Memphis Sets the Table for Its Gifts

Typically, institutions committed to a community’s well-being begin by asking what’s wrong with a place. But the three thought leaders to join an upcoming Memphis conversation — John McKnight, Peter Block and Walter Brueggemann — choose not to take the route of problem-solving.

Instead they ask questions such as: What have we got to work with? In what way is God already present in a community? What do people care enough about to act on?

Jay Van Groningen is executive director of Communities First Association, a national body co-sponsoring the Nov. 14 event hosted by the Memphis-based Center for Transforming Communities (CTC).

The institution as savior paradigm no longer works and most likely never did. It is clear Jay, John, Peter and Walter agree on this belief.

When institutions become so busy making participants through their programs the very people they are looking to help seem to lose their ability to consider themselves co-creators in their own places.

“They don’t do life together. They wait for an agency or an institution to solve a problem for them, as opposed to coming together and discovering what can we do together,” says Jay.

But the approach John, Peter and Walter speak for is one that gives people a chance to step up, to be engaged in their own community’s story, “to be actors in this stage that they live on as opposed to being observers and recipients,” says Jay.

This is possible first and foremost because the people acting as catalysts for this approach believe that residents in every community, have gifts and interests and are willing to give their time and energy and skills to make life better in their own neighborhood. Often all that is needed is for somebody to “set the table” where their gifts can be shared.

The approach is highly relational. It is literally embedded in neighbor-to-neighbor conversations. And it is deeply rooted in geography. It is a story about place, a neighborhood or a community.

Community development efforts that begin with this focus on assets, commitment and place are already at work in Memphis, through the catalytic support of the CTC.

As CTC has acted as a “spark” for change, there are now eight neighborhoods in Memphis where people are voluntarily coming together, deciding what they want to make happen in their area and taking action.

Jay, who has visited many of these neighborhoods and had conversations with the residents, says he has seen first-hand the hope, ownership and sense of community coming to life as a result.

These results, he suggests, stem directly, from the fact Amy Moritz, director of CTC, and those who work with her, are in the business of setting that table to which people can bring their gifts.

The Nov. 14 conversation with John, Peter and Walter could be considered another “table” to come to, where there will be ample opportunity for conversations between Memphis residents and also between the residents and the three men.

Jay says he is very excited about the synergizing of the Memphis community with the three thought leaders.

As someone who could be considered an outsider looking in, Jay notes one of the most profound outcomes he would be excited to see happen is that more people from Memphis neighborhoods come forward and say, “This is what we want to do together. Can you coach us?”

The Center for Transforming Communities is a member of CFA, an alliance of about 300 individuals or organizations across the U.S. also committed to asset-based community development.

To learn more about the Nov. 14 event, click here.

Reposted from a series of articles by Axiom News to explore the gifts and possibilities of Memphis neighborhoods in preparation for the city’s November 14 community building conversation featuring John, Peter and Walter Brueggemann, hosted by the Center for Transforming Communities. Images courtesy CTC.

About the Lead Author

Michelle Strutzenberger
For fifteen years, Michelle Strutzenberger worked as a Generative Journalist and Newsroom Chair with Axiom News. While working full time, Michelle began writing children’s novels. Her latest book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River, is about the adventure of discovering and lifting up neighbourhood gifts. The book is very much inspired by the spirit and intention of asset-based community development, the work of Peter Block and John McKnight of Abundant Community in creating abundant communities and the worldview and practice of Appreciative Inquiry. Michelle lives in Peterborough, Ontario with her husband and three children. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter @michelle_strutz and Facebook via NewShemayim

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