Thoughts on Community Development – from Jordan Spencer

My time at City Team has been eye opening. As I understand it, the men in the drug and alcohol program are given tasks throughout the day so that they don’t think about their addictions (ideally). This is in-line with what I’ve heard at one of the AA meetings I went to with the guys. The experience of these men with their past mistakes and successes, as well as present circumstances have given them a wealth of knowledge – particularly on the poor.

One man in the program helps with the overnight shelter that includes dinner, breakfast, and a shower. He pointed out the inequality even between what the shelter men eat and the men in his program. He asked aloud what he could do to address the root problems of why the men are even homeless in the first place, and questioned the tough-love policies of many shelters where if you break a rule you are sometimes permanently or (more commonly) temporarily banned. His reflections have given me much to think about, especially as I near graduation.

My major is in Community Development (CD) which deals primarily in the root causes of experiences which contribute to a lower quality of life for communities. Once a week, us BAyUPers have what’s called Program Day where we look at a different social justice issue – and the politics surrounding it. I’m realizing more and more that not just with issues surrounding homelessness, but also with a smorgasbord of other issues that my broad definition of CD needs to be broad in its application as well – more than just MFIs and other business-related strategies.

Considering the common narrow applications of CD, Alexia Salvatierra, co-author of Faith-Rooted Organizing and an upcoming speaker for one of our program days, wrote in her book, “Community development strategies reach beyond mere charity to engage people in solving the problems in their neighborhoods. What does not typically get addressed by such strategies are the barriers created by unjust policies, laws and social structures… Sooner or later, those engaged in community development hit a wall.”

I am understanding more that as a white male going to a private university I don’t see the walls because I often don’t experience them or perhaps lack the categories to clearly identify them. The poor often can more readily identify these blockades to justice and indeed it was those not in the majority that led the Civil Rights movement. The perspectives (and partnership) of the poor are not only needed for working towards justice, but essential to understanding what Jesus really means when he speaks blessings on them, and woes to the rich.

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