These monthly blogs are getting harder to write. You expect as you get older that there will be colleagues and friends who are passing on before you. They still come in threes; but now it’s even more surprising.
This past month I heard that a friend from my organizing days in the ‘70s died late last year. Then there was an email regarding a Chicago community development colleague from the ‘80s who had passed. Most recently, the LA Times ran a stirring obit on Marva Smith Battle-Bey, another “Champion for Justice” my wife and I both met in the ‘90s. Lynne served with Marva on the board of the National Congress for Community Economic Development [NCCED]. I also had the privilege to know Marva as a fellow director of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
She was CEO of the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, which she founded in 1979. The LA Times highlighted that “Smith Battle-Bey was at the center of efforts to rebuild damaged stretches of the city after the 1992 riots. But unlike other revitalization enthusiasts of the period, she was already there, working for redevelopment, years before the riots broke out — and would stick to the work for decades afterward.”
The obit included a spot-on Marva quote that The Times ran in 1997:
“People have the right to an opportunity to work, have the right to contribute back to society, have the right to a safe home. But you can’t have these things if people aren’t gainfully employed.”
Marva’s funeral was held in the LA City Council Chamber room, first time ever for a non-elected official. Bob Zdenek, former CEO of NCCED, remembers:
“In addition to her warmth and kindness, Marva was one of the wisest people I ever met. I often went to her for advice and counsel, and usually Marva would tell me to ‘take the high road.’ To me and I know many others, Marva personified the high road in community development.”
Remembering decades of community development efforts raises today’s challenge of reimagining a future where Marva’s vision of rights has become a reality of opportunities for all because others have finally seen the wisdom of taking the high road journey.
The first weekend of April, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (only my 4th job in my 40+ years of community development) convened its board, staff and volunteers to launch a strategic planning process to propel us forward into the future. Together, we are aiming to answer the question: “What do we need to do to create a unified movement for the work of ICA-USA that allows us to reimagine who we are, maximize our potential, increase our impact, and better serve our constituencies?” That’s a relevant question for us all to consider, especially those running for elected office.
Forty years ago, ICA assembled Bicentennial Town Meetings in every US county. Our Archive Volunteers are uncovering that in 1976 citizens found government to be unresponsive and poorly communicating. Current Presidential campaigns are not improving that picture. Solidarity around American core values and a commitment to community building remain fuzzy.
When we remember Earth Day once a year, we now need to reimagine every day as a Climate Action Day if we want a future in harmony with our planet’s health. When we remember our “Champions for Justice” who have departed, let us reimagine how we get to that just and equitable society for which they dedicated their lives.
Ave Atque Vale, Marva. Hail & Farewell.