We are thrilled to announce that we have 2 new City Shapers Cohorts starting this fall! Over the next couple of weeks, we will introduce these cities and the incredible people working to transform them.
Today, we’re extending a warm welcome and shout-out to the Change-Makers of Alton, Illinois. It’s a city of about 30,000 people situated eighteen miles north of St. Louis. As a fun fact, legendary musician Miles Davis was born here!
We sat down with two of the community catalysts, Peter and Dave, who brought Alton to our attention to hear more about their experience and what brought them to city shapers. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
Lupton Center: Tell us about your community in Alton, Illinois for folks who aren’t familiar with it.
Dave: Well I grew up here. I lived here my whole life, then left for college. After a few years away I came back to work in Alton in 2010. It’s very diverse but incredibly segregated. It’s been interesting to see it through the eyes of a child and then to come back and see it as an adult. I remember it as such a great place to raise a family. It still is, but it was hit hard when it lost a lot of jobs in the recent decades. People are looking for hope and opportunity. The other thing that a lot of people don’t know is that even though we’re small, this town has a lot of connections to the Civil Rights Movement. Elijah P. Lovejoy was even killed here. This legacy really makes me wonder what it would take to raise up the next generation of leaders who will fight for the freedom of all people.
Lupton Center: It really is an incredible place, and we’ve been glad to get to know it. Can you tell us what first got you started thinking about Holistic Neighborhood Development?
Peter: It started with an overnight emergency shelter, actually. It was great that we were making sure people weren’t freezing to death in the winter, but we knew that it was one piece of the puzzle. We started trying to put together an Alton Housing Coalition before realizing that housing is just one piece of an even bigger puzzle that we needed to look at if we wanted to make a difference.
Lupton Center: Wow, and then did that lead you to City Shapers?
Dave: The conversation started a few years ago because we were looking at all the great people doing wonderful things in Alton. It still wasn’t moving the needle. I came back here in July 2010 and it felt like Peter and I had the same conversations about making real change for 11 years. After reading Toxic Charity and Bob Lupton’s works, we thought that what we needed to do was look for projects we could do collaboratively in the city.
Peter: City Shapers felt perfect because we were saying, “let’s build a coalition.” Part of what has kept real change from getting momentum in Alton is the social infrastructure, or how leaders are developed and empowered to work together. We realized we needed to strengthen the social infrastructure in Alton if we wanted change to take off in a healthy way. City Shapers gives us a chance to do that. And I think we are doing it, but it just takes a lot more time to get people to the table than you would think.
Dave: It feels like we have the right players coming together through City Shapers now. City Shapers is bringing us together to talk about how we can focus on a specific project together and what roles each organization can play. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.
Lupton Center: We are, too! We can’t wait to journey with you all over the next two years.
Next Steps for City Shapers
If you are interested in learning more or applying to host a City Shapers cohort, click here to learn about the program. In order to prepare, we strongly recommend taking a look at our online courses. These courses, which range from one-hour opportunities to longer series, will give you a deep sense of our work and prepare you to take your Change-Making to the next level.