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G-Sync: Building a History

Buy local, hire local.

Buy local, hire local.

Death gives us the ability to pause. We drift to a landscape where everything feels foreign as our feet stumble through the day.  

As I thought back this week on the loss of my grandmother, I began to also reflect on other losses in life, the ones that speak to our personhood. One thought kept coming back. In the realm of personal growth, there is no greater loss than lost opportunity.

Looking up and down urban streets, we see the city exhibiting various states of life -- or lack thereof. It seems everyone has a solution. Often, one observes a plan underway to resurrect or mothball community property, hoping that the market will present a windfall at a later date.

In those places where we have seen tremendous growth, the transformation has not come without growing pains. Often, the successes on an urban level reveal deficiencies within our neighborhoods.

It is no secret that we have often highlighted the importance of seeing people unlike ourselves in area businesses and organizations. When those who take those proverbial stages represent a diverse group, we send a message to others about the possibility to be on those stages as well. We provide a place at the table as an equal. It's not about getting our card punched; it is authentic when the spirit of inclusion is more than just deliberate. It is the institutional change we are all working to create.

Years ago, some of the business districts that others had forsaken as being less important or desirable were successfully pioneered through a variety of steps to create stability.

However, after a long period of stabilization, driven (in my opinion) by people that chose to work side by side with their neighbors, people burn out, become tired, move on, or simply cross over. These things take time.

It is only when we are in the full grasp of the river's pull that we find it is much harder to fight the flow. This is often when things begin to change, and unless we are vigilant, full on gentrification sets in and the culture of diversity is upended, causing discord and rifts across all lines.

Last week, while covering LINC's annual Rock the Block street fair, Co-Executive Director Darel Ross shared that he was rolling out the first steps of a new program in the Madison Square neighborhood.

This adventurous new program -- Buy Local, Hire Local, a collaboration between LINC and Local First -- is in the very beginning stages. Already, the impact for good is very clear. The next round of talks will include the following questions: What does it look like? How will it be implemented? Who will deliver workers?

"Recently, as I reflected on this new program, I shared a story that Mayor Heartwell gave in a speech. 'When we see a person without a coat, we give him a coat. But often no one will ask, why he is cold?'" says Ross. "He reminds us that yes, we live in a giving city, but to give is not enough. To address root causes, we have to get creative in our exploration."  

Buy Local, Hire Local is that creative venture to potentially get it right.

I believe that while much has been written in the past on the topic of shopping local, a good stat is worth exploiting.

Local First's ground breaking 2008 study on Kent County by Civic Economics for Local Works illustrated that if just 10 percent of the population would shift their spending from national chains to locally owned businesses, we would see more than 1,600 new jobs. That small action would move $137 million into a sector that has been overlooked as people race to the big box in the hopes of saving a few pennies.  

If we have success for local businesses, then we are in turn creating opportunities to the tune of over $50 million in funds -- funds that would translate into wages.

This is where the new Buy Local, Hire Local campaign will seek to accomplish change through successful collaboration between two of our most exciting organizations, both charged with creating community and dialogue.

"We recognize in our studies that we have been able to capture the imagination of the public in certain parts of the population," says Local First Executive Director Elissa Hillary. "But after we brought in Jackie Victor of Avalon International Bakery to speak, it became clear that her ability to build equity in our communities, as she did in Detroit's Cass Corridor, was something we could accomplish here."

For Ross, this meant starting in Madison Square's business district and intentionally encouraging those area businesses to begin hiring a percentage of workers from a within a half-mile radius of their business. It is radical by today's standards, but this was how it was traditionally done in our neighborhoods years ago before we all got cars.

"We are seeking to not only raise the consciousness of the businesses via our partner Local First, but LINC is asking these owners to be aware of what human resources are available within walking distance," says Ross. "LINC believes in the indigenous of our neighborhood. We are aware of the risks of displacement, so we are careful not to sugar coat it."

In short, both Ross and Hillary know that things that are good for the neighborhood may not always be good for the developer -- and vice-versa. And while these differences may have shut down talks in the past, the marriage of both groups on this goal of great vitality and equity is the stuff that transforms everyone in the community as a result.  

If this opportunity is to break new ground and do things differently to advance a positive change in our neighborhoods, it is going to take people from all walks of life and backgrounds to see it through. It has to move from the realm of paternalistic behavior, as a friend recently pointed out to me, and enter a social equality phase of community organization where businesses and neighbors begin critical dialogue on the host of topics that will present themselves. They will have to sort this out as they go along.

This program is just in its early stages, but I firmly believe it is something we all should be watching closely. This type of organic change needs to unfold from within.

I am just happy to know that people who are doing great work, on their own in our neighborhoods on a variety of levels, are willing to come together to break the new ground on a future that truly includes all of us. The future has yet to be written and this new program offers a chance for many authors.

"The task is to capture that commonality in our neighborhoods," says Ross, "because the things that divide us truly are fewer than what unites us. It is about the understanding and sensitivity to our neighborhood businesses and to the neighbors who make up this community."

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

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Photography by Adam Bird
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