Monday, February 28, 2011

A Do-for-self Project We Can Do Ourselves

21st Ward Alderman Antonio French needs our help. 

In collaboration with the Acts Partnership, a community-based development organization (CBDO), the alderman wants to purchase a vacant, historic church in the O’Fallon neighborhood on the corner Red Bud and Rosalie Streets. French has issued an urgent call to raise $15,000 to purchase the church. The Incarnate Word Foundation has agreed to match the donations.

"If you can donate $50 today, French wrote, "The Incarnate Word Foundation will match your donation with another $50."

Sounds like a plan.

Recently, I established When We Dream Together, a nonprofit dedicated to delivering the information and resources to help ordinary people enact extraordinary change in long-ignored urban areas. Part of our mandate is to encourage participation in projects and initiatives that African Americans can do themselves, without government or corporate support.

This project, in its initial stage, offers such an opportunity. The church is just a block away from O’Fallon Park where French has hosted a number of outdoor concerts within the past two years. The concerts have reinforced a sense of community and helps alter the image of an area singularly tagged for criminal activity. French and the Acts Partnership want to turn the church into a community center -- a hub for positive community interaction.

I'm not trying to co-opt the project but from my conversations with French, I have a pretty good take on his vision. It's a do-for-self vision. With our support and matching donations from Incarnate word, the church can be purchased and WE can help turn it into a mechanism for holistic inner-city change.

On Sunday, I wrote about the need to put wayward youth to work this summer. Perhaps this is the project where former gang members can work alongside caring adults and professional volunteers. Imagine the sense of dignity and ownership if youth rehabbed the building and helped build a powerful institution in their own neighborhood. Maybe French could use his clout to secure a few neighboring vacant lots that can be turned into community gardens. Kids and adults can grow badly needed, nutritious food that can be sold in the neighborhood. While they earn, they can learn. I don't think French would turn away folks who want to offer computer training classes or programs in the building that address violence, low self-esteem, childhood obesity, physical fitness, business development and other community woes and needs.  

The point is, this project provides an opportunity to educate and care for kids and offers a dignified path to community empowerment. French is doing his part. He's working to add structure, sustainability, safety and community in a disadvantaged area in need of serious uplift.

Let's help him out. If we dream and work collectively, we can raise the $15,000 and, along the way, develop a new paradigm for urban redevelopment in our city.

To donate and more information click here.

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