EVER SINCE I ARRIVED in Jacksonville in 2006, I’ve been involved in community work and volunteerism. One of the things I realized early on was that you have two different nonprofit worlds. You have grassroots organizations that are doing almost all their work using volunteers and on a very, very small budget. And then you have organizations with multi-million dollar budgets committed for several years, but they don’t always reflect the community.
I can’t run my program successfully unless someone else is running a program to help kids read and do math. We’re all in this together.”
If we are going to address issues in the Black community, those grassroots organizations should be leading from the front—not just bringing them to the table or trying to get their opinion. Honestly, we’ve tried a lot of different programs and strategies in the Black community, and we haven’t seen the kind of turnaround we want. The one thing we have not tried is allowing Black-led organizations to be the ones leading the change.
Bringing a community together is hard work. We can do it, but we have to be thoughtful in our approach. I think too often we see a great program that works for 100 students, and we try to dump a lot of money in that program and hope it scales right. But there is no one program out there that’s going to be able to scale across the nation. We need these pockets of communities to come together. It takes community, and we can’t do it without them.
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It’s really about finding common alignment and doing the work. Too often, everybody has their agenda and goal they’re trying to accomplish. We get so stuck in that, we can’t find room to collaborate. The best way to get partnership and collaboration going is to make decisions fast and try something out—get people working together. We can do a lot of meetings and theorize on things, but if we can get together and actually work together, that builds trust in the partnership.
People need to understand that no matter how strong your one program is, we need each other’s programs to really make this thing work. I’m passionate about STEM and technology, but I can’t run my program successfully unless someone else is doing a program to help kids read and do math. We’re all in this together.