Not Victims But Warriors

David Kirp, a public policy professor at Berkeley, writes in a NYT op-ed about an anti-poverty program in Houston where they did something quite rarely done: They asked people in some neighborhoods with high poverty rate, what they needed. That he points out has not been the traditional approach. Neighborhood Centers, a Houston non-profit in existence since 1907, went about it differently. The credit is mostly due to the organization’s president and chief executive officer for the last 20 years, Angela Blanchard who says,” The people are the asset, the source of potential solutions, not the problem.” Their numerous one-on-one interviews and community meetings paid off. Today Neighborhood Centers has 70 sites throughout the city, a budget of $270 million and serves more than half a million people. The people served are heavily involved and have a hand in making the decisions that do and will affect them. For example, after it was understood that they needed transportation, the people of a given neighborhood were able to eventually prevail upon the city to add a new bus line. And the success of interacting and learning about how the city works made some interested in running for city council! The organization has a thrift shop thus providing those who work there with an introduction to retailing. A group of boys designed a park needed in their neighborhood and managed to get the city to fund it. The techniques used in Houston made some other cities take note. Projects are now being used in Atlanta, and Kirp says that it ‘s a “strategy that can—and should—be implemented nationwide.”
Blaming the victim has long been how people and policy makers viewed the poor. In the 60’s several community organizing efforts, also wanting to rely on local citizens, failed. With Neighborhood Centers in Houston, there seems to be several changes, big and small, for example instead of some outside group choosing community members to be leaders, the leaders emerge from the community. The result is that given the tools and the opportunities, those who are poor are as capable and as talented as anyone else. They demonstrate that they are not victims, but warriors.

2 thoughts on “Not Victims But Warriors”

  1. Communities organizing and going after the things they need most is really beautiful.
    A new way of thinking and doing that hopefully will be emulated across the land.
    Thanks, Danielle.

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