A Prophetic Voice for Economic and Social Justice

John and Peter Conversation with Damon Lynch III
In partnership with Common Good Collective ~ February 5, 2020

About every six weeks for the last six years, John and Peter have hosted conversations with community-building social innovators as their guests. Their February 5, 2020 dialog featured Rev. Damon Lynch III, a powerful voice, in Cincinnati and nationwide, for building wealth equity for African Americans through controlling land and enterprise. 

Rev. Damon Lynch III is a voice, in Cincinnati and nationwide, for building wealth equity for African Americans through controlling land and enterprise. An emeritus faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute, he is a self-described disciple of John McKnight’s.



Peter: About a year ago we decided to start something we’re calling the Common Good Collective, which is a host for this session, and bring these conversations into the Common Good Collective. Our purpose there is to find activists and people who are trying to build community and change the world, a place to join. I’ll talk later about that. But the fact that you’re here is a great thing. So our intention is just to share ideas.

  Our other intention is to try to humanize this virtual world. So as Charles will explain, we’ll try to use as many devices as we can to act as if we’re in the room together. So for the breakout rooms and everything, we’re trying to stay connected to people around this common desire, care for the common good in the face of consumerism, privatization, the world that we’re surrounded and drowning in. Charles, let me give it back to you, and you can lay out the hour.

Charles: Thanks so much, Peter. And I want to acknowledge and thank Becky for the work she’s been doing in these conversations and also Darin Petersen from the Common Good Collective. It’s an honor to act as the host on this conversation with John and Peter and Damon. As Peter mentioned, the intention of doing this via Zoom is to create the opportunity for us to connect with each other. So in just a moment, we’re going to be using the breakout function. I’m aware that some of you may have come here thinking, “Hey, I’m not going to have to talk to anyone, am I?” Well, actually you are. We’re going to have two minutes in our first breakout conversation to just introduce yourself to three other people, answer the question: why did you say yes to spending an hour with us in this conversation this morning. That’ll be two minutes. Then we’ll come back.

  John is going to introduce our special guest, Reverend Damon Lynch. And then it’s going to be a bit of a conversation really between John and Damon and Peter exploring a number of topics. Then we’ll break into small groups again, reflect on what we’ve heard, come back, hear a few comments, and wrap our conversation at the top of the hour.

  Also we encourage you to communicate with us using the chat as we go through this and also when we come back from our breakout groups. So going to divide you into groups of four. The invitation is to introduce yourself, share where you’re from, and why did you say yes to accepting the invitation to join in this conversation. And keep in mind, folks, it’s 30 seconds each. So we’ll be back here very rapidly.

Peter: Before we do that, I want to introduce Charles. So we’ve been on this journey of bringing people together in large groups, small groups, strange groups. Nobody does that better than Charles. Charles and I have been colleagues for 20 plus years. After that, everybody’s lumped together. But he’s done amazing things. He invited me to a conference that he ran for the Dalai Lama, which was high point. And I loved that because I got to meet the Dalai Lama. And then I had a very simple job to do at quarter to 12, I got up and said, “Okay. We’re going to have lunch in 15 minutes.” And Charles did everything else. So I’m just so grateful for Charles, that you’re working with us on the Collective. And Charles is just a master designer strategist for all the things that we care about.

Charles: Wow. Thank you, Peter.

Becky: And we’re all ready to open the room. So I’m going to send everyone into your rooms and we’ll be back together in just a few minutes.

Peter: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit. So for people on Facebook, Damon, what’s your sense of being here, being part of this? Any thoughts you have about what we’re trying to do here?

Damon: I’m looking at the names of the people who have joined us, and I know quite a few of them. So for me, it’s just an honor to be able to speak to them, to those who are watching us live on Facebook to talk about an issue that I am passionate about, which is building wealth in the African American community, home ownership, home ownership of land, how we create small businesses, and how we have wealth to pass down to future generations. It’s a serious issue, and I think people of goodwill need to address it. I think it’s what Dr. King was moving towards the end of his life, building a strong Black economy. So I think it’s a discussion that needs to be had.

Peter: I think what’s compelling to me about your point of view, and I’ve learned so much, is it’s different than training people for jobs, isn’t it? It’s different than getting people into college. It’s different than seeing the people that are clothed and fed. That we’ve done for a long time in a charitable way.

  I don’t know in this minute or two minutes, but I think if you could give that distinction is what you taught me. I’d love to hear more.

Damon: We’re going to take a look at of course the numbers, and everybody knows the numbers of the wealth disparities in America between Black and Brown and white people. And those disparities are huge. We’re going to figure out how do we fix it, how do we change it? And I think the ways we’ve tried to do it in the past obviously have not worked. And is there another method? And part of that will be just reorienting the focus of those communities towards the belief in themselves to build wealth. So some of it starts with hope, hope and change.

Becky: I will close the rooms. It’s going to take a few moments for everyone to come back.

Charles: And just for those of you who have just joined, well over 40 have been in breakout groups; we’re all coming back together right now. So just to bring you into where we are at the moment.

  All right. Welcome back everyone, and for those of you who joined a little bit late, you came into the room while others were in conversation sharing the answer to the question of why did you say yes to joining us. So we’re not going to look for comments on that. I think we’re going to dive in now to the conversation between Damon and John and Peter. And I’d like to invite John to formally introduce Damon to our conversation.

John: Welcome everybody. This is a new experiment, and it’s going to give us a chance to see whether on the screen we can get closer than having a one way discussion. So you’ve had the first experience. Damon is a person I have known I think for 25 years.

  And his official biography might say that he’s the pastor of the New Prospect Baptist Church. That he has been civil rights leader in Cincinnati and many other venues. That he has always been strongly invested in the idea that a place matters, that the neighborhood is central in our society and in particular people who have been excluded. He’s also had a lot of influence on policies that have been developed in Cincinnati and nationally. Policies that reach toward equity and justice. And that’s sort of the official description of some of the things that he’s been involved in.

  But knowing him over all these years, I think if I were to introduce him, I would say he’s a great visionary. Also, a prophetic person. And a wonderful Bible scholar. I know when we talk that he always relates to biblical sources the reality of our lives today. And that they speak together. He also is the voice of soul. I have a recording of the most significant sermon I’ve ever heard in my life and he gave it. And in it, he talks about how we are surrounded by manifestations of the spirit that protect us and lead us and bring us to power. And I want to thank you, Damon, for that. I listen to it every year, and it leads me to feel the strength to go on.

  And I think if you watch him as he talks, you will know that he is above all a kind man with a beatific smile. There it is. So let me ask the question at the beginning that was advertised, and that is I know that you at this time are focused on the question of wealth. And can you tell us both what you have done in that area and what you see ahead? And certainly I know you’d want me to say that it’s not you alone. That you have a congregation of faith. A lot of what you can achieve will depend on their surrounding you, and both you can learn from them and they can learn from you. And now we’d like to learn from you. So talk about wealth.

Damon: Well, John, thank you. And Peter and Becky and Charles, and to all those who are gathered here today. What I’m going to do is share three screens with you because I know we don’t have a lot of time. But there’s some things that I want to share that I think will help set the stage. So the first is an article in the New York Times by Tremaine Lee. Hopefully you can see my screen, and it’s relating to the 1619 project that the New York Times did [https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html]. 1619 is the year that the first 20 African Americans were brought to these shores to do slave labor.

  The story is about Elmore Bolling, whose brothers called him Buddy. He was a kind of one man economy in Alabama. He leased a plantation where he had a general store, a gas station out front, a catering business. He grew cotton, corn, and sugarcane. He also offered a small fleet of trucks that ran livestock and made deliveries between Lowndesboro and Montgomery. At his peak, he employed as many as 40 people, all of them black like him.

  One December day in in 1947, a group of white men showed up along a stretch of Highway 80 just yards from Bolling’s home and store, where he lived with his wife, Bertha Mae, and their seven children. The men confronted him on a section of road that he helped lay, shot him seven times––six times with a pistol and once with a shotgun blast to the back. His family rushed from the store to find him lying dead in a ditch.

  The shooters did not even cover their faces; they didn’t need to. Everyone knew who had done it and why. “He was too successful to be a Negro,” someone who knew Bolling told a newspaper at the time. When Bolling was killed, his family estimates he had as much as $40,000 in the bank and more than $5,000 in assets, about $500,000 in today’s dollars. But within months of his murder nearly all of it would be gone. White creditors and people posing as creditors took the money the family got from the sale of their trucks and cattle. They even staked claims on what was left of the family’s savings. The jobs that he provided were gone also. Also, overnight the Bollings went from prosperity to poverty. Bertha Mae found work at a dry cleaner. The older children dropped out of school to help support the family. Within two years, the Bollings fled the county, fearing for their lives.

  Final paragraph is this: The period that followed the Civil War was one of economic terror and wealth-stripping that has left Black people at lasting economic disadvantage. White Americans have seven times the wealth of Black Americans on average. Though Black people make up nearly 13% of the United States population, they hold less than 3% of the nation’s total wealth. The median family wealth for white people is $171,000, compared with just $17,600 for Black people. It is worse on the margins. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 19% of Black households have zero or negative worth. Just 9% of white families are that poor.

  So the 1619 project deals with the first 20 Africans being brought here, a 400 year period, which ended in 2019. So it’s been 400 years. Now, John mentioned that I love scriptures. So Genesis chapter 15, the first book in the Hebrew Bible, verses 13 and 14, for me it’s a prophetic word. This is God talking to Abram before he became Abraham. He said, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for 400 years, your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own. They will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.'” So for me as a pastor of a church here in Cincinnati, I have to believe in what’s called a dual fulfillment of prophecy that what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did for this group of people after their 400 year period of bondage, that he can also do for a group of people in the world now after 400 years of bondage as well.

  My third and final screen is this. So what we’ve done here in Cincinnati is form a group called Community Economy Advancement Initiative with the focus on building wealth, sustainability, housing, small business development in the African American community. I shared with John the other day on a phone conversation that I spend most of my life believing that I was to be a Moses to my people delivering Black people from bondage. But I since changed because I understand that we need less of Moses and more of Joshua. Moses is the guy who’s going to get you out of bondage. But Joshua is the person who’s going to challenge you: Let’s go possess the land. Let’s possess the promises. And I think too often in the African American community, we’re still stuck in the Moses narrative where people need to be delivered and less in the Joshua narrative where there are opportunities out here to build wealth, to build sustainability for our communities and our families. But you have to have the fortitude and the courage to do so

The challenge in wealth building in the African American community is believing in ourselves, using the gifts and assets and resources that we already have to build upon, and have the courage to go out and possess the land, redevelop the land.


  So at least three times in the book of Joshua in the Hebrew text, God says to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous and possess the land.” “Be strong and courageous.” And then finally on the third time, he says, “Did I not command you to be strong and courageous?” So the challenge in wealth building in the African American community is believing in ourselves, using the gifts and assets and resources that we already have to build upon, and have the courage to go out and possess the land, redevelop the land.

  At CEAI, our motto is, “Development without displacement.” We are watching development take place in the city of Cincinnati at a rapid pace, and it’s happening predominantly in “African American communities”, communities where there’s been major disinvestment over period of years. And now it’s prime land that others want. But when they come into develop, there’s major displacement. And what happens in poor communities if you’re displaced every 20 to 30 years, which whether it’s a highway that came through or major institution that is expanding, then you can’t build strong, healthy communities. You can’t build the webs and the relationships that make for a strong community if every 20 to 30 years you move to another side of town.

  So we formed a group, Community Economic Advancement Initiative to challenge the current way development is done in our city. In the city of Cincinnati as well as probably the cities that many of you live in, our city has a department called Community and Economic Development. We have major banks that have divisions called Community and Economic Development. We’re saying to remove the “and”. It should be Community Economic Development because when it’s Community and Economic Development, the community side often means that we get more services and we become a service community and the economic development side means that developers get to build wealth and own land. So we’re saying for the community the “and” must be removed. Community Economic Development means it’s development that is for and by those who live in the community.

  Does it mean that we don’t need outside resources? Of course not. But outside resources must be second investors into the life and dreams of a community.

  So I practice Asset Based Community Development. I’m one of the founding adjunct faculty members with John and Jody Kretzmann. And I’ve been working with them now over 25 years. We practice community economic development. The church where I pastor sits on 22 acres of land. We have a 40 acre campsite. We raise chickens, we sell farm fresh eggs, we raise produce. We have 12 businesses that operate inside of our building. Twelve small businesses. Every other Sunday we have a small business moment where I allow business owners to come and share what they do so we can support them. We work in the community. You name it, we’ve probably done it.

  And so that is our goal after 400 years, and to chronicle those 400 years. The first 244 were slavery, the next 101 was segregation. After that, it’s red lining, mass incarceration. It has not been the best journey. But we’re now at the point are we going to cross the Jordan and start as a community to possess, or are we going to walk in circles for 40 years? I personally don’t have 40 years to walk around in circles. So I challenge people every single day, let’s go out here and possess the promises of the God that we say we believe in.

  So John, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Peter: A question, Damon. The disinvestment is by design. The argument is, “Well, look at the neighborhood. Look at the average income. Look at the crime. Look at all that.” And I’ve learned from all of you that that’s by design to get the price of the land down. So we can build a soccer stadium in the most traditional African American neighborhood in the city. Have I got that right? Can you explain that?

Damon: For those who don’t know, I pastored for 23 years in the city of Cincinnati in one of the most challenging communities that Cincinnati has. It’s called Over-the-Rhine. The time that I pastored there for 23 years, it was considered one of the worst communities in the state of Ohio. And yet during that time, we were the most serviced community in the state of Ohio. We had every social service agency known to humankind in one community, and yet we were still considered the worst. Highest crime, infant mortality, you name it. We were at the top of the list. So the idea of servicing people, making them whole obviously did not hold true.

  Now that same community is talked about in New York Times; it’s the hip place. It has sushi bars, microbreweries. But guess who’s not there anymore? The original residents, nor the service providers. They literally kicked all the service providers out of the community because a strong vibrant community is not one made up of just purely social services.

  So I watched, I lived through how every local bar was shut down. Every laundromat was shut down. It was surgical. And if you lived through it and saw it with eyes wide open, it was well planned how the police were going to police in that community. And I have police officers in my church who tell me during that time what they were told during roll call to go out and just write tickets. My barber who was in that community was sitting on the stoops of his own barber shop and an officer rides by the bicycle and writes him a ticket for sitting on the stoop of his barber shop. I mean, it was so much by design. Just painful to watch. So it’s by design.

John: Let me ask this. Two times I’ve seen the process that we’re describing. Let’s say after the second World War, what was happening in the really older neighborhoods, especially African American neighborhoods was that they developed programs called Urban Development, Urban Renewal Neighborhoods that supplied getting resources. And when that happened, there then followed something called land clearance programs. Now at that time, I was involved in neighborhood organizing, and the one thing that worked, that we really were able to do, was to confront the city that had now ownership of most of the property and say to them, “You can’t take it.” And use every kind of protest and lever we had to stop them and to maintain our own control of that neighborhood.

  It didn’t work everywhere, but it worked a lot of places. I think the reason was because there was one source that had all the property. And then I began to see this gentrification process. And here we might have a neighborhood organization, but we could get things done that would stop displacement when the city controlled the land. All of a sudden one by one people began to buy up buildings, corporations and individuals. And who could we then deal with if we wanted to stop displacement became the big problem. I wonder if you can give us some thoughts on who do we approach and how do we get ahold of the people who want to get ahold of our land? We could get ahold of the city, but we can’t get ahold of small development groups and individuals. So how do you face and deal with that issue in terms of wealth and properties?

Damon: For me, the key is first organizing the people. The people have to believe that they have the power to own, possess, develop their own communities. They have to believe that it is their community. I don’t think anything ever exceptionally changed in this country without a movement, whether it’s the women’s movement, civil rights movement, the gay rights movement. Without a movement, the anti-war movement, there’s been no substantive change. And I really do see a lack of movement right now nationally around this issue and here locally as well. So for me the first step is to organize the community, organize the people around believing in themselves. And so even if land is controlled by outside land owners and individuals, there’s still enough land that’s available and it’s available every single day that we as a community have to be ready to move forward and possess it.

The people have to believe that they have the power to own, possess, develop their own communities. They have to believe that it is their community. I don’t think anything ever exceptionally changed in this country without a movement. Without a movement, there’s been no substantive change. So the first step is to organize the community, organize the people around believing in themselves.

  I had a meeting last year with a group of Jewish people in my office. They were challenging me as an African American, said, “Damon, why don’t you guys just do? Let’s go. Let’s get this thing done.” And finally they asked me a question, they said, “Damon, do you know why we built Jewish Hospital in the city of Cincinnati?” And I didn’t. I knew where it was because I grew up in that community. They said, “We built Jewish Hospital because there was a time when Jewish doctors were not given privileges to practice in other hospitals. So we built our own.” And what I loved about it was not only did they build a hospital, which was in a community called Levindale, they didn’t call it the Levindale Hospital. They didn’t call it the Bernet Avenue Hospital, the street in which it sat. They called it the Jewish Hospital with just a sense of pride and a sense of ownership.

  So for so long in the African American community, we’ve been pressed down so much that if we have Miss Black America, our question is why do you have to have Miss Black America? If we do Black anything, still because of the paternalistic and patriarchal nature that we still feel, that many African Americans still feel is that there’s a fear of stepping out. So I challenge our community all the time, there are smaller minorities than the Black community who control major economic sectors in our economy. And so in the Black community, the Korean American community controls Black haircare products. The American Vietnamese community controls pedicures and manicures.

  The Ethiopian community controls parking, probably in our city as well as yours. If I park anywhere downtown Cincinnati, there will be a person of Ethiopian descent who collects my money. The Patels and the Singhs now control 63% of motels in this country. If you ever watch that documentary, it is powerful. If you watch the documentary on how the Vietnamese control manicures and pedicures, how the Korean community controls Black haircare products. And these are called non-linear economic sectors and non-linear economic sector means it’s nothing to do with their heritage or culture. They just found a niche.

  The Arab American community controls almost every gas station in the city of Cincinnati. The African American community after 400 years cannot point to one economic sector that we have any major control of. So CEAI, we’re currently looking at the energy sector. Our church just installed 352 solar panels to provide solar energy, clean energy to our facility. We personally believe every home in our community ought to have solar energy. And we want to be the providers of that. We want to control that economic sector.

  So what I don’t do a lot anymore is lament on what we’re not doing. I just want to push forward. I’m 60 years old in 30 days. So I realize that I have fewer years ahead of me then I’ve got behind me. Probably not going to get another 60. So in the short time that I have left, I just want to push. I want to be the Joshua, and say, “Let’s go possess the land. Let’s be stewards of it. Let’s open it up, use it for the purposes for all people. So right now for me it’s an exciting time. We just purchased four acres. Our small group. We’re working with Mercy Health to put housing on it for people. So we just want to get the things done.

Charles: So at the risk of interjecting a great conversation here, I want to stay in keeping with our experiment and thank Damon and John and Peter for the last 15 minutes of insights. And we’re going to invite you all now into, as we said at the onset, a conversation to reflect on what has struck you. Damon, it’s fascinating. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, and as I listen, drawing some of the parallels to my own community, even though in another country, is extremely powerful to be thinking about. And appreciate the questions that are already coming in. For the next 10 minutes, we are going to be back in the same groups that you were in.

Damon: I think Susan Clark’s thought is interesting. She says she’d like to ask about the practice of organizing community versus thinking about it as cultivating and activating community. It sounds like a thought for John.

Peter: David, he says special interest groups we call communities. That word is kind of funny. It occurred to me, Damon, that a lot of the land in the city is owned by the port authority. Like 1000. And I don’t know who they’re acting in the interest of. And if we were going to organize something, they would be a nice focus of attention. Each of us individually trying to go and chip off a little spot for ourselves with that one.

Charles: What was the group you said that owns the pier?

Peter: The pier is called the, it used to be called the port authority. Now they named it a longer name, so I can’t remember so I still call it the port authority. [Now the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority.] And this gentrification usually gets cheap land from them, like the soccer stadium that Damon was referring to. They paid $1 for that land, and it’s owned by the city. So I think the points you make are great, Damon.

John: From my experience I was describing, it is good to have one authority that you can approach that has control of a lot of land. We got a lot further when the land was held in public venue. Then we had somebody that we could confront and use a political process.

Peter: But what response is your passion getting to say it’s time to be Joshua not Moses? Is the Black community organizing along those lines, Damon? Is it the churches the most organized within the Black community?

Damon: They are. It is hard. It’s easier for me to do it as a pastor of a church, and it’s kind of sad when one church is doing as much as it’s doing, sometimes more than the collective. So a part of what I’m going to have to do or need to do is whether it’s organize or cultivate or activate all these other institutions who are like minded who I believe have a same goal and mission. And help them understand it’s not about Damon. It’s not about New Prospect. It’s about the larger community.

Peter: One of my offers and John just activated it is I do think you have a prophetic and visionary voice. It’s too easy for that to stand alone.

  I would like to publish a book. Bryan Stevenson is getting a lot of play of Just Mercy. Why don’t we publish a book called “Just Damon” or not literally.

Damon: Right, right. Thank you.

Peter: It has to be something that puts this all in one place.

Damon: Right. For me I think the book and the story is that movement from this Moses motif, this necessity of this Messiah deliverer, to the Joshua the activator.

Peter: It’s like a hedge fund manager. This country loves that archetype. We just haven’t found it. I also think the point I learned so much for me is it all happening now.

Damon: It is.

Peter: You could read 1619.

Damon: It’s happening now.

Peter: There’s displacement from all these places. It’s unbelievable. It’s 26,000 people.

Damon: For those who don’t know, Kenyan Barr was this predominantly African American community downtown and the city came in purposefully and just moved everybody out, just destroyed it under the guise that it would become a light manufacturing area, which never took place. And they just displaced all these people.

Peter: 2000 buildings were destroyed. 26,000 people were kicked out.

Damon: So there’s a discussion around that. And when people hear it, they go, “Oh, that’s just a shame.” But then they act as if it’s not happening right now and it is.

John: Damon, just to give even more authority to your insight about the sectors that various ethnic groups have been involved in, the first time I ever heard anything about that, long time ago, was from a Harvard professor. And his name was Patrick Moynihan. And he became famous by just pointing that out. I can’t name the book now. [The Negro American Family: The Case for National Action, commonly called The Moynihan Report. See, e.g., The Moynihan Report: An Annotated Edition https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/the-moynihan-report-an-annotated-edition/404632/ ]But he went through that process, and he said the critical issue for people who are trying to advance themselves is to find that niche, to find that sector. I remember talking about how Russians had taken over the tearing down of buildings business. So there’s a lot of history. I’m glad you’re recalling it because I think it’s an important way of thinking about it.

Damon: Well, and part of that history is that ––

Charles: Folks are going to be coming back to join us in about one minute. So just I think looking at what we see in the chat as something to reflect on with the group. Perhaps continuing a bit of this conversation, but I anticipate people will coming back with some questions as well. So I think we should be ready for both obviously.

Damon: Okay. So part of that challenge, John, is that historically when African Americans did build strong viable communities, they were destroyed.

Peter: I think, Damon, this should be a white and Black movement.

Damon: Sure. I would think it would have to be. I think most of the significant movements have been movements of people. It’s just a movement of people who care. People who are fighters for social and economic justice. The new word is equity. Yeah, it’s going to take all of us. I mean, all who are on this call today, we make up a family of believers.

Peter: I really think something, a book, a short book, Damon, would be a catalytic. And you’ve got the content for it, so let’s go.

Damon: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Becky: I’ve closed the rooms. So people will be coming back in the next 30 seconds. So as you come back, we invite your comments, questions, reflections in the chat so that Peter and Damon and John can respond and interact with some of the thoughts that you had in your groups. So we welcome you to share those.

Becky: Tina says that one idea that came up for them was the idea of shifting from servicing a community to nurturing the inherent intelligence of the community. Thank you, Tina.

Damon: That’s something that you clearly learn from the work of John and Jody and others in the Asset Based Community Development movement is to move from servicing the community to acknowledging, what I call acknowledging, affirming, and activating the inherent resources and giftedness of people and their communities. So it’s those three things for me that have to happen on a daily basis that I acknowledge that no matter how bad things may look, there are some jewels here. There’s some gifts here. Then if a community’s been beaten down for so long, you have to affirm that because they don’t believe that they can do anything without outside help. But thirdly, you have to activate it. If you don’t activate it, it’s just an effort in futility.

Acknowledging, affirming, and activating the inherent resources and giftedness of people and their communities have to happen on a daily basis. I have to acknowledge that no matter how bad things may look, there are some jewels here. There’s some gifts here. Then if a community’s been beaten down for so long, you have to affirm that because they don’t believe that they can do anything without outside help. But thirdly, you have to activate it. If you don’t activate it, it’s just an effort in futility.

Peter: One of the challenges [for] David Gunthrow is to take a broader view of community than simply a group of common interests or common values, like minded people. And I think when you talk about community economic development and taking the “and” out, this is not just a group that’s kind of drawn together but are brought together by design. Maybe you had thoughts about that.

Damon: Well, I’ve already stated. I think clearly for me, and CED, Community Economic Development, presently it’s being practiced where everyone here lives. But mostly I’ve seen it north of the border in Canada. So if you look up Community Economic Development in Canada, you’ll see just a wealth of information on how it can be done and how it can benefit communities. I also like what Susan said earlier about activating versus cultivating… How did she put it? Organizing versus cultivating or activating. I would love to have her thoughts on that at some point. She talks about the practice of organizing community versus thinking about it as cultivating or activating community. Those all three may be synonymous. But I think in her mind, there’s a difference. So that was interesting. So Susan, thank you for that.

Charles: Damon, just before we came back, Peter asked you the question is this a Black and white movement? And you made a comment that really struck me about movement of people who care.

Damon: Yeah. It’s a people movement. It’s a people movement. While everyone is not complicit in what is happening in our communities, especially the Black, Brown, poor people, all of us have responsibility. So it’s a people movement. I think Reverend Barber and some others on a national level are fighting for this, but I just think it’s going to take all of us. Locally and nationally.

While everyone is not complicit in what is happening in our communities, especially the Black, Brown, poor people, all of us have responsibility. So it’s a people movement. It’s going to take all of us. Locally and nationally.

Charles: We’ve also got a number of comments coming in on the chat, Damon, about your reference to the small business moment that people appreciated. Perhaps you could maybe just say a little bit more about that.

Damon: Small business moment is exciting. In our morning worship services, I allow small business owners to come and take two-three minutes, just tell the congregation what their business is. So I ask them talk about their business, but then we close with how can we as a community support them, help them grow the business, support the business, whatever it is that they do. And they love it. The congregation loves it. The small business owner loves it as well. So it’s like free advertising, but it’s also community building as well. So it was just something that I thought was a good thing to do. If we’re going to support small businesses outside in the broader community, I also need to support it at home.

Peter: Somebody asked about a book you would suggest that allows people to understand. Like I said Just Mercy is one, but is there a book that comes to mind, Damon, that you would have us all read? The Color of Law is another one. Any thoughts you have?

Damon: Claude Anderson’s book entitled Black Labor, White Wealth. I think that’s one of the best books out there to understand this thing.

John: Is there a way of thinking about and do you know about… Let’s imagine there is a wide group of people who will see this problem, learn about it, and want to become invested in it. They can be invested by their personal action, but they could also be invested by their money. And I know how important the policy of banks have been, but I also know how significant the power of savings and loans used to be. I’m just wondering if it might be possible, maybe it already exists to have a fund that people could contribute to that would be used in the support of the increase in wealth in an area.

Damon: I think Peter through ECI, Economics of Compassion Initiative, which is a group here in the city of Cincinnati that I work with that also supports CEAI in which both groups that I’ve personally given money to because I support the mission. So I would encourage people to go to our website CEAICincy.org. I think Economics of Compassion also has a website. But what’s also… money is powerful, important but wisdom, expertise. Can you imagine what all these people right now who are with us, if we were to do a capacity inventory, and it’s like so powerful. We have to figure out how to activate it, put it together, and we can begin to make this change.

Peter: I think if people make up their mind to invest in Black enterprise, there’s all kinds of vehicles to do it. Common Change that organizes as a group, just have to make up your mind. There’s a lot of slow money movements in any city. If you say, “I’m going to find out how I can support Black enterprises,” there’s a lot of places to find it. None of that makes a movement like you’re talking about, Damon. We have to do something in Cincinnati that’s more inclusive and call that… I’m going to talk a little bit about what Common Good Collective is trying to do, which is trying to start a national collecting place. But, Charles, why don’t you move us forward. You’re in charge of the clock.

Recording of the Conversation was stopped inadvertently at this point.

Going Further

Home page image: Andrew Wrennie

About the Lead Author

Damon Lynch III
Damon Lynch III
Damon Lynch, III is a lifetime resident of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. He was educated in the Cincinnati Public School system and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cincinnati Bible College. He is presently the senior Pastor of the New Prospect Baptist Church in Cincinnati. Under his leadership the church has helped to build and strengthen the Over the Rhine community. He is an emeritus faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He has conducted workshops and seminars throughout the United States to many organizations on the Asset-Based approach to problem solving and development. His civic and community involvement includes: Appointed to chair the Health Committee of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. Committee Member of Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Organization of Cincinnati leaders from public and private sectors working with a proven process to reduce homicides in the city of Cincinnati. Created the City of Hope Project. The groups focus is the re-integration of ex-offenders, and Community Economic Development. Development of the New Prospect Baptist Church Development Corporation. Elm Street Development Project, purchase of an entire inner city block for economic development. Opened a community bakery, employing community residents. Former President, Cincinnati Black United Front, an organization that seeks to bring economic, social, political, and racial equality to the Greater Cincinnati community Led group of organizations in the filing of a class action lawsuit against racial profiling in the City of Cincinnati. This lawsuit resulted in a historic landmark agreement between the Cincinnati Police Department, Fraternal Order of Police, City of Cincinnati, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Cincinnati Black United Front Pastor Lynch has received many awards and recognition for his work, some of his awards include: Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rosa Parks Award Sentinels Police Association President’s Award NAACP Theodore M. Berry Award for Civil Rights Martin Luther King Jr. Award at the city wide MLK day celebration New Prospect Baptist Church 1829 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202 (513) 721-2355; fax (513) 721-3652 npbc@fuse.net

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