As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin – July 17, 2020
by Tracey Bryan
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Across the country, we’re seeing what began as a righteous protest to an inexcusable death transform into a movement that’s destroying livelihoods and claiming lives. Stories of violence and division rule the nightly news these days, and it’s heartbreaking to watch as innocents, especially children, suffer.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The answers these communities seek come not from division, but from unity – in relationships, purpose, and action.
I’ve seen unity transform a long-underinvested community in San Diego. And I’ve seen unity’s power in our own.
The Diamond Neighborhoods of San Diego had suffered decades of disinvestment. Carved up by freeways, the Diamond was home to 20 different cultural groups that spoke 12 different languages and suffered a history of blight and a reputation for violence.
But those who lived there could agree on one thing — they wanted a different story for their community and its children.
A foundation that was supporting a great after-school science program in the Diamond wanted to find a better way to do philanthropy…one that created lasting change. The leader of that science program encouraged them to start their work by focusing on the Diamond.
Change began with conversation. First, asking people what they wanted their community to be like…what they wanted for their children…what services or businesses were needed there. Then, people were asked if they were willing to be active participants in creating what they envisioned.
Translating dreams into reality takes work…and more conversation. At first, much of the discourse focused on distrust and grievances. Distrust of their neighbors from different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Grievances about the history of the community. And, disbelief that anything would ever be different.
But, as these neighbors met, each was invited to share the food, music, traditions, and even art that defined their cultures. They found out they had so much in common. Breaking down that which had divided them, they found common ground on which they could build something special together.
They transformed a blighted piece of property in the middle of the community into The Village at Market Creek: a gathering space, a retail center meeting the needs of the community, a place for cultural performances, and a revitalized natural space. They developed businesses and created jobs. The foundation worked alongside them as peers and partners, but with the community always in the lead.
Ultimately, they also created the mechanism for owning what they created. It changed everything in philanthropy, community ownership of change, community engagement, and community building…and it changed what the residents of the Diamond believed was possible.
What emerged was so much more than the start. It was a new identity for that community. Built on deep, trusting relationships, shared goals, and united action, it became a place that served the needs of the community while also attracting others from all over the area, the state, the country, and the world.
Today, this kind of united effort is called “collective impact.”
That same spirit of unity exists here in so many organizations that unite diverse people toward shared actions: The Bridge of Southern New Mexico, the Workforce Talent Collaborative, Ngage, Resilience Leaders Task Force, and now the Las Cruces Reopens effort led by the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.
In each of these efforts, we see needs and work together to address them. The success of each rides on relationships built on trust and a commitment to the people of our community. We are already seeing success, because we bring our respective resources to the table to create the change this community wants. We have made great gains, and without question there’s more work to be done.
As long as we continue to see each other as brothers, sisters, and neighbors and work together, we’ll all get where we’re trying to go.