Community Leaders Focus on the Hard Work of Change

Photo Gallery

  • Amy Hawn Nelson, center, from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, shares perspective with tablemates. Keynote panelist James Ford (also pictured, right rear), the program director at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, praised the institute as a timely event: "There are a lot of good conversations that are happening and need to happen. We just need to be intentional."

  • Kristin Hills Bradberry '85, a former vice president at Davidson and now an advisor for non-profits on fundraising strategy and for philanthropists on meaningful and strategic giving, moderated the keynote panel on stories of local changemakers. Quoting a grandmother's wise question, she asked, "How do we put feet on our prayers?"

  • Local changemakers shared their stories in a keynote panel. (l-r) Amalia Deloney, program officer at Media Democracy Fund; Amy Chiou, executive director of Queen City Forward; James Ford, program director of Public School Forum of N.C.; and Pamela Grundy, parent, historian, education activist. "People need to have a stake in the work you ask them to do," said Grundy, who led efforts to reintegrate Shamrock Gardens Elementary and is writing a history of West Charlotte High.

  • Tamrah Jordan of the Red Cross pondered a point during the keynote panel discussion. The institute offered direct illustration of many principles of modern communication, speakers agreed. The primacy of one-to-many communication is rapidly waning, we are living in time of many-to-many communication, and "keeping it real" face-to-face is key.

  • Hannah Levinson, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at Davidson (center) and Professor of Anthropology Fuji Lozada speak with an institute participant in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room. Such relationships are key in today's communication environment, said panelist Amalia Deloney: "Narrative is a whole-body experience. It's not just bits and bytes and trading information. The greatest media skill we can learn in the 21st century is learning how to talk with other people who are close to us."

  • Mark Peres brought perspective to the institute from his leadership roles in the Charlotte innovation and entrepreneurship scene, notably as professor of leadership at Johnson & Wales University. The institute drew many from Charlotte, a community primed for action as well as talk. Panelist Amalia Deloney reminded listeners that a third and crucial aspect of community organizing is taking time out for reflection, then circling back around to more conversation and more action...

  • Associate Professor of Anthropology Laurian Bowles spoke and led discussion on "Understanding Complex Identities in Social Change Work," moving beyond the buzzword of intersectionality to consider how community-based work can acknowledge and confront the challenges of identity politics. A common refrain throughout the day was, "There are no voiceless people, just people who have not been heard yet."

  • (l-r) Jonathan Shepherd-Smith '18, Nate Harding '17 and Hayden Bates '17 shared their stories of local community involvement through groups like Project L.I.F.T., Davidson Non-Profit Consulting student group, Refugee Support Services and the Campus As Lab initiative at Davidson. "We have been overwhelmed by how well-prepared Davidson students are," said one community partner.

  • The C. Shaw Smith 900 Room was full to capacity for the institute. Participants reflected on James Ford's point that K-12 school systems in America do not do a good job of teaching critical thinking and effective communication. "Critical pedagogy" is necessary across the board, he said. "Growth only happens at the margins of comfort."

  • Don Gately '69, founding executive director of CrossRoads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development, spoke from his own lengthy experience to offer a case study in neighborhood revitalization. For years, residents of Charlotte's Grier Heights neighborhood experienced higher rates of poverty, unemployment and crime, and lower rates of home ownership and education than many in other Charlotte neighborhoods. But the statistics don't reflect the skills, gifts and dreams of many neighbors there.

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The timing couldn't have been better for the conversations that took place at Davidson's inaugural Community Innovation Institute, as Charlotte and communities across the country grapple with complicated, seemingly intractable issues. The institute drew more than 90 participants from organizations across the region to share and explore the realities of "place-based change work" in 2017.

There was action as well as talk.

"Our goal was that the institute's speakers and workshops would inspire dialogue, resource sharing and collaboration aimed at building the capacity of our community. Several exciting partnerships have already emerged," said Stacey Riemer, director of Davidson's Center for Civic Engagement.

This year was a pilot institute, with plans to expand involvement of Davidson students, faculty and community leaders in the future.

Panelist Amalia Deloney, senior program officer at the Media Democracy Fund, set the tone early with a "top 11" list of pithy truths she's learned about community organizing:

  1. Listening is a muscle.
  2. Wherever there is a problem, there are already people there working on it.
  3. The closer you are to the problem, the closer you are to the solution.
  4. Story is the shortest distance to understanding.
  5. Assume power, not powerlessness.
  6. Build, don't attack.
  7. Think about strategies, not issues.
  8. Solutions come through the process, not at the end.
  9. Nothing about us without us is for us.
  10. Provide space to investigate.

Lastly, "It's never our role to lead," she said of the community organizational aspects of the assembled non-profit and other professionals in the room.

Community work is about more than just dialogue and action, Deloney said. The third aspect of doing place-based change work is reflection.

For additional insights from the institute, check out the photo gallery. To learn more, visit Davidson's Center for Civic Engagement.

John Syme


  • January 19, 2017