What does it take to make a community healthy?
Why are inner city neighborhoods run-down and crime-ridden?
Who are the people in those neighborhoods and how are they affected?
So often, businesses, non-profits, people of faith, and others come into our neighborhood to try to "help," but they often don't ask the questions that would help them understand the community before deciding what they want to do. A couple of months ago, a fortune 500 company came in and did just that. They decided they wanted to do something, so they asked.
As several of us from Central Dallas and the community they are hoping to impact came together, they asked questions and they listened. As we talked, I noticed that they had blank notepads and they wrote. There was no preconceived agenda on their sheet of paper. They simply asked a question or two and let us talk.
The people around the table voiced honest concerns. We talked about people who come to "do good" but never last. We talked about our friends and neighbors who have become victims of circumstance because of a failing school system, lack of businesses in the community to provide jobs, absentee parents because they ride the bus for hours to get to a job and can't be home for their children, absentee parents because they have turned to crime, hopelessness yet also a tight-knit community who knows each other and supports each other. We told them about the good that isn't often seen by the general public. We talked about the frustration and cynicism caused by people outside the community who don't understand and don't take the time to understand.
Though the meeting was like no other I've ever experienced, I remained cautiously optimistic and hesitant, not wanting to be naive.
But they came back again. They talked about what we had said. They quoted people who were in that initial meeting. They remembered the names of individuals who spoke.
But more than that...they had taken our words, thoughts, and feelings to their company as wisdom from the community. They saw us as players on their team. They then combined that with all of the intellectual and innovative capacity in their company and came back with more ideas.
I was blown away.
What struck me was the amazing possibilities that can happen when the capacity and knowledge of an low-income, urban, informally educated community comes together with the power, resources, creativity, and formal education of a company that has the power to do something. The solutions to the very complex problems of education, jobs, health care, food insecurity, child care, and so many others, become much less daunting. And all it took was for a small group of people to come together and genuinely listen and be willing to act on what they heard.
I continue to tell them, "I'm still cautiously optimistic." But each time they come back, they continue to gain my trust and confidence.
Hopefully soon the entire project will go "online" so that everyone can know what is happening. But for now, here is a video they produced to help people understand what they are beginning to understand: