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Co-creating Sustainable, Neighborhood Change in Memphis: Nothing about us, without us!

The Tamarack Institute is a keen, thoughtful, and deep observer of how community change happens at the beginning of the 21st century, while also being participants in, and facilitators of, that community change.

Through the generosity of the Assisi Foundation of Memphis and the Tamarack Institute itself (no doubt through the generous support of their funders), I am in Toronto attending my first Tamarack gathering – Community Change Institute 2016.

I plan to submit daily blog(s) about the experience and what I am learning on the blog page for Center for Transforming Communities (CTC). I have been following the work of Tamarack Institute for more than five years. I am grateful to learn directly from them and to share with them from the Shalom Zones in Memphis. (Plus, I was asked to blog as a condition of my Tamarack scholarship. :-))

If you enjoyed the event that CTC hosted a few years back with John McKnight, Peter Block and Walter Brueggemann, you will appreciate a Tamarack event. There is a mix of listening to thought leaders, small group conversations, and creative, artistic ways to engage. All of which lead to co-creating the learning experience of the gathering.

In fact, “co-creating” is a term that has come up a lot in my first day here. I remember first hearing the term at seminary in the late 1990’s. When applied to neighborhoods, it means that those most impacted (those who live, work and worship there) are full participants in both setting a vision for their neighborhood and acting in ways that lead to the fulfillment of that vision.

A short-hand way of saying this is, “Nothing about us, without us!”

The opposite of this is when public institutions, social service agencies, churches, etc. decide what good they will do for the community, but do not allow the community itself to shape the good the institutions seek. At CTC, we call this “doing to or for” instead of “doing with.”

In my experience, most people like to think that they “do with,” and most like to think they co-create. But, it is a hard shift to make. It means allowing those you serve to shape the service they receive. It means letting non-church members in your neighborhood shape what happens inside the walls of your church. It means letting go of control. Letting go of credit.

While CTC doesn’t get it right all the time, we try to always “do with.” One of CTC’s core assumptions behind our work is that “neighborhood stakeholders must define and shape their own neighborhoods.”

I am so glad to be among nearly 300 people from across the world who agree with a basic assumption behind the work of CTC and the Shalom Zones in the Mid-south.

I have five days with them!

I am eager to bring all my learnings back to Memphis.


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