Movement City, LCW’s Youth Network held their end of the year extravaganza – The MCA Awards Night! Complete with the red carpet, the dazzling gowns, the paparazzi and lots of music dance and poetry. The 2 hour show was MC’d by the lovely and talented Kaovani Holquin – former MC member and now a Berkely College student – and dashing MC staffer Chris Benitez. Nominees for such awards as Best Female Vocals, Best Short Film, Best Music Video, Best New Fashion Design were featured in a video presentation and winners names were ripped from sealed envelopes in dramatic fashion. Winners were then interviewed back stage. It was an amazing night and a great reminder of all the incredible talent in Lawrence and in the Movement City Youth Network. Congratulations to the MC staff and all the young people who made this year a great one and a fun one.
This is my definition: Weaving is the intentional practice of helping people to build – and connect to – more relationships of trust and value., mostly by virtue of being genuinely interesting in building and connecting oneself to more relationships of trust and value. The generosity inherent in the act of weaving can only come from one place – the genuine caring and curiosity of the weaver…the motivation to want this person in your network. If that is the case, the weaver is able to open up all kinds of space for relationship building, action and reciprocity.
In weaving, as in all else, we need to be mostly conscious of the need to “create space” for good things to happen. The act of weaving threads or yarns into fabric is an apt metaphor in this regard; the action of weaving happens in and through space! So, the prerequisite for weaving among human relationships requires first – the opening of space. All “rooms” (spaces, moments) speak to our aspirations and fears in very specific ways. When I enter a new environment (room) – a meeting, a building, and event, a classroom, a program – as an aware human being I am both ‘feeling’ and thinking but feeling happens a lot faster than thinking. Literally I am sensing clues to figure out whether this is a good place for me; Am I welcome? Do I belong? Is this place safe? These spaces and moments are best understood simply as ‘human environments.’ All environments feed certain things and starve other things. Weaving is a critical element of the room in that it can be something that helps feed aspiration and mitigate fear, opening space for good things to happen.
For instance, when I go Christmas shopping I usually have to go to the mall 3 or 4 times. The first time I go it must look hilarious because I am walking really fast in and out of stores. I go in with a degree of curiosity and a general sense of pursuit of value yes? But those sensibilities quickly get snuffed out by a whole host of things…. the most powerful of which is my own fear. And Fear closes space more than any other single thing. Fear forecloses options and opportunity. In this case my natural fear of the retail environment gets quickly amped up by the smiling sales person who makes a bee line for me. Aggressive movements, facial expressions that are out of proportion to the situation (ie the salesperson “so happy to see you smile” ) the sense that this person is going to make me make a choice before I am ready etc. – all these things conspire to close space and foreclose my ability and desire to stay, linger, taste, look, smell , engage, buy. So…. I book it out of there as fast as possible.
Now our organizations are not retail stores and our weavers are not salespeople, but we are trying to create environments that people will linger in long enough to find value a bring out their best stuff. In a retail environment – bringing out our “best stuff” means spending a lot of money. In our environments, this means something very different – our time, our energy, sometimes our money yes. But even more importantly, our best stuff is our generosity of spirit, our hopefulness, our trust, our tolerance for difference and change, our caring selves, our not fearful selves. Weaving is the genuine human caring and love that feeds and encourages these good things.
So…Here are some of my core reflections about weaving:
First rule…weaving is not about acting..it is about being. Our aspiration is that Weavers don’t do…. Weavers are, and weaving is a practice that comes from a genuine place of curiosity and caring. In my view the most important thing about weaving is that it is a practice..not a program. As a practice it is something we can all/should all experiment with, get training in, get supported doing – so that we can all get better.
This leads directly to the Second rule…As a weaver…as I meet you and get to know you….”I am not an expert…I am not a friend..I am not a professional..I am not, not a professional.” This is what I am – “caring and curious and here, right now.” Lucky you, lucky me, lucky us!
The Third Rule of Weaving is: practice Reciprocity. Treat people as you would be treated. This includes having expectations of the person you are engaged with. Expect respect/offer respect. Egage with your whole person as a way of inviting engagement from a whole person.
This leads to Rule Number 4: The core capacity for weaving is self-knowledge; Understand and work to break down your positional power. As a Weaver you do carry positional power – if for no other reason than you occupy the space that others are coming into for the first time…you wear a special shirt etc., you are sitting at a table that they have to approach..you are a different color…you are already an inhabitant where they are a visitor. Positional power dynamics close space – if you are perceived as the powerful one and they as the needy one you have already foreclosed dozens of opportunities for good things to happen. You have taken small measures of space and closed it up. You must move quickly and genuinely to break down the positional power/one-way-street expectations and assumptions that they might have and that you might fall into and open space. There are many of these expectations and assumptions we can explore, but the most seductive of these is the “expert-learner” dynamic. You are the expert in this environment, I come to you with a question.
Because of this dynamic, our practice of weaving starts with one essential mantra: “Your question is my question.” If we practice nothing else, the practice of feeling this, believing this, expressing this at the point of contact will do so much to shatter the ‘expert-learner’ dynamic and open space for relationship, growth and reciprocity. This can be very subtle.
Ms. Palombo comes into Our House. She has heard there is a youth program but knows nothing about MC. She comes in and – expecting this to be the usual social service place – starts asking the guide about “how to apply…how much it costs…when does it start…etc.)
Scenario #1 – Guides expectation is that he/she has to be the expert. Starts answering questions…but a little unsure of some things…will (as we all do) get somethings wrong..state things that may not be true..get flustered….go internal, where the voice in the head starts saying “what do I say next” as opposed to ‘what do I want to know about this person – this situation next.” This quickly becomes an unsatisfying conversation for both parties AND we still don’t know anything about Ms. Polumbo.
Scenario #2 – Guides expectation that they are a weaver. Starts by saying..Hmmm not sure, been wondering about that myself…maybe we can find out together what the situation is. I call this “going sideways”: using language and physicality to open up space for a variety of encounters to take place, as opposed to closing space. So the weaver says..lets go find out together, and starts asking Ms. Polumbo questions about herself and kids. The weaver also gets active…gets up and walks her around to the computer. Moving together, talking together, exploring together.
Scenario #1 closes space by establishing or reinforcing a static power dynamic, one way conversation and dependency. Scenario #2 opens space through invitation – to walk, talk, explore.
Stay tunes for the next installment – a reflection on the nature of space and description of things that open space and things that close space.
Recently the Board of Impact Silver Spring in Maryland, one of our partner networks, asked if we could “Flip Video” the Our House Campus at LCW to give them a better sense of how we use space to support the life of our Network. So this past Friday night, December 18th 2009, I took a little walk through the space. A little background before you look at the video:
OUR HOUSE Campus is comprised of 2 buildings and 2 parking areas which have been reclaimed by Lawrence CommunityWorks after almost 25 years of abandonement and deterioration. The buildings are a part of the old St. Laurence O’Toole Parish which was built around the turn of the last century. Our House is a 4 story former elementary school – a $5Million gut rehab – which has been restored as a green building with lots of historic details intact. It is partially powered by PVC and Geothermal and made extensive use of recycled materials. That building houses the Movement City Youth Network, Family Asset Building and the Homeownership Center. The large lobby and first floor meeting rooms are also used for a wide range of Network functions and activities. The Hennigan Center is a 19th Century Queen Anne “mansion” which began as a home and then served as the rectory for priests in the parish. LCW renovated that building for use as a business office and the home for the Community Organizing, Real Estate, Network Forum and Resource Development Offices. It is also the home for the Movement City Residency Program..7 congregate style living units for recent college grads from the Lawrence and Boston area who teach young people at Movement City. These young 20-somethings get free housing in exchange for spending a part of each week as instructors, mentors and tutors.
The campus is the centerpiece network space and was 6 years and almost $7 million in the making!!! It took the hard political, fundraising, planning, and physical work of hundreds of network members over a long period of time to build this home..and now it will be OUR HOUSE for generations to come. Welcome to Our House!
November 19, 2009 – Boston, Mass. – Lawrence Community Works (LCW) received the TD Charitable Foundation’s annual “Housing for Everyone” Award along with a $75,000 grant which will be used to support affordable housing initiatives in Essex County. Now in its fifth year, the “Housing for Everyone” Award competition offers housing non-profits a chance to win funds for projects that help to stabilize the housing environment in communities where TD Bank does business. Grants ranged from $10,000 to $100,000. Lawrence Community Works was the 1st Place Winner in Massachusetts!!
LCW’s approach to community revitalization is built around a three-pronged neighborhood stabilization strategy that focuses on investing in both the social and physical landscape of Lawrence, Mass. They provide real estate development, asset building, and foreclosure mitigation programs designed to revitalize the physical, economic, civic, and social landscape of Lawrence. Through the “Housing for Everyone” program, the TD Charitable Foundation donated a total $2 million in 2009, and has invested nearly $5.3 million in affordable housing to date.
About the TD Charitable Foundation
The TD Charitable Foundation is the charitable giving arm of TD Bank N.A., which operates as TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®, and is one of the 15 largest commercial banking organizations in the United States. The Foundation’s mission is to serve the individuals, families and businesses in all the communities where TD Bank operates, having made over $53 million in charitable donations since its inception in 2002. The efforts of the Foundation are coordinated locally through TD Bank’s community relations departments and are focused on the areas of affordable housing, education and financial literacy, and the environment. More information on the TD Charitable Foundation, including an online grant application, is available at www.TDBank.com.
The LCW Network has hundreds of volunteers who put many thousands of hours into making Lawrence CommunityWorks the effective and engaging environment that it is day in and day out. This year, led by Membership Coordinator Altagracia Portorreal, we have started a new tradition – giving thanks for all the wonderful people who make up the network. So on November 20th, the LCW staff served a Pot-Luck Thanksgiving Dinner to over 160 Network Volunteers! It was a wonderful evening of fellowship and fun – with lots of good food and moving testimony from members and staff about the past year of success and struggle and personal transformation. Much of the Network is run by member volunteers, including almost 25 “MemberLink” positions which typically require 30 hours per month. Last years Network Member Convention utilized over 110 volunteers who logged an estimated 1200 hours in planning, set up, child care, facilitation, food service, translation, guiding, registration, outreach and stage managing. Network members are routinely involved in planning and organizing events such as network nights and open house events, FAB fundraisers and socials, and communtiy meetings. This years “YES WE WILL” campaign had over 1000 members and over 80 regular volunteer who did doorknocking and canvassing, registered voters and put on 3 major events: The YWW Kick Off, the YWW Filing Day Celebration and the YWW Mayoral candidates Forum — collectively these events were attended by over 800 people. Members engagement and volunteer coordination is the work of all staff in all departments at LCW, but the process is coordinated by Collective Action and Mobilization (CAM) and mostly by Altagracia with support from Nelson Butten and Spencer Buckholz. Prior to joining the staff last February, Altagracia had been a long time LCW Network member. We are lucky to have her and blessed to have som many incredible talented and dedicated members who give so much of themselves to make this Network WORK!!
On Monday, September 28th, Lawrence CommunityWorks and the Lawrence Police Department were honored by MetLife Foundation for our accomplishments in reducing crime and improving quality of life in the North Common neighborhood. The MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Awards ceremony took place at 4:30 p.m. at Our House, 168 Newbury Street, Lawrence. This Award, sponsored by MetLife Foundation and administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), recognize partnerships between community development groups and police departments that have reduced crime and spurred housing development, economic activity and improved community services in low and moderate-income communities. MetLife presented the First-Place Neighborhood Revitalization Award to the Lawrence partners, who were selected from more than 650 applicants nationwide.
The LCW Nework has over 6000 members as of September 2009. What does it mean to be a member? How do you determine what makes for an “active” member versus a “paper member”? These are some of the questions that we get confronted with both inside the network and outside. To address these questions and to provide a framework for the IT infrastrucuture we are developing around gauging member engagement in the network we have developed a ‘Typology of Network Member Engagement”. (see below)
A few things about member engagement in the LCW Network and this Typology. First, we do not use the “active vs paper member” distinction to drive our thinging about membership. In our view there is a range of “good” engagement in the spectrum of how and why people are involved: from light and narrowly self interested to deep and altruistic. There are also a variety of functional ways to be involved — which hopefully are designed to invite in and effectively employ a wide range of gifts and skills and knowledge. So variety and flexibility are important. Next, it is not optimal for everyone to move from the light/self interested to the deep/altruistic; getting more involved and taking more ownership along the way. This is not for everyone and it should be an option not an expectation. On the other hand it follows that the pools of more engaged members are mostly going to come from the larger pools of people who have spent some time testing and tasting the waters so to speak. So having large numbers from which smaller numbers of people can self-select greater levels of engagement is an important mathematical element of member engagement. Finally, the Typology is called a “typology” because more than gauging “levels of involvement” we want to gauge and understand “types” of involvement – following the demand so-to-speak so that we are not walking around with too many idealized concepts of what “good engagement” is. The tool that we have developed is meant as a guide to give us decent information from which, it is understood, we can better shape an environment that optomises the opportunities for meaningful engagement my members.
Yes We Will is a campaign to increase engagement in the political process in Lawrence. As a part of that strategy, on August 7th, YWW organizers hosted the first annual “Filing Day Celebration” to celebrate the democratic process, thank candidates for running and provide a mixer for personal voter/candidate interactions. Over 250 residents and 30 candidates for school committee, city council and the mayor’s race came out in the sunshine to meet and greet with music and lots of food. As a part of the program, every candidate was introduced individually to the crowd to great ovation and was given a “Candidates Goody Bag” with useful items like Dr, Shoul’s foot pads, anti-bacterial hand lotion and a small telescope to, as Altagracia Portorreal put it, “keep your eye on the future of Lawrence as you run for office.” It was a wonderful night of fun and unity and we hope that Filing Day will become a tradition in the political process – a day to mark the start of the campaign and to thank those who put themselves on the line to represent the people of Lawrence.