The Community Allies Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™ change management approach places youth and communities at the center of our regional decision-making. It enlists every school, business, and government in our region to do its part to replenish the sustainable resources that have been systematically depleted from black and brown communities in particular. It comes from my years of growing up and experiencing segregation in St. Louis.
In 2014, St. Louis began to shift its identity from one that silenced conversations about racial injustices to a region of people hungry to process within and across race the sources for and the solutions to the inequalities we are living. Reports like Forward through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity and Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide helped us identify how different sectors contribute to the segregation of people and resources. These reports called for regional decision-making to be made with black and brown youth and communities at the center.
I am a white woman who grew up in St. Louis county, in Clayton, a community chock-full of services and opportunities. I spent time in the city where housing and other resources such as access to transportation, employment, healthcare, and public services weren’t equal to my own. I wanted black and brown youth to have a platform to share their stories in a way that would move the hearts and minds of white people to come together to do their part to restore the sustainable resources black and brown communities had lost.
During my doctoral studies in education on the East Coast, I discovered ethnodrama, a form of arts-based research that youth and I could use to facilitate school and community conversations about the needed collective action. As my dissertation work, I began developing and implementing ethnodrama classes for middle and high school students. It was a way for
youth to study issues they cared about, talk to people from many backgrounds and sectors, and turn their interviews into films and dramas that accelerated their ability to make change together.
When finally our region started talking across race, I founded Community Allies and began running ethnodrama programs in St. Louis. It wasn’t long until I transformed my ethnodrama programs into the change-management method Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™ to help businesses, schools, and governments all do their part to build and sustain inclusive change-making communities. The approach ensures we work together to understand:
a) how our region worked generationally and strategically across businesses, schools, and governments to undermine black and brown access to sustainable resources;
b) how black and brown communities have worked strategically together across generations to change these injustices;
c) how we all can do our part to replenish our regional village so that black and brown youth and families are at the center of our regional decision-making.
When I returned to St. Louis in 2016, I began closely tracking the work of black and brown community developers in the Jeff Vander Lou neighborhoods and eventually in neighborhoods across the country as well. I now use Honoring Stories and Integrating Curriculum™ to train groups of youth, teachers, companies, and government employees to engage in change-making projects with these and other developers across the country. The projects include developing diverse internship programs and talent recruitment pipelines to ensure companies know how to invest in local black and brown talent. Companies, schools, and governments learn how to invest in helping their employees build inclusive environments oriented towards making change across race, class and other differences. Companies, schools, and governments also learn how to develop products and services with input and leadership from black and brown youth,families, and community development organizations. In the process, companies, schools, and governments are developing the kinds of relationships that create career pathways for all youth. As industries learn how to do their part and engage in change-making projects with community developers, they also begin to bring others in their sectors into the work with them.
For example, the national affordable housing model I foresee St. Louis launching comes from my pastor, Andre Alexander. He runs The Tabernacle Community Development Corporation in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood of North St. Louis, previously a thriving black and brown neighborhood. I say, previously, because all that changed when the federal government started incentivizing generations of banks to engage in redlining and predatory lending that undermined black and brown wealth-building capacities. Still today, under urban renewal practices that are oriented towards re-investing in places like North St. Louis, the city turns over the land and homes of North St. Louis residents to companies eager to help rebuild our city. Unfortunately, too often, in the process, the communities who need and would love to be a part of the investment are displaced and/or are priced out of their neighborhoods as they become revitalized.
Successful housing community development corporations counter these efforts by supporting local communities in their efforts to rebuild people and resources. Leaders like Pastor Andre Alexander purchase homes and hire local people to rebuild dilapidated properties. Through the Tabernacle Community Development Corporation, he provides affordable stable houses to rent and helps people develop career and financial pathways to homeownership. He is partnering with a number of different non-profits to establish The Hub, a one-stop shop of resources such as healthcare, financial literacy training, educational literacy support, and entrepreneurship. Community developers like Pastor Alexander can help us learn as a region what it means to rebuild with our North St. Louis families, not take them over. He is replenishing the sustainable resources we as a region systematically dismantled from North St. Louis and other local communities.
The more collaborative we become as a region and the more we honor the black and brown leaders and organizations who for generations have been innovating solutions to our deepest regional and national challenges, the better our industry solutions will become, not only for St. Louis, but also as models for our nation.
[To learn more about other community developers in our St. Louis region, the ways they are creating opportunities for foundations, companies, schools, and nonprofits to replenish needed sustainable resources in our region, and to learn how to join them, here is our podcast]