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What's in a Name? - Reflecting on "Center for Transforming Communities"

Sometimes I get strange looks when I tell people where I work. “Center for Transforming Communities? So that’s what you do? Transform communities?” they’ll ask, with raised eyebrows.

Well, yes. And not exactly.

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve learned that a lot of thought went into choosing our name when we were formed back in 2009. And I’ve learned that when you unpack the name, you can learn a lot about who we are and what we stand for.

“Center for Transforming Communities” can be read two ways, depending on where you place your emphasis.

First, it’s Center for Transforming Communities. Reading it this way implies something forceful, as if CTC staff are charged with going out and transforming communities ourselves – fundamentally changing them to meet our understanding of “transformed.” But, that’s not what we do. Instead, we aspire to come alongside communities to encourage and support them as they seek to realize their own dreams and aspirations for the future. We don’t transform communities. The communities transform themselves, and we’re there to help if we can.

Which brings us to the second way of reading our name: a Center for Transforming Communities. This, I think, is a better reflection of who we are: a resource center dedicated to supporting communities that seek to transform themselves. CTC offers numerous workshops, trainings, and planning opportunities to community leaders looking to make their neighborhoods better places to live, work, learn, and play. We bring leaders together through our Communities of Shalom formation program. We help them identify and mobilize their existing resources through our training in Asset Based Community Development and, recently, through the work of our Neighborhood Connectors. And, we celebrate their accomplishments while bringing them together to share and learn from one another.

There’s another dimension to this second reading of our name, too. Our building, The Commons on Merton, is both at the literal center of the City of Memphis and a center of activity for diverse organizations, ministries, and associations serving the entire Memphis community. Once a run-down, nearly-empty church building, The Commons is now a vibrant gathering place for people from throughout the Midsouth who are concerned about the future of our communities and who want to work together for social change and social justice. It has become a model of what-could-be for underutilized spaces in urban neighborhoods everywhere – and inseparable from who we are at CTC.

There isn’t much about our organization that’s traditional. We’re not like other nonprofit organizations. We have grown organically in response to the opportunities, assets, people, and ideas that surround us. And, this can sometimes make it difficult to communicate what we do.

But really, when you look closely, it’s all in our name.

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