a big step forward

On March 17th, 2014 a piece of legislation was passed in the Mississippi State House of Representatives that will allow the project partners committed to bringing healthy, affordable homes to the Baptist Town neighborhood to move forward with the long-planned Mississippi Cottage initiative.

Through this effort, the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center for Housing (previously a Habitat for Humanity Chapter) will manage the construction and the mortgages for twenty-six Cottages that were donated to the City of Greenwood for use as affordable housing by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in 2011. Since the homes were donated, the project has encountered numerous unexpected complexities and hurdles (cataloged here). Despite setbacks, project partners, home-owner applicants, and Baptist Town neighborhood residents haven’t given up on seeing this much-needed effort come to fruition. With the passage of legislation that will allow the City of Greenwood to donate the homes to the local Fuller Center chapter, the project is now poised to be completed in 2014.

Just as the project takes this exciting step forward, the Fuller Center Bike Adventure, an annual bicycle ride that incorporates a day of volunteer construction, came to Greenwood to build what else, but steps. During the Spring Ride (follow them on Facebook from March 14th-23rd), the thirty-three participants will ride over 350 miles in a week, raising funds and awareness about Fuller Center projects and programs. Included in this week is one build day, and the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center was honored to host the group here in Greenwood. These hard-working volunteers completed twenty kits of step parts, and assembled seven of them. Once the Cottages are installed on permanent foundations these steps will be attached. Many thanks to everyone who helped us kick off an exciting season of Cottage construction work!

who are all those people?

The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship began in 2000. As of January 2014 there are now 50 combined current and alumni fellows scattered around the country leveraging design to improve the state of affordable housing and community development. Last week, they convened here, in Greenwood, Mississippi.

As our large, energetic group was seen around Greenwood I overheard many locals ask, “Who are all those people?”. The answer is those are my people. I am more proud to be a part of this group than any other. I am proud because though we have diverse methods and work within a variety of frameworks, we share a commitment to providing our expertise to under-served populations, to working toward equitable housing solutions, and building partnerships that will result in stronger communities. The Fellowship has a legacy of excellence, and what is magical about this is that in order for any of us (whether an official “fellow” or an ally in the social impact design field) to achieve his or her goals, positive change within the communities we serve is a prerequisite. 

Many thanks to Enterprise Community Partners and Katie Swenson for giving Greenwood the opportunity to host this event.

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Here’s a little bit more about our week:

Monday through Thursday afternoon, current fellows spent time together discussing their work and the challenges they encounter. We visited Mississippi State University’s College of Art, Architecture and Design where the fellows provided feedback to students in a class I co-teach with Leah Faulk Kemp of the Carl Small Town Center, and four fellows gave a lecture to share their work. We toured Baptist Town and the projects I have been dedicated to for the last year, and we visited an ancient swamp, the BB King Museum, and the first Freedom Trail marker in memory of Emmett Till.

Thursday evening we were joined by alumni and special guests at the delicious Delta Bistro to kick off the weekend. We spent the day Friday discussing the future of the Fellowship, and in break-out sessions related to the diverse work fellows lead. The weekend wrapped up in Baptist Town on Saturday where fellows put their expertise to work, meeting one on one with future home owners to listen, draw and provide design assistance.

Photo credit: Harry Connolly

can community action be easy?

The Greenwood team returned from the Sustainable Cities Design Academy last September inspired and with new knowledge about how to create sustainable change throughout the city. Though we each have incorporated the discoveries made at SCDA into our ongoing work, team members expressed concern about fitting additional important projects into our already busy schedules. Through the fall we formulated a plan to avoid letting plans to positively impact the health, education, and social and economic equity of area residents fall by the wayside.

SCDA team members started by inviting others to be part of a group that would be committed to sustainable efforts in Greenwood. In subsequent meetings the group decided that we should find our footing and identity through light, quick, cheap community projects. Members of the group have committed to completing one small but visible project (taking only 4-8 hours to plan) each month in 2014.

Expanding the knowledge, interest and availability of bike culture is a topic that has continued to come up in sustainability conversations. Toward that end, four of the group members chalked “share the road” symbols on a route throughout downtown and an adjacent residential neighborhood. This route could potentially become a permanent biking route if the City sees public support for our project. For now, we got a lot of attention from curious drivers who saw us out with the stencil and chalk spreader on a chilly Thursday night. The following Saturday, group members met to bike the route together, similar to the Critical Mass rides that are common in many cities. We had a small turn-out, but we learned a few things about bike lanes, chalk spreaders, and our community through the process. Most importantly, many people have asked if any more rides are planned. There aren’t any yet, but we are working on our February initiative now, and are excited to see how the year unfolds.

January recap:

  • Chalk “share the road” symbols and bike ride
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Project team members: 4
  • Project cost: $7.75

Thanks to Richard Elliott and Davis Pratt for the photos.

what’s your GOODat?

When Enterprise was awarded eight $5,000 grants from the Fetzer Institute to be used for love and forgiveness based events, I had a little trouble explaining to the local team what this meant. It turned out to be a question of semantics though, and we moved to framing the question of love in the context of value. What surfaced through this conversation was the importance of valuing oneself, and that this is a prerequisite to being a parent, child, employee, employer, teammate, neighbor, and human who is loving and forgiving. One step further, we asked ourselves how we acknowledge value, or skills and talents, across cultures in the United States. The answer was in the simple phrase, “You are good at…..” or “I am good at…..”

Based on the discovery of GOODat, and the possibility for spreading love that it brought, we began planning the third annual Baptist Town Community Day around a theme of asking and showcasing what the residents of Baptist Town are good at. We asked each other in meetings, “What are you good at?”, and my co-planner Carl Winters and I asked people as they walked, drove or biked down the street, “What’s your GOODat?” Sometimes people were uncomfortable with the question, sometimes they had lengthy answers, but what became clear is that the residents of Baptist Town (and Greenwood) are GOODat a lot things.

Activities throughout the day were planned around the responses to, “What’s your GOODat?”, and as we finished setting up, neighborhood kids were already showing how good they are at jumping and playing. After that, the day officially kicked off at 11 and residents began to visit booths set up by the Leflore County Health Center, the WIN Job Center, and the Harvard Community Development Project. At each booth, important information was available, as well as raffle tickets for door prizes. The cost of a raffle ticket? Answering the question, “What are you GOODat?”

Face painting also began at this time, and Keyauna Gatston showed her artistic skill throughout the day.

The most common answer to the GOODat question was “cooking”. Residents volunteered to cook and serve chicken, ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans, cole slaw, and fruit. Willie Fisher, shown below, began manning the grill at 8 AM and was still serving up chicken and ribs when I left in the evening.

While lunch was being prepared, the DJ opened up the mike to anyone interested in sharing a musical talent. Lady Trucker, a professional singer, got the crowd dancing with her music, and she was followed by a praise dance by a local teen.

There was about an hour of rain in the afternoon, but few people left the event, and stayed to enjoy afternoon activities including art, bingo, a cake walk, more face painting, the inflatables and the new playground. Rosalind Wilcox led the art activities and created house numbers and name plates for residents to attach to their homes, while many residents painted their own sign boards.

While many resident shared what they are GOODat through activities, others wrote on the GOODat chalkboard (to be hung in the neighborhood community center when it is complete), shared their stories of growing up in Baptist Town with the event videographer Dash Brown, or included their skills as a door prize in the form of a GOODat gift certificate. Raffle winners could choose from a hair cut, nail art, dance lessons, or car detailing from their entrepreneurial neighbors.

GOODAt gift certificate

Throughout the day and the planning process, I was impressed with the many volunteers who shared their time and efforts and the support from the greater Greenwood community (especially the City Public Works Department). As we asked each other, “What’s your GOODat?”, I believe we were acknowledging that we are all valuable, and that was the magic of the day: each individual and what they contribute to the community by simply showing up.