In this post, Demetria Ledbetter of Beloved Community Center (BCC) in Greensboro, North Carolina describes her organization’s journey in developing a media and communications plan. Over the past five years, through partnerships with organizations (like CoLab) and foundations, BCC has ‘found its pulse’ in a robust capacity to tell its story through staff and community members. BCC is a long time friend of CoLab, where its directors are currently Mel King Community Fellows.
The Heartbeat of Organizing: Finding your Pulse
The Road to the US Social Forum
In a few weeks Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, North Carolina and Malia Lazu of The Urban Labs will know if our proposed workshop is selected for the US Social Forum. Our topic is The Heartbeat of Organizing: How to find your pulse. I first met Malia one year ago at a meeting of community leaders from across America looking to access stimulus dollars for equitable development. MIT CoLab hosted the meeting at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York. Then Malia and I met again here in Greensboro, as she was providing training for Candidate for North Carolina House District 60 Marcus Brandon. We crossed paths for the third time in Cambridge at CoLab’s Community Media Worksop in February. At that workshop, we found that we had similar views on communication. We both appreciate how communication is relevant to organizing, but shouldn’t replace traditional methods of organizing. So in conversation, Malia and I decided to explore the possibility of presenting at the Social Forum, and thus Heartbeat of Organizing was born.
Beloved’s Media Evolution
At Beloved, our directors Nelson and Joyce Johnson, veteran organizers who began their work as young people in the Civil Rights Movement, have long been convinced that we must figure out how to tell our story better. Over the last couple of years we have made strides with our media and communications work, but we have not been able to capture the intensity of our work, and we have not been able to tell our story as it happens. So while we do very rich work, disseminating our stories has lagged behind. We were first commissioned to begin looking at this work when Alta Starr and Thomasina Williams at the Ford Foundation funded us in 2005.
After several transitions, my colleague Tim Gwyn and I took up the work. While Tim and I both have experience from our former careers at technology companies – IBM and Clicklogistics, respectively – we knew this piece of work would be challenging. We brought skills with us to BCC, but corporate America is unlike grassroots and social justice organizing in so many ways.
What propelled us to move forward? Our work developed even further when BCC connected with MIT CoLab and Dwayne Patterson of Center for Community Change.
Last summer, CoLab director Dayna Cunningham recommended that her staff Community Media Specialist Alexa Mills come to BCC to help expand our work. At that time, I am not sure if Tim or I fully understood the impact this would have on our media and communications work.
I first witnessed Alexa’s work at the stimulus meeting at the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, May 11th 2009. From that meeting, she developed a media story of our collective experience at that gathering. To see her capture the story so quickly was remarkable. For me, it seemed so out of reach and intimidating for BCC to produce this type of work. Next, Alexa would visit us in Greensboro to capture our stimulus work. Once again in a matter of a couple of days Alexa would assist us in telling our story.
While intimidating, it became evident that media work must be integrated into the work of BCC, and if we were ever going to share the incredible stories coming out of our work and the communities we collaborate with, it would begin with finding our “pulse”.
Our visits with Alexa confirmed that in order to build this foundation, we would need the proper equipment. Although having a resource arm like MIT, our work would be limited without appropriate technology right in our office.
The Collaborative Process
One of the many strengths of Beloved Community Center is our ability to collaborate with other groups, including local groups, state-wide organizations, national level too. One such partner for us has been the Center for Community Change (CCC). Our relationship with CCC has evolved over the years. We are North Carolina partners in CCC’s, Campaign for Community Values (CCV). CCC’s organizer, Dwayne Patterson has been essential in linking us to CCV, strategically providing depth and national presence and scope to health care, immigration and jobs. As a result of the connection, I participated in CCC’s Regional Conference in Nashville, CCC’s National CCV meeting in Baltimore, the Good jobs First Conference in Atlanta, and CCC’s Regional Jobs Summit in Atlanta. These meetings served as wonderful resources for BCC to get connected to national issues while strengthening our local work.
Both our connections to MIT and CCC have proven beneficial. It’s the collaborative process that allows organizations like Beloved increase their capacity while increasing their presence. At the heart of the organization, there must be an intentional understanding of media and communications, and it must be linked to the work itself.
Therefore, when Dwayne shared with CCC’s North Carolina partners the opportunities to receive a grant from Atlantic Philanthropies, it was clear how we could use this grant to both strengthen our CCV work and also increase our organization’s bandwidth. We partnered with North Carolina Fair Share and Black Workers for Justice to submit a proposal. In our proposal, we were very intentional, and clearly stated our needs and how technical assistance could increase our capacity. Our grant was accepted and as a result we were able to purchase video equipment, increase interaction capacity in our new upcoming website, and purchase a phone tree system to assist in phone banking.
Our Pulse Check
Working with the Ford Foundation, MIT and CCC, BCC has been able to find its pulse. Beloved is well on its way to developing into a media and communication powerhouse that started five years ago through Ford Foundation making us aware of media justice. Looking back, we have come a long way from our original website when I started at BCC over seven years ago. We still have a long way to go in terms of being a media powerhouse, but I’m clear that the heartbeat of organizing begins with media and communications.
Every time BCC develops a story, creates a video, or updates its website, I feel our organization’s pulse. The beauty of this is, no matter what is printed or not printed by others, such as local newspapers, academic research and other outlets, we are creating history by documenting our own story. Once we document what happened here, it becomes our story. Today, I am seeing the seeds planted by Alta Star and Thomasine Williams of Ford Foundation come to life, just as we saw in our Pathways to a Green Career program If You Sow a Seed, Something Will Come Up. The collaborative efforts of Alta, Thomasina, Dayna, Alexa and Dwayne have tremendously benefited BCC. BCC has a pulse, and now we have ways to let others feel it.
Knowledge Transfer at the Forum
This knowledge is what Malia and I hope to share at the US Social Forum. It is our desire to share with other organizations, how to find your pulse and how media and communications must be integrated within your work. By no means are we saying media and communications should replace traditional means of organizing. But it must be integrated in your organization. Bottom Line! I hope you will join me and Malia at the US Social Forum as we envision a New Detroit and a New Economy for our respective communities.
Post by Demetria Ledbetter. Photos by Danielle Martin.