FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR Memorial

I think I’ve attended all the annual conferences of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] since 1992. This year’s theme was again “Creating a Just Economy” — an appropriate and timely admonition. FDR’s test surely is not being pursued in the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.

After my countless trips to DC, I finally made time to visit the memorials for Dr. King, FDR and Jefferson. A very reflective hike on which I found particularly relevant quotes at each stop – none using the word “huge.”

The above FDR quote was etched by a sculpture of Americans forgotten in the Great Depression. Not sure those Americans who suffered the injustice of our most recent Great Recession haven’t already been not only forgotten but abandoned by the White House and Congress despite their votes.

But “creating a just economy” is not just a matter of federal policy or tax reform. A just economy is threatened locally by every decision in our communities to forsake those who have too little affordable housing and insufficient employment to raise a family. Equitable development is imperative for a just economy.

Given the challenges confronting Chicago’s Uptown community, where I now work as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA, I volunteered to moderate the workshop at this year’s NCRC conference, entitled Equitable Development in Gentrifying Communities. The four panelists shared similar stories from Portland, OR; Roxbury, MA; New York City; and Washington, DC.

Empower DC’s mission is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life. The presentation by its Executive Director, Parisa Norouzi, included a historical ICA surprise for me. The historic Ivy City community is re-establishing a strong Civic Association around several issues including the restoration of the Alexander Crummell School. Named for abolitionist, educator and clergyman Rev. Doctor Alexander Crummell whose life’s mission was the uplift of Black people, it was the first public school for African Americans in DC when it opened in 1911.

Ivy City was chosen in 1976 as a site for one of the Human Development Projects initiated by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) along with other such initiatives across all 24 global time zones that became known as the “Band of 24.” Two ICA organizers moved into the Ivy City community who, following ICA’s participation model, assisted the community with developing and carrying out a four year Human Development plan. From 1976-1980, ICA and neighborhood residents created the Ivy City Preschool and the Ivy City Corporation (ICCO), which promoted commerce in the community. All activities were centered at the Crummell School, which had been closed in the ‘70s, and were documented in the Ivy City Voice, a newsletter which was published during that time.

More recently, the school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and listed as one of DC’s Most Endangered Places by the DC Preservation League in 2013. Crummell abandonedResidents of Ivy City have long been on record asking that the school be turned into a multi-use center to serve youth and elders. They have endured years of testifying at hearings, participating in city planning meetings, and mobilizing community participation. They experienced many broken promises, and even had to file a lawsuit to block attempts to turn Crummell into a bus parking lot.

Last year, Empower DC worked with Ivy City residents and partners to submit a proposal that would turn the historic Crummell School and 1 acre of the site into a Community Land Trust, keeping the grounds open for community recreational use (with a playground/splash park, basketball court, walking trail, and garden) and opening the school as a nonprofit Community Center with a mix of programming to meet the needs of youth, adults and seniors. The school building would become a community square surrounded by new affordable housing. Alexander Crummell SchoolUnfortunately, local government is forsaking Ivy City’s community dream and choosing another high-end development striving to be DC’s newest “hot” real estate.

When President Trump tells us in seven days how “huge” his accomplishments have been in his first 100 days, let’s ponder the “huge” decisions being made in Planning Departments and Mayors’ Offices across our country to not provide enough [housing & jobs] for those who have too little. Many politicians are failing the equitable development test. Our civic duty is to grade accordingly.

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

“When I first came here, people on both sides of what is ironically called the peace line told me, without any rehearsal, exactly the same thing – that there was direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment.” – Senator George Mitchell, June 25, 1996

Mitchell & Ted Belfast 1996That was former U.S. Senator Mitchell’s welcoming comment, as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland, to our delegation in Belfast at a three-day conference on Work, Education & Training for which the US State Department had invited us as participants. As CEO then of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO], that quote resonated with me and I shared it in for my article entitled, “Rainbow Over Belfast,” in CANDO’s 1996-97 Annual Report.

Now over 20 years later, there remains a direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment in Chicago. A lesson repeatedly revealed in every morning’s news headlines.

Senator Mitchell was in Chicago this past St. Patrick’s week as the narrator for Old St. Patrick’s Church’s 21st Annual Siamsa na nGael. This year’s theme was “A Bridge Over the Troubles: The Peacemakers.”

Yes, the choir did sing that Simon & Garfunkel song; but they also sang my favorite hymn, Canticle of the Turning, and my favorite Broadway tune, Make Them Hear You from Ragtime. I have used lyrics from both for previous blog posts.

Senator Mitchell’s narration shared many stories from his “few months” assignment that became five years. I had already read some of them in his memoir, The Negotiator, and look forward to more as I start his book, Making Peace. I particularly appreciated his reflections on John Hume, who not only won the Nobel Peace Prize but also the Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards; the only person to have earned all three.

When the audience entered Chicago’s Symphony Center for the concert, there was a large screen hanging over the orchestra with a quote from Hume’s Nobel acceptance speech. Hume quoteAgain, a lesson learned 20 years ago in Northern Ireland that the US remains in dire need of remembering today: “most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

Composer Scott Stevenson was commissioned to write the “Hymn of Unity” from Hume speeches with lyrics that ring out as a call even more acute today for us.

In this land, this land of ours, by difference torn apart
We pray for strength and wisdom to discern our common heart.
A heart with ample space for many different minds,
A heart that is open to the whole of human kind.
A heart that breaks down ancient walls,
because we share the same bright sun
by which we walk together towards tomorrow.
From many, we are one!

 

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Awesome…wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
“What Comes Next” from Hamilton as performed by King George

I finally saw Hamilton this month and couldn’t help but reflect on our current politics in light of our country’s founding politics. I also was interviewed this month for a book on redlining that sent me back to the ‘70s going thru my file of the national newsletter, DISCLOSURE, which I edited for Gale Cincotta starting in July 1974 thru July 1984.

Government has always required challenging by its citizens. In fact, you can say that’s our job description as citizens. A robust media is essential for enabling citizens to exercise their rights.

Disclosure remains our right to know today as it was as a national demand in 1975 for Congress to pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA]. As we all start preparing to file our 2016 tax returns, what’s the betting pool on whether the President ever discloses his?

disclosure-oct-1976I still wonder why the US Senate couldn’t have waited a week to see what Scott Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry disclosed before confirming him as the USEPA chief. Maybe they were afraid for us to know before putting him in charge of policing industries that helped his career.

I’m not even going to speculate on the spy novels and Putin films being written in the absence of full disclosure of what Michael Flynn was up to before he resigned as national security adviser. Congress used to insist on their own right to know as our elected representatives. It should be interesting mid-term elections in 2018 if members of Congress don’t get over their self-imposed “don’t ask the emperor about his clothes.”

Then there is the forthcoming effort to repeal protecting consumers as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under siege. 2017 marks 40 years since Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to ensure fair and responsive investment. Yet, redlining is alive and will become rampant again if the Trump Administration and Congress collude to deregulate financial services. Our country won’t be great again; it will be broke again by Wall Street greed.

ncrc-2017-conferenceThat’s why I’m looking forward to convening with other community development colleagues in DC at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] 2017 Annual Conference, Creating a Just Economy, starting on Tuesday March 28 thru Thursday March 30, 2017. It may be “last call” to hear from responsive bank regulators such as keynote speakers: Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve; Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency; and Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s not clear who President Trump would nominate to these crucial positions; perhaps the highest bidder?

The effectiveness of CRA has always been subject to vigorous enforcement by its regulators. Not sure those 77,000 voters across three states fully understood that investments in their communities’ futures were at risk in a Trump administration.

Hope your Presidents Day was “HUGE.” The next three may be “TITANIC.”

HAPPENING HERE?

HAPPENING HERE?

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings.– Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

My political heart was first broken when I awoke on the morning of June 6, 1968 to learn that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the night before. The 50th Anniversary of that event will now occur during a Trump Presidency. Given his “American Carnage” inauguration speech, I don’t expect much eloquence from the White House on that memorial date.

41t-9lej7cl-_ac_us218_President Trump’s inaugural pledge to listen to “the forgotten men” may be promising to some. To me, it is reminiscent of the League of Forgotten Men from Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. According to a Chicago Tribune 1/15/17 article on the growth in alternative history fiction and movies, this 1935 best-seller tracts the rise to the US Presidency of “a crass, plain-spoken East Coast businessman who drapes totalitarian urges in the flag, demonizes his enemies, then defeats Roosevelt and wins the presidency.”

This Trib story noted that the day after Trump’s election was a good one for Sinclair Lewis. His book sold out on Amazon. With a spike in sales in excess of 1000%, more copies have appeared on bookstore shelves. I got my copy last week. The 1930s writing style is a bit challenging. I’ve only made it through the first 100 pages and the 1936 election. So I have yet to read about the first American Fascist administration. However, there are passages that seem relevant:

“any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”

One day after his term starts, President Trump and his spokesman, amid mass protests nationwide, accuse the media of understating the turnout for his inauguration. Whose rally was bigger? Really, that’s what matters to our new President’s ego.

rfk-campaign_speechMy current non-fiction reading is Larry Tye’s recent biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal  It’s what got me through the fall election. I’m only a third of the way, up to Bobby’s Attorney General days. Really, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions nominated for the same office?

Many remember the eloquence with which Senator Kennedy informed the Indianapolis community of the murder of Dr. King. The next day he was scheduled to speak in Cleveland where he changed his remarks to what became known as his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech. Particularly relevant to Trump discourse is this RFK admonition:

“When you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but conquest, to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens.”

In my alternative history, I envision the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969 and should be considered as a mantra during the four years ahead:

“Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

I now dream that someone will give that inaugural speech in January 2021.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

CONFRONTING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION THEN & NOW

CONFRONTING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION THEN & NOW

”The Chicago problem is simply a matter of economic exploitation. Every condition exists because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The MLK Fair Housing Exhibit Center at 1558 S Hamlin details Dr. King’s time in Chicago in 1966 and speaks to his influence on the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Dr. King ApartmentsRemembering this 50th Anniversary, the Center’s goal is to build community awareness of the legacy that Dr. King left in the Chicago area during his residency in North Lawndale.

Six months after the Selma to Montgomery marches and just weeks after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a group from Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff arrived in Chicago, eager to apply his nonviolent approach to social change in a northern city. Once Dr. King 1966there, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the locally based Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) to form the Chicago Freedom Movement.

My wife & I participated in Old St. Patrick’s Kinship Initiative promotion of the Center’s “Continuing the Dream” weekend by attending two book discussions there on Saturday morning July 23rd. One covered the past exploitation of North Lawndale through the battle waged by the Contract Buyers League as told by Beryl Satter, author of “Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America”. Beryl’s account of Chicago in crisis over 50 years ago, with religious leaders and community organizers battling slumlords and speculators, is also the story of her father Mark Satter, an impassioned attorney who launched a crusade against the profiteers.

The second book addresses the urgency of today as told by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his message to his son in “Between the World & Me” of the perils of living in a country where unarmed black men and boys are dying at the hands of police officers. The discussion was co-led by Xavier Ramey, whose day job as Senior Assistant Director for Social Innovation and Philanthropy at University of Chicago, is complemented by his social justice passions. It turns out that I knew his father Paul as an impassioned activist and advocate for North Lawndale from my CANDO days in the ‘90s.

During this past month of political conventions, I can’t help but ponder this continuing link between racial injustice and economic exploitation and remember the martyrs we lost in 1968. RFKIn the words of solace that Robert Kennedy offered April 4, 1968 on the assassination of Dr. King:

“What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love, and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

 

 

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT CHANGE

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT CHANGE

“You on an adventure, Mr. Citizen. I bet you didn’t know that. It’s all adventure. You signed up for it and didn’t even know it.” – Aunt Ester, Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Point Betsie, Michigan

Point Betsie MI

It’s been a busy month since I posted my last blog. Fortunately it started with a vacation trip to western Michigan with sunsets, wineries and lighthouses.

September included a visit from my colleague Irvin Henderson, who is consulting with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) on applying to have our Chicago landmarked building placed on the National Register of Historic Places for ICA’s social justice history. Knowing of Irv’s work with the Hill Community Development Corporation to restore the Granada Theatre in Pittsburgh, we went to see the Court Theatre’s awesome production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.

August Wilson at the Granada

August Wilson at the Granada

Set in 1904, this play begins Wilson’s ten-play 20th Century Cycle. Having seen most of them, I thoroughly enjoyed finally meeting Aunt Ester, the ancestor character that hovers throughout Wilson’s saga of African-Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where he was born and raised. Aunt Ester’s admonition to Mr. Citizen remains pertinent over a century later.

The week of September 21st was the Fall Sojourn for ICA’s Archives Team and the largest ever with over 40 volunteers working in three teams to “create the future of our past.” One team explored the Imaginal Education of ICA’s Training Inc. projects which graduated 25,582 individuals across 15 locations.

Paul Noah Charts ICA's History

Paul Noah charts ICA’s History

Another reflected on ICA’s roots as the Ecumenical Institute and the relevance of a New Religious Mode for the emergence of conversations on Faith & Sustainability. The third team combed the archives for materials on ICA’s Bicentennial Town Meetings in 5,000 US counties and Human Development projects in each of the world’s 24 time zones.

I had the opportunity to welcome our archivists and to hear their closing reports but I spent three days that week visiting community and sustainable development activists in Austin, Texas. I spent the plane ride down reading ICA’s history and founding as The Ecumenical Institute as compiled by Beret Griffith. I was joined on my visit by ICA board director Randy Williams, who shared with those we visited the story of how Rev. Joseph Wesley Mathews left the Christian Faith and Life Community at the University of Texas to become the Dean of The Ecumenical Institute in Evanston, IL.

“As arguably the most progressive city in Texas, Austin nonetheless has its challenges,” Randy reflects. “It is one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the region. If local people, through neighborhood initiatives, could be connected, this would create significant synergy and momentum for addressing these challenges.”

Red Bench AustinInterfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) believes that the work of “cultivating peace and respect” cannot be left to diplomats and dignitaries; the faithful, have to play a leading role. Red Bench is an ongoing dialogue program designed to address one of the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. September’s Red Bench conversation was on Racial Intolerance.

Texas Impact, “People of Faith Working for Justice,” lobbies on issues of religious social concern. It is part of Interfaith Power and Light, a national movement with branches in 39 states, devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith, and encouraging a “religious response to global warming.” This past February, in conjunction with Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network and iACT, they held their second-annual Preach-Off on Climate Change, for religious leaders to share their tradition’s wisdom with not just their own congregations, but with the entire community.

Evolve Austin Partners champions the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, crafted by the people of Austin to create a more affordable, mobile, and sustainable city. By addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by Austin’s explosive growth with compact and connected strategies, they will be seeking to create better and more inclusive choices for living, working, and getting around Austin. Their mantra is that it’s time to “change the conversation about change” to achieve the best Austin imaginable, a city that offers opportunity, freedom, and fairness to all.

Of course this month’s most historic moment was Pope Francis’ address to Congress:

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.“

The New York Times reported Pope Francis omitted the sharpest phrase in his prepared text: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” A spokesman later said he lost his place and passed over it by accident.

Politics serving human needs is not a point to be passed over, Mr. Citizen. It’s time to embrace the adventure you’re on and get engaged in changing the conversation.