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Name It + Claim It - The Power of Having Your Commitments Mailed to You

Today, I received a commitment card in the mail! It completely surprised me. I am accustomed to handing these out at Center for Transforming Communities (CTC) events, but I am not used to being given one and invited to think deeply about the commitment that a conference, speaker, or community gathering has inspired in me.

In April 2018, I attended the Equity Summit hosted by Policy Link in Chicago with about 50 other people from Memphis. Over 4,000 people from around the country gathered to learn from, and with, each other about ways that, together, we can change the systems that govern our lives but fail to include everyone.

This work of impacting systemic change that will lead to a truly equitable society can feel overwhelming and impossible. But, it seemed a little more possible with thousands from across the country, and with the beginnings of a critical mass in my own city. With that sense of possibility, I completed my commitment card. The commitments on the card, and the aspirations they represent, have their origins in CTC’s work with neighborhoods across Memphis – the Shalom Zones. I want to share with you what I wrote in April and give you an update.

Commitment #1: Start a Community Land Trust

In May 2018, a group of neighbors considering the formation of the Binghampton Community Land Trust (BCLT) said, “Let’s do it!” A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a tool to permanently preserve the affordability of housing by putting the land in the control of the community. It is also a great tool for providing a pathway to home ownership. Today, the BCLT is incorporated and neighbors, along with CTC and other nonprofit partners, are developing a land acquisition strategy. While this affordable housing tool has its origins in the civil rights movement, it is new to Memphis! I encourage you to follow the BCLT’s progress and join them if you can. It will take many of us with many different skills to create a successful CLT!

Commitment #2: Start Homes for All in Memphis

The commitment to start a CLT comes out of the desire among Binghampton neighbors to ensure that as positive development happens in the neighborhood, long-time neighbors are not forced out by increasing rents and home values. Neighborhood residents identified this as their priority recently as CTC helped facilitate a process for neighbors to name what they want to see happen with Tax Increment Finance (TIF) dollars in Binghampton. The phrase that sums up what neighbors in Binghampton want is “development without displacement.” In fact, development without displacement is something that CTC has learned over the years is a priority for each of the Shalom Zones!

At the Equity Summit, I was introduced to a movement/organization called Homes for All. Advocating for development without displacement and for housing as a human right is central to who they are. Homes for All focuses on tenants’ rights - the main mission of their Nashville affiliate. (As you may know, Nashville is experiencing a lot of displacement issues as the cost of housing continues to go up.) The other thing that Homes for All across the country advocates for is community control of land through tools like the CLT.

In May, Kate Kananura (CTC staff), Joni Laney (CTC board and Binghampton Shalom Zone) and I went to Nashville for the southern convening of Homes for All. We are continuing to explore if CTC should have a role in starting a Homes for All movement in Memphis and what that will look like.

Commitment #3: Commit to Participate Fully in Memphis Equity Movement

In 2015, CTC clarified our values. One of the six that we named is “diversity, equity and inclusion.” As we named it, the CTC board and staff also committed ourselves to developing a more explicit commitment to racial equity in everything that CTC does. The board has lived into this commitment by making equity an explicit topic of most board meetings and is exploring ways to integrate it into our strategic plan. The staff have been attending conferences and having regular internal conversations around equity. In the fall of 2018, CTC hopes to bring the Racial Equity Institute (REI) to Memphis for a two-day workshop that will include participation of people from the Shalom Zones and other CTC partners. CTC realizes that without rigorous attention to persistent racial inequities, Memphis will never achieve the vision that every neighborhood be a place of social and economic mobility for anyone who desires it.

Commitment #4: Connect with Brad W.

As you know, CTC believes strongly in collaboration. We know that the work ahead requires all of us to work together. CTC has many collaborators and partners and is constantly in conversation with other organizations in Memphis that might present new opportunities to work together for the shalom of the city. One of those organizations is the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center (MSPC) whose executive director is Brad Watkins. As CTC pushes into the equity space and into housing as a human right, we are going to need to prepare ourselves for some “old-school” community organizing. No one does this better in Memphis than MSPJC. MSPJC is also the only organization that I know of in Memphis doing tenant organizing…this directly connects to Homes for All and development without displacement.

Once Brad and I get our calendars to line up, I can report progress on all these commitments from the Equity Summit! A partnership with organizations like MSPJC, and with you, will be essential for moving all these aspirations forward.

Because without equity, there is no shalom!

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