Community Development Society

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We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For

July 14, 2020 – Outgoing Chair Address to CDS Members at 2020 Annual Business Meeting

Dear Colleagues & Friends:

I am hoping this is my last talk with you as an outgoing president/chair of CDS.

It’s time for the new generation of compassionate, transformative, diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership to carry out the promise of CDS (and CDS members) as a healing and community-strengthening catalyst for local resilience and vitality amidst and because of global challenges. And the 2020-2021 board you have before you today is that class of dynamic and collaborative servant leaders CDS needs to guide our next steps together.

Serving as your chair for the past year, and serving on the board for the past two and one-half years, was an honor and a responsibility I did not seek but was called to do, as each of us must do if we are to keep whole and healthy an organization that for me and hopefully for you, too, has been absolutely essential to our professional and personal development as human beings on this Earth.

It’s the second time I’ve helped CDS through a major developmental transition. Twenty-five years ago this month, I turned the mantle of CDS leadership over to my distinguished colleague, Moniecia West, after having served 4 years in the presidential track, including a shared final year, 1994-95, as co-president with Monieca, to help guide our beloved CDS in a time of great change both internally as an organization, and externally in the world.

Those mid-1990s saw the public advent of that new-fangled thing we called the inter-network and growing globalization of capitalism and market-based solutions for everything – both in the economy and in society. The promises then were that we would all be connected, that communication would freely flow and ideas and creativity and community would thrive.

Our world was changing quickly in front of our eyes, especially as the Internet and the World Wide Web became commercialized. Economic benefits continued to flow to those who already had opportunity and social/economic standing.

Those left behind in a world driven by expanding market forces included people who lacked opportunity because of their economic and/or social class, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, and their geography, places rural and urban left behind by so-called progress for some, but not shared equitably by all.

In my speech to kick-off my presidential year back in 1993, at the 25th anniversary conference, Rededicating Ourselves to Community, I posed the question and belief that we had lost our way as researchers, academics, and practitioners of community development, that we had forgotten our CDS Principles of Good Practice and that we, too, had indeed embraced a more market-driven orientation to community development.

I suggested then, strongly, that we needed to rededicate ourselves to community. We were in danger of leaving behind the ideal and the intentional practice to balance market forces with equal if not more investment in our civic fabric.

Today again, in 2020, dominating market forces must be balanced by the belief in and practice of a common good, in vigorous well-informed and productive community engagement on issues and opportunities of the day, and in intentional inclusion of the people and cultures that dominant cultures do not see or refuse to see. Today, more than ever, in our community development work and in our lives, we must practice and be advocates for racial, social, economic, and environmental justice.

At the advent now of our next 25 years of CDS, and hopefully 50!, we must FULLY embrace our role as changemakers –as changemakers for the better, for ALL.

It is who we are, who we have been, from the beginning of our creation days in 1969, after years of uprisings in the world and in the United States, where CDS began.

CDS was literally borne in 1969 out of those 1960s uprisings, out of years of reckoning with the clear imbalances in life conditions that spurred citizen action for racial, economic, social, and environmental justice.

Citizen action then put into place recognition, laws, and practices that propelled civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and a reckoning with income inequalities and abject poverty so dire as to foment the creation of the Great Society legislation in the U.S. and Food for Peace programs around the world.

The challenge is here again for us in CDS in 2020. The challenge for community is even greater. The solution of community is needed more than ever before as we face existential crises with COVID-19 and Climate Change unveiling worldwide health, education, infrastructure, and economic disparities by race, by region, and by economic and social class.

The tipping point, however, towards sustainable transformational change, for economic, social, and environmental justice, for racial justice, happened nearly two months ago and eight miles from where I live.

I live eight miles from 38th and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, where George Floyd was killed by four members of the Minneapolis Police Force for allegedly passing a $20 counterfeit bill at a convenience store. I also live one and a half-mile from where Philando Castile was killed by a Falcon Heights, Minnesota police officer four years ago, for an allegedly broken tail-light.

George Floyd’s murder, and the murders of so many Black men and women by law enforcement, and the institutional racism and classism and sexism and all the isms over the past centuries, compels us and forcefully tells us that our work in and for community development is not done, and has been in fact, undone.

We ourselves as an organization were nearly undone, too, over the past few years by our own inattention to one another. We can, we are, and we must continue do better.

For it is again a time of reckoning. It is a time of rebuilding. Not of the old normal. Not of the new normal. It is a time of building a new society -- free of racial, social, economic, and environmental inequity, free from racial, social, economic, and environmental injustice. It is time to build a society where diversity, inclusion, and equity are cherished as the necessary foundations for a healthy community and a shared, sustainable prosperity.

As I noted 27 years ago in my address to the 25th anniversary CDS conference, “We need community – people in covenant with one another and their environment – because being in community replenishes our character, our trust, and our solidarity. Without community, technology and a free market tend to create collective passivity and inequity. Without community, the state societies we build to coordinate the existence of millions of strangers remain anonymous and formidable."

“For me, community is ideally a place where love is experienced, where respect and compassion develop, where diversity is honored and where basic life needs are met."

“That is why community development – the work we do – is so important. Our work provides the foundation for other life activities. Our work fosters the interdependency created by person-to-person bonds, the interconnectedness of environment and humanity, and community-based decision-making. It teaches critical thought, ethical consideration, careful planning, and involvement of all stakeholders so that the passions of material gain – of the market – do not overwhelm human development and social and environmental justice."

It is our time, again, CDS, in 2020. We ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are needed so much, because our work, our Principles of Good Practice, are ultimately about engaging community members to give to and shape community, to build community, so community returns our shared investments to sustain all of us, not just some of us.

And CDS needs you, to be active members of the CDS community, to serve on and lead committees, to run for the board, to share your talents and ideas in research, writing, and outreach, to donate to the CDS endowment, and more.

We need you to invite others to join CDS:

  • to raise up the community development perspective and insights for a world sorely in need of comprehensive systemic change
  • to share know-how in the interrelatedness of people, places, issues and opportunities
  • to counter the narrative of division with the more difficult but more hopeful narrative of common unity, of community.

For it is in community that our local resilience to global challenges is strengthened and sustained.

Today before we leave, in our For the Good of the Society discussion led by Anthony Cook, our CDS Secretary, we will begin the journey to update our CDS Principles of Good Practice.

We want to state more explicitly that we “Engage community members in learning about and understanding THE IMPACT OF SYSTEMIC INEQUALITIES ON OUR COMMUNITIES.” We want to build on our heritage of advancing equity and inclusion, not just for some communities and some people, but for all

Before we get to that work together, I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve and work with my fellow members of the CDS Board and with you, my fellow members of CDS overall. I want to especially thank members of the Missouri wing of CDS who devoted years to putting on the awesome 2019 CDS conference last summer that celebrated our 50 years of existence and sent us out renewed for the next 50.

I want to thank the Fargoans and others who have been devoted to organizing the 2020 annual conference in Fargo, North Dakota, USA, which should have been happening right now but is postponed due to COVID until 2021. I want to thank those who are planning for our 2022 conference for Portland, Oregon, USA

And I want to again my fellow members of the 2019-2020 board, and welcome the folks who have been elected to the board this round, for your commitment to CDS, and in your honor and by your inspiration encourage other CDS members to join and chair committees and run for board seats in the coming year.

Finally, I thank Justin, Eric, Anthony, and KP for serving so ably with me on the CDS Executive Committee, being willing to work when needed as challenges and opportunities arose this past year.

And now, I turn your attention to Incoming Chair KP Williams to introduce you to the 2020-2021 CDS Board members.

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