For 25 years, the North Carolina Community Development Initiative has been leading efforts to revitalize North Carolina’s most challenged communities. Our early work focused on strategically assembling and investing funds in community development organizations across the state. More recently, the Initiative has been working side-by-side with community leaders across North Carolina to develop and implement plans for intentional community revitalization. The Initiative’s partnerships in rural, eastern counties as well as urban and suburban Triangle communities have presented an opportunity to reflect on what should be considered when stepping into a community:
- Keep it Local. Intentional, lasting community revitalization must come from the community itself. The Initiative’s community revitalization work is not Initiative work, but rather community work. Successful community work is squarely located within the community that the work is serving. It is guided, if not led, by those who know the community best. As one of our recent interns shared in a reflection on her work in eastern North Carolina, community members are the ones with the capacity to harness community assets and transform these assets into long-term prosperity.
- It’s Not All About the Money. Community revitalization is, of course, about money. We need individuals, businesses, and philanthropists to finance lending and investments that support affordable housing, small businesses, and community services. However, money alone is not enough to create a landscape in which a community will thrive. Communities thrive when financial investments are complemented by support services such as housing counseling or home ownership opportunities for public employees as well as smart local policies that address systemic barriers to wealth building.
- Patience (and Patient Equity) is Key. Whether building a farm or refurbishing a community center, the ripple effect of community revitalization takes time. This should come as no surprise, because the need for revitalization is often the result of years of policies and practices that created barriers to individual wealth building or large-scale community investments. Thus, patience is key to community revitalization: patience in developing relationships, patience as one waits for outcomes, and patience in the funds and equity we invest. With this patient approach, our return on investment is not always one of high financial reward, but it is always one that is focused on the community first.
Each time we step into a community, we learn more about intentional community revitalization. We learn that there is no magic formula to revitalizing a community. We learn that it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to address years of policies and practices that have created systemic barriers to wealth building. We also learn that with a mix of local leadership, outside investment, complementary programming, and patience, communities can harness their assets and transform them into long-term prosperity.