Since 1978, Focused Community Strategies (or FCS) has been partnering with neighborhoods in Atlanta. We believe that the path towards ending inequity and promoting flourishing is through the work of holistic neighborhood development. To that end, we’ve also been offering consulting services since 2015 through our training arm, The Lupton Center. We offer a strategy that’s different from traditional approaches in several ways. When it comes to our response to poverty, we have been giving the right answer to the wrong question for far too long.
What’s the Wrong Question?
Our work has put us face-to-face with the incredible generosity that abounds in our world. Whether an idyllic lakeshore community in the PNW, the open expanse of a midwestern farming town, or a bustling city on the east coast, generosity is everywhere.
And generosity is the right answer. We are just asking the wrong question. It is the wrong question if what we want is real change.
Here’s the wrong question: What do people need? This question focuses on those with resources providing them to those who don’t. This will mitigate pain, but it won’t create long-term healing. It’s addressing symptoms, not systems.
Generosity is never wasted. BUT….if our desire is to erase the equity gap, to create real impact, and to catalyze sustainable, generational change, we need to stop asking what people need. With this approach, we’ll be continually refilling a bucket that has holes poked in the bottom.
What’s the Right Question?
The better question is this: How can we co-create flourishing?
When we ask this question, we are working toward a reality where all people have access and opportunity for thriving. Poverty is not an inevitability. And poverty is not the result of individual choices. We have made decisions – politically, financially, and culturally – that have produced harmful effects on mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods all over the country.
Co-Flourishing Starts With Place
The right question starts to examine place-based ecosystems. We need to begin by looking at the decisions that have negatively impacted neighborhoods. The needs of individuals and their families are the symptom, but the treatment involves holistic, integrated solutions at the neighborhood level.
Co-Flourishing Requires Proximity
When we ask the right question, it should lead us to center places and let our work arise from proximate relationships.
Because of this truth, you can’t do place-based development from a distance. You must become a part of that place. Here is a community development rule to tattoo on the back of your eyelids: change happens as the pace of trust. You can’t outpace trust…and trust happens in proximity.
And if we want to work to see places become ecosystems of thriving, we must draw close and enter in for the long work of creating belonging and kinship.
Co-Flourishing Moves Forward with Partnership
In many cases, it’s easier to simply ask, “What can I do?” rather than zooming out to these systemic levels of dysfunction. As an individual who wants to give generously, you may feel discouraged because of your own inability to enact change at a larger societal level. This is why we need to focus on strategic partnerships.
It’s not all up to us. We must focus on doing things WITH neighbors rather than doing them TO and FOR them. We may have the resources, skills, and networks to pull off some really big and impressive projects in a neighborhood, but if the people in that neighborhood and the leaders in that space do not trust us and want to partner, we stay out of the mix. Doing good TO people or FOR people is paternalism.
Co-Flourishing Must Result in Power
When we partner with neighbors, we’re looking for them to be empowered. Many people have a fundamental lack of understanding about poverty. Material poverty is often understood as a lack of stuff. In reality, it’s a lack of agency. Under-resourced people can continue to receive resources…but the real change occurs when we fix the barriers that keep them from gaining resources on their own.
We seek to co-build power at the neighborhood level so that people won’t face barriers to thriving. Ultimately, there shouldn’t need to be an ongoing flow of resources from “us” to “them.” When systems are working effectively, everyone should have the power to gain what they need on their own.
Interested in Learning More? Reach Out.
We love sharing the hard-won wisdom of our experience at FCS to help you save time, labor, and frustration as you seek to co-create flourishing in your neighborhood. Check out our website to discover more about the resources and training we offer, and contact us to learn more.