A St. Louis organization goes above and beyond providing homes for communities
The killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent wave of protests illuminated for a national public the deep racial inequities in greater St. Louis. We sat down with Chris Krehmeyer, head of Beyond Housing, a local community development corporation founded in 1975, to learn about how they’ve been building a comprehensive approach blending affordable housing, community land trusts, public health, and business development aimed at changing the systems that perperuate disinvestment in African-American communities in the St. Louis metro area.
Michelle Stearn: Thanks so much for joining us, Chris. Let’s start off with the mission of Beyond Housing, which is to tackle housing, jobs, health, and education all at once. Could you tell us a little about how Beyond Housing takes advantage of the intersection of these issues, and how you see this manifesting in the communities you serve?
Chris Krehmeyer: We’ve been at this for a lot of years in a lot of different ways; our field is moving towards comprehensive community development—and so we really looked at our work and said what we really think is most important is this notion that home matters. For us, yes, home is the physical space you live, the place you go home to every night, but home is so much more than that. It’s the life in and around where you live that fuels and draws the best out of people that live there. We think that if we’re going to create that kind of place, that kind of home, that you have to drive resources in that targeted geography. You have to do it in a way that acknowledges the success of a place is tied to housing, education, health, jobs, and economic development. Places that are healthy and vibrant today all have working parts that apparently function, and function well. A lot of the communities that our field works in, and like the community that we work in, those things aren’t in place. They aren’t healthy and they aren’t robust.
Our data tell us that the factors you mentioned, and connectivity between them, are really important in order to be successful over the long term. We just said that we need to get away from looking for just one thing—one thing will not turn a community around. There are multiple things that have to happen and they have to happen in an intentionally integrated way. We’ve created an initiative here that’s about bringing people together. We didn’t know what collective impact was when we started. We didn’t know about community quarterbacks or backbone organizations when we started this. We just had this notion that we were doing some good work in and around this particular targeted geography—and then we asked: can we really hone in on this place and listen to the voice of the people that live here and the leadership of this community? How can we drive our agenda forward by helping them drive their agenda forward? Our job, then, is to do the work, aggregate the capital, bring the partners around the common table and hopefully see some movement or change.
Michelle Stearn: You mentioned there that one of the main tenets of your work is to listen. I was reading about your 24:1 Initiative: 24 communities, 1 vision, and I wanted to ask you to elaborate a little bit more on the “Ask” aspect. How you continue to implement that “asking” and “listening” throughout the implementation of the actual initiative?
Chris Krehmeyer: We believe in the continual circle of “Ask, Align, and Act.” We’re clear on the language we use in community building happens because of trust. The way you build trust is by listening and by respecting the people that live in the community. Invariably they will always give you great information—they have the answers and solutions to the problems that they see day to day outside their front door. We’re absolutely a believer that we work for the community. Our job is to listen to them and then help bring the resources to bear, align the resources together, and then execute on the things that they think are important. As you indicated, there’s a constant going back and having conversations and affirming what they said, affirming what they want, affirming that we are on the right track. We need to keep that going as a living and robust system of communication, not a one time, “We got the plan, we’ll talk to you five years from now.”
Quite frankly, part of the challenge can be that from time to time, as an organization that likes to get stuff done, occasionally we go a little too fast and don’t stay as connected as we should with the community. There have been several occasions where I’ve apologized to community leadership for moving too quickly and not keeping them as abreast of the work as we should have. I think there’s a whole lot of intentionality there. At the end of the day did we have to apologize? No, we could have just done the work and tried not to be too far out ahead. If you have a real relationship, if you have one that’s built on respect and trust, you’re willing to be vulnerable and tell folks, “Hey sorry about that. We moved a little quickly and we should’ve checked in before we went to that next step.”—whatever the situation is. It’s been a learning process for us—we have a lot of stuff going on and a lot of exciting work, but we can’t get ahead of the community. We can’t get too full of ourselves thinking, “Aren’t we great, doing this great work?” At the end of the day, if we don’t maintain that trust and respect which is earned every day, then we’ll lose our way and we’ll lose the confidence of our community. That will make the work almost impossible to do.
Michelle Stearn: Zooming out a little bit, I’m curious about what you think about why a community land trust makes sense in the Greater St. Louis area. Could you elaborate on that?
Chris Krehmeyer: The genesis of beginning a land trust here, and the 24:1 Initiative, was an ongoing conversation between a local private family foundation and Beyond Housing, asking the question, “How do we drive resources in the community that will stay in the community and that can be controlled by the community?” Our first idea, and this was in 2009 probably, was “Well, let’s start a bank.” We did a fair amount of leg work, including looking at the financials of a bank that was struggling and was going to go away in some form or fashion, and we were envisioning starting our own bank: a legitimate and real community bank. Clearly, as you can imagine, lots of people looked at us like we’d lost our mind. This was at the time of the financial meltdown—so we slowly stepped away from that.
I mentioned the idea of, “What about a land trust?” The Midwest, doesn’t have a lot of seasoned and long held land trusts. They’re mostly concentrated on the east coast and a few out west. We did a little exploring, did a little digging, and I knew enough about community land trusts to be dangerous. When we really started digging into what might be possible, the idea of creating a land trust clearly fit the notion that the foundation and Beyond Housing had about how to drive resources in the community, with equity staying in the community and in the hands of the people that live here. A land trust was clearly a great way to get that done: to drive resources and give control to people that live in this community.
The idea of creating a land trust clearly fit the notion that the foundation and Beyond Housing had about how to drive resources in the community with equity staying in the community and in the hands of the people that live here.
Michelle Stearn: Let’s talk a little more about the 24:1 Initiative. One of the strategies that you outlined was to coordinate the development of affordable and subsidized housing, especially rental housing in collaboration with municipal governments. How have the governments youwork with responded to your initiatives?
Chris Krehmeyer: From a public sector stand point, we are in St. Louis county. We are the inner ring suburbs in the St. Louis metropolitan region. St. Louis county government has been a long time partner of ours for a lot of years in helping us develop rental housing. Beyond Housing as an organization owns 422 rental units as of today, with another 53 units building under construction as we speak. 370 of those existing units are scattered site single family homes in the inner ring suburbs. We have a long history of doing this work. St. Louis county has been a long time partner and friend. The movement with them was pretty fluid, pretty easy because they were already there. The relationship piece really came within the multitude of municipalities that are in the boundaries of our initiative, which are the boundaries of a public education district, the Normandy Schools Collaborative.
We were intentional about picking that school district as our boundary, becuase the connectivity between the housing and everything else is important to local communities. We had 24 different little cities with mayors and councils that we had to build relationships with. Quite frankly, that was the larger challenge. We had been in one of the 24 communities since around 2000. That’s the city of Pagedale. We built up relationships and local credibility because of new housing construction, housing rehab, we run a family support center there, and still do that today. We did a lot of good work, so the long time mayor there of Pagedale, who’s respected by her peers, in essence vouched for us.
We had to build a relationship with the other mayors. These are all small little municipalities. They’re de facto neighborhoods. They have elected officials and some have police forces and they all have city councils. We had to, in essence, work in 23 additional neighborhoods. Which is no small task, to build relationships and do all of that. We took an entire year on the front side doing the “ask” part. We’re very diligent and thoughtful and try to find as many different ways to elicit communication and guidance from folks who live in the community, whether they are home-owners or renters, whether they are seniors or kids. We wanted to talk to business owners and other stakeholders to make sure we assembled all the right information about what’s working, what’s not working, and more importantly, what are the solutions moving forward. It was, we think, a great community engagement process. I think the way we went about it went a long way to building trust in the community and building confidence from folks who really didn’t know us that we really were serious about listening to their voice and monitoring what they believe was important.
Ultimately, we are trying to build relationships with all the mayors and council people and eventually living out the “Ask, Align, Act” model and being patient. Building relationships doesn’t happen of its own accord, you don’t just show up and say, “Hey, we do really great things and you’re going to love it when you work with us.” That’s just not how this works. You have to spend time. You keep showing up, you keep showing up. You live up to your word, you’re consistent. Lots of esteemed community people come and go; they are well-intentioned, but they come and go. You really have to be both cognizant of the environment that you’re working in: you should have to earn trust in community. We still have to earn trust today after a lot of great work and a lot of success. But we still have to earn trust. You can’t ever assume that, “We’re doing great work, they should love us no matter what.” Building grocery stores, or housing, or movie theaters, all the great stuff we’ve been doing, that’s fine, but the moment you lose sight of who you work for and why, is the moment that your success will start to wane.
Michelle Stearn: I see that the relationship building is cyclical, which goes along with your motto of “Ask, Align, Act.” You mentioned that there’s immense behind-the-scenes planning that come before you even announce an initiative. Specifically, could you talk about the planning went behind the recent launch of the Passport to Health pilot program?
Chris Krehmeyer: Yes. When we were talking to the community, it was clear that there was a significant degree of health disparities relative to, in our case, the African-American community and the white community here in St. Louis. How it manifested itself relative to people’s lives, whether it’s late onset diabetes, heart disease, obesity, asthma - there’s so many things that present themselves to our folks. We got to figure out something to do that will begin to create healthier lifestyle opportunities for the people that live here because they’re not healthy, and that impacts everything that you do in life.
Early on, we had someone with a Master’s in public health and they started talking to us about the social determinants of health. We got to really understand the connectivity between housing and health, between community and health. Back when we got started we really gave the data a look: a big research project that said many things, but the one that jumped off the page for us was the difference in average life expectancy of people living in our community, as opposed to the community that was literally five minutes away by car, an affluent white community—this was a staggering 18-year difference. When you think about 18 years: that’s just a staggering number. Clearly that’s a whole host of things, but clearly it suggested a lot of work needed to be done to help folks get healthy and be healthy.
We got to really understand the connectivity between housing and health, between community and health.
Passport to Health was an idea of how to gather people together. How do we talk to them about things that they can actually control, which is their exercise and their diet? How do we create a delivery system that brings people together? You’re not working out by yourself. It’s a communal experience where you’re coming up to St. Vincent’s Community Center every night for free classes. We offer programs like “Bustin’ Guts, Hot Coola,” Zumba, and a number of others, as well as healthy cooking and other healthy lifestyle activities. We began with that and had great reputation and our health programming has extended significantly since then. We have the “Ten Toes Walking Club” that meets twice a week and then walks not only in our community but also takes our light rail system. One person each time is in charge of planning the trip: where are we going, where we going to walk to, walk through?
It’s all been a communal process. We’ve added a anti-obesity program at a middle school where we’re working with kids on understanding exercise and diet. We’ve seen over the last three years a two percent reduction in the obesity rate of kids at the middle school which is great. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can keep moving that needle downward. We just introduced healthy eating classes in twelve of the pre-Ks that we work with. We’re teaching kids at a very early age about eating healthy, about fruit and vegetables. Ironically, a great side benefit is employees of these pre-K facilities who are low-wage workers are also learning about eating healthier because they too have the same dietary challenges that a lot of our kids do.
We’re doing a whole host of things on the healthscape. We also just got some great data about infant mortality. We do a big pre-K program called “Five by Age Five” where we have over 25 not-for-profit partners working together in the early childhood space, from nurse visitation programs, to helping families read at home, to access to health care programs, to screening programs. Over the last three years in the two zip codes that comprise our communities, the infant mortality rate went down 30% and 20% respectively, which is just fantastic. We had an infant mortality rate that was three times higher than St. Louis county in general. We had a long way to go to get that infant mortality rate down to something that was more consistent with the region and hopefully we’ll wind up getting that better. Our span of our work, both stuff we do directly, but as important, our work as being this facilitator, this convener, being one that gets people to align their resources in some common direction for some common goals, we have really have started to bear some fruit in the years to come.
Michelle Stearn: You’re really living up to your name of Beyond Housing. Can you talk about the community business development work you do, and how that fits into the community land trust?
Chris Krehmeyer: In terms of the nuance between the land trust and Beyond Housing: they’re related but separate. As the owner of the land, we - the “we” is Beyond Housing, the developer, and the land trust - built a grocery store five years ago. Quite frankly, when we first had the conversation, we didn’t know what a food desert was and we didn’t know we were in one. We just de facto knew that low-income communities, as a general rule, don’t have grocery stores. When we did part of the very beginning of the “ask” process, folks in this community said, “We’d love a grocery store because we haven’t had one since the 1950s.” We were able to put together the funding through new market tax credits, through foundation support, through a P.R.I. from a foundation, and then the land trust purchasing the land underneath the grocery store. We built the grocery store about five years ago. The grocery store, in that five year period, has seen a thirty percent increase in sales. That’s on average five percent a year but we’ll probably see a bigger increase this year, closer to six percent. The particular chain is called Save-a-Lot. Save-a-Lot runs the store, we just own the building. The typical year-to-year increase in sales in a Save-a-Lot chain is closer to two percent, so we’re significantly outpacing their sales relative to year-to-year increase. We’re really excited about that. It’s an affirmation that private enterprise can work in the community.
Folks in this community said, “We’d love a grocery store because we haven’t had one since the 1950s.”
What we’ve done is on the construction side, we’ve added some aesthetic features to make the store really attractive. It’s an all brick building. In St. Louis, we’re a brick town. The brick wasn’t a spec requirement from Save-a-Lot, it was something we decided to add on our own. We wanted this first big economic development project to be attractive for the people who live in the community first and foremost, but anybody who’s driving through the community that you can see, “Wow, look at that attractive store.” We have decorative lighting, we have enhanced landscaping, a lot of intentionality that says: you get to have the good looking store, and you deserve the good looking store. We’re proud to be able to listen to the voice of the community, and it’s important that the store is extremely successful to date. I get to see the monthly sales figures because it’s part of a TIF (a Tactic and Financing redevelopment plan) with the master developer of the TIF. I see the monthly sales totals so I know how much is going back through the tax system relative to clearing out the debt we took to make the grocery store happen. It’s exciting to see the success and the pride that the community has in having a grocery store.
Across the parking lot from that Save-a-Lot, we built a senior building, almost three years ago. In the bottom floor of that, we were able to put a full-service bank in there, and this community has never had a bank in its sixty years of existence. In our total 24:1 footprint, we have over 25 check-cashing places as opposed to only three regulated banks, so we decided to bring the bank to the community. The bank in their first three years of operation had exceeded the depository balances projections by over 400 percent. Their break-even date has been accelerated by two years; that’s when they expect to break even on the operation of the bank. This is a great affirmation that private enterprise can work in our community, we think in part because the context in which they’re operating is comprehensive community development work led by us and driven by the voice of the people that live here. There’s an excitement that is being built around what’s happening.
Right down the street from the grocery store, we’re building a bank, and in two weeks we’re going to open a 4-screen, 375-foot movie theater. We’re the developer of the theater; while the land trust will own it. We’ll show first-run movies and we think it’s going to be a phenomenal success. The community said we’d love to have some entertainment, because right now we have to leave our community to do anything that’s fun. Given the income of our community, movies are absolutely the best and most affordable form of entertainment. We’re awfully excited about, on November 6th, opening up the movie theater showing James Bond’s Spectre. We’re thrilled to have that. Again, it’s listening to the voice of the community. It’s driving resources in a way that will continue the forward progress and forward movement. Because this is part of a TIF, and there was nothing there before that looked at the data for economic activity, we think this is going to be a great success. We’ll throw back, hopefully over time, some significant resources to the community that we will reinvest in the whole host of ways, driven by the voice of the people that live here. In addition, next to the cinema is a two-story, 12,000 square foot community services building, where we hope to have primary care health services as well. The build-out is done and we’re negotiating with a primary health care provider on renting 6,000 square feet on the bottom floor of the building. (Right: Residents celebrate at the grand opening of the 24:1 cinema. Source: Beyond Housing)
Michelle Stearn: Here at the Democracy Collaborative we’re big advocates for leveraging the economic and institutional power of local anchor institutions like universities and hospitals in order to build community wealth. Could you tell us about your partnerships with local anchor institutions?
Chris Krehmeyer: Yes. University of Missouri St. Louis is in our footprint. Great anchor institution and they’ve been actively involved in our work in a lot of different ways, particularly the School of Education and the School of Nursing. The School of Nursing has had a class full of students here for the last three years, working on community health issues and helping us put together our 24:1 Community Health Festival. A great relationship with the School of Nursing, bringing their students, let them see real life, what happens in community. The College of Education has built some very innovative teacher training where they actually embed student teachers in a lot of Pre-K and after-school facilities to get the students to understand this is the environment, the contextual framework under which a lot of kids function and operate every day. When you become a classroom teacher, you have some grounding and understanding in getting the live circumstances and context in which students in this community come from. We’re excited to have them be committed to this community and trying to put resources there. The chancellor of University of Missouri St. Louis is on the Board of Directors of Beyond Housing, so we have a great relationship with him. They’re always extremely helpful and supportive of our efforts. (Left: After-school instructors Jessica Hobbs and Jamie Redding, both graduates from Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work. Pictured here with Lead After-school instructor Alice Wilson (also a working scholar. Source: Beyond Housing)
We also have a great and long relationship with Washington University here in town (our footprint sits in the middle of Washington University and the University of Missouri St. Louis). Washington University is in the next community south of our footprint, and UMSL is actually in our footprint. We partnered with Washington University for a lot of years, particularly with the School of Social Work. At this point I can’t give you the number of interns that have come through our doors from Washington University and quite frankly we hired probably half a dozen of them over the years. Great relationship with the School of Social Work and they brought us some great students and some great talent. We’ve had a long partnership with them. We’re just starting a bit of a relationship with the School of Public Health. They just started on 2 years ago. We’re working with them on a number of different fronts to get great partners and great allies. We don’t have anything specific with any of the hospital systems. I do have two board members who come from the largest hospital system, the larger employer in the region called B.J.C. I’m working on connectivity there so we’ll see what the future will bring.
Michelle Stearn: You mentioned the location of the footprint of the 24:1 communities that you work with and I was hoping to segue into talking about how the communities that you empower are adjacent to Ferguson, which has become a national flash-point for issues about racial justice, an issue that Beyond Housing is actively tackling. Could you talk a little about the legacy of discrimination in the area and how that history has shaped the context for your work?
Chris Krehmeyer: As you indicated, our footprint is adjacent to Ferguson to the south. Michael Brown was a graduate of Normandy High School, which is in our school district. Some of his family lives in the boundaries of the Normandy School District. What happened in Ferguson wasn’t an esoteric conversation, it was very real for our community and the people that live here. What we are trying to do de facto is change systems, because systems have not worked for our community and that has a lot to do with racism and historic systems that were structured to not be fair and equitable. At the end of the day, the lesson of Ferguson, is that because of the racial bias that has been in our community as well as all across the country, you have real inequity of opportunity and inequity of resources. What we’re trying to do is bring as much opportunity and resources to this community as possible, and to be about systems change.
At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do, and again picking the school district geography, is very intentional. Our school district is unaccredited. Our school district has 100% of the kids that go there receive free or reduced lunch, which means that every day, some function of poverty makes life a little complicated for everybody in the household including the children. How do we provide this comprehensive, intentionally integrated delivery system of services and programs that begins to change the trajectory of the lives of the people that live in this community? We think we’re on the right track. We just got some new test scores from the school district that show some significant increase from last year. We still have a long way to go, but the trend line is great so we’re hopeful that that will continue. We’re hopeful that some of the work we do in education could allow for improvement, for example, we have thirteen staff people embedded in the schools, called “Family Engagement Liaisons.” We’re linking families to resources out in the community to tackle the challenges that they face every day. This begins to bear some fruit relative to bringing some stability in the lives of the children that come to school every day. We’re working on a variety of different things: we’re going to put washers and dryers in every one of the schools in the school district. We have a house savings program both in the kindergarten level and at the high school.
This year, for the 4th consecutive year, every child normally entering kindergarten gets access to a $500 Missouri 529 college savings account. At the end of this sign-up year, we have over 1,100 kids now who have the $500 college savings account. We hope to build on that. We’re going to announce a grant next week that every high school student, all 800 of them, will get a $250 college savings account, plus we’re going to have resources to pay for A.C.T. preparation from Princeton Review. Then we’re going to pay for two additional A.C.T.s in addition to the one free one they get at the school, recognizing that the more you take the A.C.T. the better you get at it. The average A.C.T. score of our kids last year was 16, and 16 is not going to get you where you want to get to. We want to drive resources in a comprehensive and hopefully at-scale levels, to change the dynamic of the kids’ lives and their ability to move past secondary education to get to either college or vocational school so they can be prepared for a successful life in whatever manner that they wish to proceed.
Michelle Stearn: I want to pull out two phrases that you used there. The first one was, you talked about systemic change being the ultimate goal, and then the second was scalability, or producing results on a scale that has impact. I was wondering if you perhaps see initiatives like Beyond Housing taking place in other cities or other communities, if you see your strategies as adaptable or even replicable in other places?
Chris Krehmeyer: There’s a number of exciting things that are happening across the country. Just this Monday, I was in Atlanta visiting a “purpose-built” community, and they’re doing some fascinating work; they have some great methods of change in their targeted community of East Lake, Atlanta. The north side zone and the Twin Cities (Minnesota) is also getting some fascinating work relative to comprehensive community building. There’s a number of other Promise Neighborhood recipients that are doing some interesting work. I think there’s a handful of folks like that who are battling these challenges in a different way than the past, who are pushing the envelope of span and scale. What I tell my traditional housing peers, because sometimes they look at me like I’ve lost my mind - grocery stores, public education, movie theaters? - what I say is, you don’t have to take our approach, which is to try to do as much of this as you can, but you do need to be part of something bigger than just your own work. You need to be part of any local initiatives, or maybe help to start an initiative, where you’re still just doing your work but you bring other people around the table. I think failure to do so will be fine transactional work but will never get to the point of transformation. We want to be about the business of transformation and about systems change. We think the only way you can do that is to be comprehensive and to pick a scale. We can prove that you can turn communities around. We can prove that even the racial disparity that happened for a generation can be turned around if we’re aggressive about capital aggregation, if we’re aggressive about deployment of resources, if we’re aggressive about not being willing to just have a nice program that only serves 100 kids. We need to do more than that if we’re going to make transformational and systemic change.
We can prove that even the racial disparity that happened for a generation can be turned around if we’re aggressive about capital aggregation, if we’re aggressive about deployment of resources, if we’re aggressive about not being willing to just have a nice program that only serves 100 kids. We need to do more than that if we’re going to make transformational and systemic change.
Michelle Stearn: Lastly, all of the things that you’ve mentioned of course couldn’t have come without obstacles. I was wondering if you could bring up any challenges or barriers that you’ve seen along the way, whether it be a specific initiative or just overall in general, and how you have overcome those in carrying out your work.
Chris Krehmeyer: There’s nothing in particular that I want to call out other than it’s just really hard. It’s just a challenge to aggregate the resources needed, necessary to do it, to start bending systems that don’t work, to move hierarchies that like operating the way that they’ve always operated. We’re the proverbial, “You’re going against the grain.” People don’t like change. People like doing things the way they’ve always done them. People in power don’t ever give up power freely. None of it is simple nor easy, but it is the work that has to be done. At the end of the day, it’s the Robert Kennedy quote: “Some people see things the way they are and ask Why, others dream of things that can be and ask: Why not?” Most people are just in the “why” camp, we’re in the “why not” camp. To get more people to be in the “why not” camp, and be okay with change, and to be okay with a little bit of risk. Owning grocery stores and movie theaters and working with public education and public health and all this stuff can be a little unnerving for folks, but if we’re going to change things we have to be willing to be courageous and take some risks. Not foolhardy. Measured, thoughtful, but risks nonetheless, because everything we’ve done hasn’t worked. That’s my organization as well. I’ve been here 23 years and we’ve done good work and helped lots of folks but at the end of the day, it hasn’t worked in terms of really changing systems, and not having the next family confront the same challenges that one family that did well was able to do.
It’s not unlike the race issue for white folks… The challenge that I see, and I’m a white guy and I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, is the uncomfortable conversation about race for a lot of white folks is, we’re not asking for you to say, “I did bad things, and I was directly a part of all the terrible things that happened to African-American families for generations.” But what you can do is raise your hand and say, “I was around when all that happened and I didn’t understand, and I didn’t see what was happening, and I didn’t see the damage it was causing, and I didn’t know those things were occurring.” I have to own that part of it, and to be okay with that. It’s not about you’re a bad person or we want to fix blame directly at your feet. You need to raise your hand and say, “I allowed that to occur on my watch.” We’re asking people to no longer stand by while things that are unfair and inequitable happen in our community, and then do damage to children, families, and as a by-product, all of us.
Michelle Stearn: That was your call to action then, it seems. How can people in other cities get more involved in this holistic approach?
Chris Krehmeyer: I think what they need to do is start having conversations. This is not rocket science. What makes up a healthy community? People know what it is. You can ask anybody and you’ll have the same handful of things. In your community, begin a conversation.
Start having conversations with local residents and other stakeholders, and say, “We want our community to be different and better for this next generation. Let’s roll up our sleeves and be about the difficult work of how do we get that done.”
Be focused on it’s not about you or your organization, it’s about the broader work and the ability to have systems change come to reality. It’s all do-able, it’s just really hard. It’s not quick. Things get like this overnight and we’re not going to turn them around overnight. Until you get started, you’re not going to get there. Be ready for the marathon. I think most leaders, I think, are sprinters by nature. That’s what we like to do. The reality is that this work is a marathon and you just have to know you’re in it for the long haul. There will be success and there’ll be failures—but this is about ensuring that the next generations of kids has a better life than the one before and we don’t allow systems to be the reason why kids and families and communities aren’t successful.