Since the early 1900s, community organizers have worked tirelessly to overcome national, regional, or local problems in an effort to increase their quality of life. It has been the sweat, blood, and tears of these organizers that have been the catalyst of change, whether it’s been for abortion rights, to small local efforts such as getting stops signs installed on street corners. Community organizers have been the backbone of our democracy and will always be the cornerstone of tackling complex issues.
As we move into the 21st century, our nation, cities, and neighborhoods face a new landscape and new problems that will require a new way of doing business. This includes how we approach community organizing as well, especially for black community development. Black communities and neighborhoods across the country are experiencing insurmountable problems: crime and blight have taken over, school districts are failing, affluent residents are fleeing, more and more jobs are disappearing, and poverty has reached an all time high. All the while, the residents who are left behind have a sense of hopelessness. On the surface, it appears as if it’s a vicious cycle that is only getting worse.
The approach to revitalizing and redeveloping neighborhoods cannot be achieved utilizing traditional development strategies, where plans and decisions are made in city halls and real estate corporate headquarters. Instead, community and neighborhood development have to utilize a bottom-up approach, where residents are at the center of creating change. This is especially true in underserved communities because of the complex and intertwined web of social, political, and economic decay.
For decades, residents across the country have made many attempts in their communities to make change. Some have been successful, but most fail. Therefore, we need a new paradigm for community organizing in black and underserved communities, one that is holistic in its approach and one that utilizes new strategies.
Traditionally, community organizers have focused on solving one issue at a time and it has been reactive. Piece meal approaches to developing black and underserved communities do not work for the long-term, nor, does reacting to decisions that have already been made. Instead, we have to take community organization to a new level that will result in being proactive with bold ideas, comprehensive planning and progression, and finding creative ways of pulling in more resources. In essence, neighborhood organizing in black community development has to be approached as if they are starting from scratch and revamping entire neighborhoods. This includes a range of large and small issues from reworking zoning policies to getting potholes fixed; from dealing with crime to neighborhood clean-up events; from school reform to getting illegal dumping ordinances. Community organizers must take on social, political, and neighborhood development concurrently in order to create long-term sustainability.