While the name of our job training program is Pathways to a Green Career, the words ‘community building’ are etched into the hearts of everyone involved in our organization, the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, North Carolina. In week two of our job training program, we taught our participants about community gardening, how a garden serves as a tool to build community, and how strong community ultimately creates and shifts power.
Now at the end of the third week we gathered our participants to reflect on the lessons learned. Yes, our program has many highlights, but there have also been some not-so-great moments. At this point we have seventeen students remaining in the program. That is a great retention rate, but we started with nineteen and we wanted to end with nineteen. Perhaps this was an impossible goal, but ultimately we desire to grow as many seeds as possible as we create equity and wealth for those who otherwise would be denied. Our common theme is community building. If you teach community building and mimic it, then it will begin to grow like the seeds planted in the East White Oak Community Garden.
Last Thursday, after a day of learning about weatherization, we opened the floor to the young people to express their opinions. This conversation definitely sparked tension amongst the participants as they voiced their opinion of the program and voiced their opinions of each other. At the end of our one-hour discussion, Mike stood up to give his final words to everyone in the circle. His conclusion included his disagreements, but as he finished he said, “We are a Team!”
Of course, anytime conflict arises it can be painful, but if at the end of this session if you can hear from young adults, who come from all walks of life and in many cases have been set up to fail, use the word “TEAM” in a conversation, you can begin to see your seeds grow. This group of young adults who were very fragmented only three weeks ago concurred with Mike and as they all left the room. They gave each other handshakes in a round-robin fashion, which for us affirmed the community-building model that Beloved Community Center (BCC) teaches on a daily basis.
When did this community building happen? Did they remember the discussion from day one, when our Executive Director, Nelson Johnson told the story of Kobe and Shaq figuring out to build teamwork to ultimately win a National Championship? Did it happen when Stan Corbin taught them how to build raise beds for the garden? Did it happen as the six guys and I canvassed East White Oak to get neighbors to fill out the gardening survey? Did it happen when Tim finally got someone to fill out his survey and we all rejoiced as he came running down the street with the completed survey? Did it happen as Omisade lead them through the Conocimiento exercise? Did it occur when Ed Whitfield was teaching on weatherization and how to cut wood? Did it occur on BCC’s community basketball court?
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but I am clear that if you sow a seed something has to come up! At Beloved, we’re glad at the end of three weeks we saw Community Building in action.
Essay and photo by Demetria Ledbetter.