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Neighborhood Movement

The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative: Civic Engagement in Action

"Are you all really going to do any of this?"

The young man looked me in the eye, and effectively took me to task as a representative for the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI). I was there helping the initiative with its neighborhood retreat, leading a discussion with residents as part of a broader effort to engage the community. The young man awaited my response. It seemed that others shared his skepticism. With knowledge of previous fleeting efforts to improve their neighborhood and the wariness of outsiders that came with them, these concerns were not unfounded.

Startled by the earnest but piercing question, I paused for a beat and told him why DCPNI was different: “This isn’t just on me; it’s on all of us to make this work!”

I went on to say that unlike other programs he may have come across, DCPNI was here to stay and was committed to making a difference for an entire generation. This means that we would continue pushing after the fanfare had died down and the fancy gatherings subsided. Nodding his approval, the middle schooler, along with classmates and neighbors, affirmed that he was in it for the long haul.

Early that chilly Saturday morning, over 60 youth, parents, and other residents of Northeast D.C.'s Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood gathered a mile out of the District at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center. Along with several dozen volunteers, organizers, researchers and undergraduate students from Georgetown University, these community residents participated in a series of events to help shape the focus of the DC Promise Neighborhood.

Shuttled in from their Northeast DC neighborhood to the nearby Maryland suburb, community residents arrived to find a complimentary breakfast and a diverse group of volunteers greeting them with rousing applause. From the beginning, the event had the gravitas and energy of a Sunday morning service. Prayer, testimony, and tears filled the room throughout the event.

In concurrent sessions spread across the morning and afternoon, groups of about 20 youth and community residents huddled with volunteer facilitators and others to discuss the strengths, challenges, and opportunities facing their community. Students from Georgetown University assisted by manning whiteboards for all participants to see and taking more detailed notes for DCPNI staff. This guaranteed that all questions, comments, and concerns would be communicated to the initiative’s leadership and ensured that local priorities would be reflected in the program’s implementation.

Serving as a discussion leader for sessions on safe schools and communities, I had the opportunity to engage with a number of residents from the Kenilworth and Eastland Gardens neighborhoods about some of the most urgent priorities for the Promise Neighborhood. First, we discussed the assets in the community that could serve as a strong foundation for the Promise Neighborhood.

Getting the ball rolling, I asked “what do we think our biggest strengths are in the community?” Without missing a beat, most in the room replied “the people!” Consensus seemed to be that Parkside-Kenilworth’s biggest strength is its committed residents— the supportive and responsible adults throughout the neighborhood, many without school-age children of their own, who treat all local youth as their own.

Next we talked about some of the challenges that we hoped our collective efforts would address as the program took shape. I heard a number of sobering concerns about safety in and out of school. The primary concern voiced by youth throughout the day was that students lacked safe passage to and from school. Gangs from other neighborhoods have been known to cause trouble around campus grounds, and students didn’t feel like they had too many places to hang out after school hours. Some of the adults present also mentioned that there are serious health concerns about some hazardous waste dumped in the area that had yet to be removed.

Finally, we shared ideas about how DPCNI could tackle the issues we discussed. There were a number of solutions suggested, most of which entailed further community involvement. One example was the hosting of community forums that would bring local elected officials together with residents to encourage more dialogue on pressing public safety issues. Another idea offered was the hiring of more police officers and/or crossing guards that could provide a visible deterrent for destructive activity around youth. Discussion participants also supported the idea of organizing a push for more local facilities that could provide constructive and safe spaces for youth.

After the afternoon discussion wrapped up, one adult and one youth from each of the sessions presented to the entire group. With kids cheering their friends on and parents showing their appreciation for each other, stakeholders of all ages shared solutions they helped create and elected to share. Applause filled the room as honest feedback, commentary and suggestions came from those who know the neighborhood the best.

For the youth especially, it was clear that the discussion participants were proud of their contributions and excited that their input was valued. One young woman participating in my session was selected by her peers to present for the group, but was a little hesitant since she lacked public speaking experience. After my first request she shot back at me. “I can’t do it! Why don’t you ask one of the other adults to present!”

I replied, “you just did a great job sharing your ideas with a room full of twenty people. What difference does a few more make?” After a bit more cajoling and encouragement from the group, we eventually convinced her to take the mic in front of the room, and the next thing she knew she was confidently sharing the group’s thoughts with scores of people. Her presentation was met with applause and was wrapped up with a look of accomplishment.

DCPNI’s leadership clearly believes in securing community buy-in during the planning process. Including neighborhood residents in the process builds trust and gives people a better understanding of the new services that will be offered. Local residents can provide critical insight into community challenges and priorities, holding deep ties to the neighborhood that sometimes date back for generations. Perhaps most importantly, it empowers residents to take an active role in the transformation of their communities.

To close the day, the retreat leaders passed the microphones to anyone in the room who cared to share some closing words. Heartfelt thanks were expressed and folks who participated in different capacities showed enormous amounts of appreciation for each other. One stirring moment came when a parent who had recently returned to post-secondary education got the microphone. Facing the silent crowd, she shared that “although I was undecided about what I would be studying, today has left no doubt in my mind that I want to major in education.” The emotional revelation was met with an embrace from those around her and more warm applause from throughout the room. Testimonies like these were evidence of the impact the Promise Neighborhood effort is already having on its community residents.

Neighborhood Revitalization Conference, July 21-22

Save the date! On July 21-22, 2011, we will be hosting a 2-day conference in Washington, DC focused on the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), including Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, and other pieces of the NRI!

The event will feature speakers from the Obama administration, members of the National Neighborhood Alliance, and local practitioners.  We now have the location (Washington Court Hotel, near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC) and are working out additional details. Please direct all questions to Patrick Lester at plester@unca.org.

Generous support for this event has been provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Promise Neighborhoods, Collaboration, and Communities of Practice

Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director of Promise Neighborhoods, has co-authored a blog post on developing communities of practice for Promise Neighborhoods.

In the post, he highlights the current collaborative work of several Promise Neighborhoods grantees and high-scoring applicants from last year, including many UNCA members. Those highlighted were:

  • Several communities in Georgia, including two planning grantees (Atlanta and Athens) and two high-scoring applicants (Savannah and Macon) that are meeting in-person and via web conferences to share their work, specifically common challenges and opportunities in their state, such as the possibility of leveraging Federal investments in state longitudinal data systems.
  • Three planning grantees in Massachusetts (Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester) have met monthly under the direction of Mitchell Chester, the State’s Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to align their efforts across the state.
  • A group of high-scoring Promise Neighborhoods applicants in Chicago (Aspira, Children’s Home and Aid, Goodcity, Logan Square NA, and SGA Youth and Family Services) are meeting to review peer reviewer feedback from the 2010 competition and share  best practices as they begin their needs assessments and other planning activities outlined in the program’s notice inviting applications.
  • A working group of public agencies and philanthropic organizations in Los Angeles called the LA Neighborhood Revitalization Workgroup was established to support Promise Neighborhoods grantees and similar neighborhood-centered initiatives throughout the City.  It is a potential model for other cities to create platforms for information sharing among place-based neighborhood initiatives.
  • In New York City, a number of local foundations are meeting with representatives from the two grantees from the City (Abyssinian Development Corporation and Lutheran Family Health Centers) to learn more about Promise Neighborhoods, how it fits into other federal education and community development initiatives, and how funders can support high-scoring applicants in their planning and implementation efforts.

We are strong supporters of such collaboration, which is one reason why we helped create the National Neighborhood Alliance. In the post, Tackett gives us a nice shout-out, along with our friends and colleagues at the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink.

The Department of Education is currently exploring communities of practice (CoPs) for several education initiatives, including Promise Neighborhoods. Much of the work is being coordinated out of the Office of Educational Technology, which has launched a design research project on online CoPs. According to the post:

Social media technologies and Web 2.0 structures (Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn, Edmodo, etc.) will be explored as potential platforms for activities to support learning and teaching, including webinars, white papers, videos, peer-to-peer networking and problem solving, online training, collaborative environments, blogs, and forums.

Should be interesting. We will keep you posted.

White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Budget Briefing

The National Neighborhood Alliance convened a conference call on February 15 to go over the Obama administration's NRI-related budget requests for federal FY 2012.

Speakers included:

  • Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs
  • Luke Tate, Special Assistant to the Secretary at HUD
  • Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director of Promise Neighborhoods, U.S. Department of Education
  • Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff to the Office of Justice Programs at DOJ

A recording of the call can be found here. There is some distortion on the recording. Our apologies.

Recording Available: First Meeting of the National Neighborhood Alliance

A recording of the first meeting of the National Neighborhood Alliance is now available. Download it by right-clicking this link and saving it to your computer. It is a large (11 MB) mp3 file.

This conference call was held on October 27.


1. Introductions / What Is the National Neighborhood Alliance?

- Patrick Lester, United Neighborhood Centers of America
- Lindsay Torrico, United Way Worldwide

2. Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative Update

- Larkin Tackett, Deputy Director of Promise Neighborhoods, U.S. Department of Education
- Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff to the Office of Justice Programs at DOJ
- Luke Tate, Special Assistant to the Secretary at HUD

3. Los Angeles Neighborhood Revitalization Workgroup: This working group of public agencies and philanthropic organizations was organized in Los Angeles to support Promise Neighborhoods grantees and similar neighborhood-centered initiatives. It is a potential model for other cities across the country interested in supporting neighborhood-level work.

- Aileen Adams, Deputy Mayor, Office of Strategic Partnerships, City of Los Angeles
- Beatriz Solis, Director Healthy Communities Southern Region, The California Endowment
- PowerPoint presentation

4. NNA Member Updates

About the National Neighborhood Alliance

The National Neighborhood Alliance is a voluntary collaboration of national, state and local organizations that are supporting work in communities of concentrated poverty, with a particular focus on initiatives that are part of the Obama administration's Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.

NNA will serve as a resource and portal for linking and leveraging the many national, state and local organizations engaged in different aspects of this work. A current list of founding members can be found here:


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by Dr. Radut