At Tuesday’s Lunch & Learn we had the opportunity to hear from Robert (T-Ray) Manly from the Dallas Leadership Foundation. During his talk, T-Ray shared with us how the Dallas Leadership Foundation has helped many neighborhoods across Dallas organize and build their capacity to create change. The following are some of the highlights of the presentation:
How is DLF involved in neighborhoods?
Dallas Leadership Foundation operates in three three core areas: Neighborhood Revitalization, a Youth Leadership Movement, and Prison Collaboration. All are focused on gospel-centered, common good transformation.
Why is the area of Neighborhood Revitalization critical to Dallas?
One primary reason is the future of our kids. Neighborhood insecurity takes a toll on our children, and makes Dallas a difficult place for children to grow up and receive a quality education. This perpetuates the cycle of lack of hope and well-being in our neighborhoods. T-Ray cited these statistics on children in Dallas*:
- Only 4% of high school seniors read at a 12th grade standard; only 1% compete in mathematics at a 12th grade standard
- Just 42% students Dallas County are reading at or above grade level in the third grade (a key age indicator for determining future educational success)
- Texas ranks next to last among states for hunger and child hunger
- 29.3% of children in Dallas County (more than 190,000 total) live in families below the federal income poverty level.
*Greater Dallas Movement Day: Why Now? Fact Sheet
What learning has DLF developed to help come alongside neighborhoods that are seeking change?
One of the key ways that DLF serves is by helping identify neighborhood leaders and helping their creation of a Neighborhood Plan. DLF invests a significant amount of time in identifying and empowering local leaders because, “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”
Characteristics of a neighborhood leader:
- Has direction and vision
- Keeps everything organized
- Possesses the ability to motivate others
- Builds on assets and addresses deficiencies
- Includes everyone in the neighborhood
- Knows how to get things done
As neighborhood leaders emerge, they become responsible for forming a leadership team that helps others become involved, shapes the organization and launches projects, and actively trains and empowers replacements to take leadership roles after them. This establishes continuity and continued momentum for future neighborhood transformation.
Additionally, creating a Neighborhood Plan gives communities the opportunity to tell the story of their neighborhood, identify the assets and the needs present, and thoughtfully discuss how to move forward.
What are they keys for the early stages of neighborhood transformation?
Beyond identifying key leaders and stakeholders who will form a leadership team, those involved in the process should:
- Determine jointly what areas encompass your neighborhood. You must be able to define your boundaries in order to address the needs.
- Begin with listening. Give people plenty of time and space to express what they’re seeing in the neighborhood.
- Focus on the positive, but address the negative by asking, “What do we have to work with?”
- Get everyone involved
- Make a list of what needs to be done, and share progress with the group
- Give yourself a few early wins, and don’t overwhelm the group with too many tasks at the beginning
In one example of how listening and a small win that led to a big impact, T-Ray shared that in a neighborhood they were partnering with, there was a nice local park that seemed to be underutilized. When talking with a mother of young kids who lived across the street from the park, it became clear that parents resisted letting their kids visit the park because of dangerously fast traffic on the surrounding roads. The neighborhood worked with DLF to petition for the installation of speed-bumps around the park, and the area is now a more popular and safe destination for local residents.
For those interested in starting small with neighborhood collaboration, consider joining an online neighborhood resource like www.nextdoor.com, which provides an informal but effective way to begin connecting with neighbors, and discussing the needs and assets of your neighborhood.
As BODY continues looking for ways to mobilize the Church for the well-being of Oak Cliff, let us know how these topics are resonating with you, and of other potential partners like Dallas Leadership Foundation who can help make community transformation a reality.