I recently met De’Vante Wiley (featured in the audio below) while hosting a group of high school volunteers participating in the Summer Youth Institute, an experiential learning program that explores Mississippi society, history, and diversity. De’Vante began working to improve his community at a young age, organizing a community garden in Baptist Town when he was sixteen. I was glad to see that Southern Foodways Alliance ran into him also, wrote about him in this blog post, and provided the link to the excellent interview they did.
A couple of weeks after I met De’Vante he stopped by the community center. Just as he succinctly speaks about some of the most challenging social aspects of life in rural Mississippi, he also transcended one of the most challenging aspects of community work and said, “On behalf of the Baptist Town community, thank you for the work you’re doing.” From an outsider perspective, public interest work is warm and fuzzy, but the reality is that it is political, never complete, and addresses realities too complex to equal unanimous support from any large group.
Still, public interest designers conduct meetings, surveys, studies, games, and events to try to take into account the needs and aspirations of their client communities. Through this process to find the best possible architectural response, negative feedback is sometimes the only voice that is heard, while those pleased with an initiative stay silent. Positive feedback such as De’Vante’s “thank you” feels good on a personal level, but more importantly, indicates to social impact designers when a project is on the right track.