Transforming Community

By M.E. Hill

A community based development plan that is transformational in its outlook is urgently needed. African Americans in Western New York are challenged by critical quality of life needs. The future of children and young adults is being severely affected by the concentrated poverty, economic depression and education failure we have been experiencing for generations. A public engagement that brings out the best in our community can produce a sound and thoughtful plan.

We must aim high to overcome losses and sufferings of an oppression driven by public policies that are personally debilitating and socially destructive. A transformational plan requires cooperation and sharing vision, values, and commitment. The value of a plan is determined, first, by the investment of Black people to empower themselves as community builders. Second, Building community capacity for transformational development is building people’s capacity, developing human resources, and greater humanity. Human capacity expresses the creative-productive abilities of people for development in compassionate, economic dynamic and socially transforming ways.

In years past, there have been community based plans developed with the participation of neighborhood advocates and block club members. BUILD of Buffalo and later Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve would host annual town hall planning meetings to write ‘The People’s Plan,”or “The People’s Budget.” This level of community organization and leadership began diminishing as the aging leaders of. the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s retired or passed away. Similarly the organizations of those times which engaged people in effective and meaningful community and economic development opportunities also declined.

Now is a good time to revisit the best practices of community organizing and to get busy negotiating an outlook on the next four years in Buffalo’s Black Community. It is the responsibility of politicians to respect the right and knowledgeable capacity of people to help shape the plan that determines when, where and how public resources are to be used. To serve the best interests of all citizens, a sizable portion of whom are challenged by urgent quality of life needs. We must reconcile the disparities affecting people and neighborhoods not experiencing the “Buffalo renaissance”.

There must be a motivating vision backed by a dynamic plan whose costs and benefits, risks and rewards are known. What is needed is an empowering plan that the average person is clear about and willing to act on as investment worthy. What vision do we share publicly for the future of Black people in Buffalo, for black children, for all children? What of Black folk’s historical struggle for social and economic justice and the mass incarceration of young black men? In this election year do Black Lives matter enough, to demand attention to creating jobs accessible to young adults?

Quality of life concerns affecting African Americans from the 60’s through this new century have not diminished. In fact, many people feel we have experienced a continuous deterioration in the quality of life conditions affecting the well-being of the average Black person. These times reflect historical and contemporary issues of an oppressed community. However, beyond needs and crises, there is the creative potential of African Americans whose history indicates a self-empowered capacity to solve problems and make transformational change when challenged by critical life conditions. To look forward to a future with a greater quality of life, of wellness, safety and prosperity; we cannot continue to follow the same behaviors, practices and policies that have failed to provide satisfactory results, reversing generations of community decline.

The success of developing a transformational plan to overcome self-oppression and White supremacy is dependent upon beginning in a good place of clarity in humane values, motivating our courage and passion for human rights and justice. A courage of men, women and youth who drew the line and said enough is enough, boycotting, marching, protesting and suing for civil and human rights in the U.S. Community building that yields greater justice and opportunity begins with honest and thoughtful assessment of where we are as a community, as well as the causes by which we have arrived at these conditions of both great need and opportunity.

Reconciling the truth of causes requires courage and compassion which have been abundantly demonstrated by black folks throughout American history. From a national and global view, our times reveals an instability that challenges the humanity of all people to counter the global disparities experienced by people of color all over the world. These are disparities that demand a needed shift in culture from old world elitism supported by the political class and business elite to an egalitarian culture capable of supporting wellness for all.