future thinking in baton rouge

The National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) held a Southern Community Development and Affordable Housing Symposium on April 24th. The event, co-hosted by NACEDA’s Southern Caucus and the Southern Regional Office of NeighborWorks America, included leaders in affordable housing and community development from South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi and Washington DC. The symposium was broken into two segments, “The Next Generation of Neighborhood Level Community Leaders” and “The Intersection of Community Development and the Affordable Care Act”.

As a member of the millennial generation pursuing a career in the community development field, I was a panelist during the first session (pictured above), described below in an excerpt from NACEDA’s most recent newsletter.

Texas Association of CDCs Executive Director Matt Hull moderated the session on developing the next generation of neighborhood-level leaders. The panel included Joy Banks of Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance in Baton Rouge; Emily Roush Elliott, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow in Greenwood, Mississippi; Jenna Emmons of Ability Housing in Jacksonville, Florida; and Dr. Alicia Petersen of Howard University in Washington, DC, who oversees the university’s community development minor. Ideas included offering a career ladder of opportunity, quality of life benefits, incentives involving student loan repayment, inclusion in meetings and networking opportunities, and professional development training.

Asked to discuss what I believe attracts young people to the field of community development, I shared a perspective I have gained through teaching undergraduate students over the last few years. While there is no disputing that community development work focuses on the needs of groups and individuals who struggle economically, the younger generation baulks at language that characterizes this group as “those poor people”. Young people today are drawn to a rhetoric that eschews words such as charity, benevolence, and altruism, for a deeply rooted understanding of the interdependence of people and groups of people. In order to draw the next generation of community leaders to the field, and to have those leaders make unprecedented strides, organizations need to revise their vocabulary (and their mission and programs if necessary) to reflect views of partnership and respect, rather than aid.

Many of the organizations present at the NACEDA gathering are at the forefront of the curve in terms of making these types of changes. Despite these challenges, the variety of ages of attendees at the symposium suggested that attracting young people to the field of community development will be less of a challenge than harnessing the potential of all involved to realize tangible community level change.