Something powerful, something new under the sun happened in Cincinnati this weekend. A three day summit on changing Cincinnati in fundamental ways, an effort to rethink our city with an eye toward creating a just, community-oriented, sustainable city.
This conference was the brain child of Doctor Victor Garcia, a physician whose experience with young people from urban neighborhoods who were shot gave him a close-up view of the problem. One day he found himself with a heart-broken mother begging him to do whatever he could to stop such madness. CoreChange is the result.
The conference brought 500 citizens out for each of three days as we engaged in the effort to see ourselves anew and transform our city. This participant found it highly rewarding, though how effective a force CoreChange is to be is yet to be seen. We will find the answer in learning whether this was a conference or whether this is a movement.
The conference began with learning about unlikely pairs, and how when two people get together who come from different cultures or social structures, the potential for change and growth becomes far greater. It may be in a Christian and a Muslim becoming friends. It may be in a conservative and a liberal seeing commonality. Or it may be a case, such as the example presented, where a principal of a failing school and a CEO of a major corporation hook up to transform that school into a hotbed of learning.
We learned of Appreciate Inquiry, a technique for small groups to generate ideas and learn from each other. It provides leadership and change management techniques that challenge the status quo. Instead of the traditional approach of seeing problems that need fixing, Appreciative Inquiry works from a strength-based foundation of guiding principles. We look to our strengths to find the power and wisdom to enhance our city and our lives.
We learned about process, and how we can try to treat symptoms in a shallow fashion, or find the deep seated reasons for the symptoms. We learned about the need to be creative, that we might find new ideas to help us move forward. We learned how we need to relieve ourselves of fear and anger, as these emotions thwart us in being together, and prevent the flow our process.
We established a number of working groups. These working groups are intended to keep the spirit and effort of this weekend alive. At the end of the three days, each working group presented its core idea, its intentions and near-term action items to move the group forward.
These are marvelous working groups. They are clustered around topics like education, local food, jobs, reinventing media, good food for kids and to ‘food deserts’ neighborhoods, restoring communities, engaging and attracting young people – short of a comprehensive list but a fine start.
And these working groups do not start from zero. There were representatives from a number of non-government agencies who are already engaged in just these sorts of efforts. CoreChange is part of Xavier University’s Community Building Initiative. There were folks from Green Umbrella, Cincinnati’s sustainability consortium; Agenda360, a Cincinnati Chamber organization already re-envisioning the city; Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, The Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, and many more. These existing organizations should help enable the CoreChange process of local transformation.
Equally remarkable was the tremendous positive energy that was palpable in the room. Eye contact and smiles were the business of the day as much as changing Cincinnati was. The quality of the discussions. The lightness of our sharing. The sense of this being a new family. As an active participant of Occupy Cincinnati, this is the second time in a matter of months I have found a new family, though I must admit to some overlap, and the hope of much more in the future.
I was struck by the re-occurrence of themes familiar among The Occupy Movement and other recent efforts toward constructive change. Letting voices be heard, changing minds, changing the ‘cultural operating system,’ reviving neighborhoods and encouraging localism. When I made this point to one of the organizers, he responded with a quick smile and a simple phrase, “It’s the Convergence.” And so it would seem. We citizens are coming together like never before, tired of an unfair system and looking for a better way. CoreChange is clearly part of this better way.