It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. For Milwaukee community leaders who attended Equity Summit 2011 in Detroit, the six-hour bus ride there and back was a vital part of the experience. It gave participants a chance to meet or become reacquainted with one another and to develop or deepen relationships.
Two facilitators from the Cardinal Stritch Leadership Institute conducted activities on the bus to Detroit to help participants anticipate what they might learn, what they wanted to get out of the conference, and what they wanted from each other and could offer to each other, said Susan Lloyd, executive director of the Zilber Family Foundation.
“We wanted the participants to feel strong and refreshed with a whole new set of resources,” Lloyd added. “To build or strengthen relationships is just one step on the path to stronger collaboration and greater collective impact.”
Participant Bess Earl said there were many people on the bus she had wanted to meet, and “the ride gave us that opportunity.” Earl, sustainable communities coordinator at Washington Park Partners, was equally excited by the summit itself.
“I was most interested in learning about healthy food options that others had been working on, which I did,” Earl said. “But at the heart of every topic was engaging the community.”
Earl recounted a particular panelist who shared a tale of awakening. “At one workshop, a speaker told of all the amazing work that he thought he had done in the community,” Earl said. “But he reflected one day on the fact that a very limited number of residents had been part of that movement. The disparities had stayed the same, even after all the new programming.” Earl said it took the community worker 10 years before he changed his approach and really began to listen to what residents said they needed.
“I think we all need to remember that as we move forward,” Earl said.
For Brianna Perez, who works at the Agape Community Center through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, one of the most important take-aways from the conference was “to be reminded that we, too, are making change in our neighborhoods.” She added, “I was really thankful for the opportunity to go to the summit.”
Dan Adams, neighborhood plan coordinator at Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, called the experience a “whirlwind of a week.” Adams said the summit echoed a concept at a recent symposium sponsored by LISC—collective impact. “We need to make sure what we’re doing is advancing our goals and agenda together, versus advancing ourselves individually,” he added.
A collaboration among Milwaukee funders allowed participants to attend the summit. Lloyd said that the Zilber Family Foundation hopes that it will be the first of many such joint efforts. In addition to Zilber, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, Ralph Evinrude Foundation and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee funded the trip.
The Equity Summit experience was “pretty phenomenal,” said Terry Tunks Boatman, Riverwest Center director/Family Services director at COA Youth and Family Centers. She noted that keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada, executive director of the famed Harlem Children’s Zone, vowed to take 100 blocks in Harlem and change the neighborhood, “one kid, one block at a time.”
“We have to stop talking about ‘those’ kids and we have to start talking about ‘our’ kids,” said Tunks Boatman. When policy-makers start thinking about all the kids as ‘our’ kids and not ‘those’ kids, that will be great.”
Marcia Caton Campbell, Milwaukee director of the Center for Resilient Cities, returned from Detroit with renewed enthusiasm for carrying on and expanding the good works of so many groups in Milwaukee.
The diversity of the 2,500 people who attended the conference mirrors the direction the nation is going, Caton Campbell said. “These were people of experience and wisdom and influence.”
Caton Campbell highlighted the summit’s strong emphasis on achieving racial equity in America. “For the Milwaukee group to be able to participate in that, to understand the larger racial equity context in which everyone is working, in the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative and the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative, that’s a goal for all of us.”