly affected, who live their lives in the milieu, who have real-world insights that just may lead to better solutions?

 

Our experience teaches us that in every community, every so-called broken neighborhood, there are those who understand the issues they and their neighbors face far better than anyone on the outside. One of our primary functions at Leadership Foundations is to elevate and connect these potential and emergent leaders to those with the power and resources to assist; to build a common ground that drives deeper insight into our problems and the whole of what it takes to solve them. We know that through collaboration and collective action we can fashion solutions that actually work.

 

An example of this can be found in Memphis where the Memphis Leadership Foundation convened churches all across the city – black and white, Catholic and Protestant, affluent and under-resourced – to address the needs of kids on the fringes. The result is a consortium of 40 area churches and nonprofit organizations that developed youth outreach ministries for at-risk children.

 

Today over 5000 teens and children are involved weekly in healthy, safe and empowering activities.  One of those programs, Memphis Athletic Ministries took over six community centers formerly abandoned by budget cuts, but which are now fully-staffed safe spaces where kids at risk have access to organized athletics, mentors, tutors and role models, and an army of youth workers recruited from the neighborhood, who help kids get what they need to succeed. In total there are over a thousand volunteers from 40 churches helping more than ten thousand kids rise above the low expectations society places on them.

 

Our cities are living, breathing organisms that reflect and manifest the thought and energy we put into them. And, while on the whole they are becoming better places to live, we too often regard parts of our cities as battlegrounds, us vs. them and the zero-sum game mentality this encourages – what one side gains the other cedes. But, if we can begin to regard our cities more as playgrounds we can see there is more abundance than scarcity. Through collaboration and collective action community centers once abandoned are reborn, parks once derelict and dangerous are now green and full of families, and our streets are places of peace and good will.

 

Obviously there is no single answer that will solve what we are experiencing in our cities. What we need is a cultural shift in how we understand the various socio-economic realities at play, their effects and our role. At Leadership Foundations we believe that shift starts with how we see our cities.

 

Do we live in battlegrounds or do we live in playgrounds?