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At our Big Apple 2020 Innovation Awards event on January 30th, LISC NYC celebrated two honorees, Morgan Stanley and Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, and highlighted how each illustrate the concept of resilient partnerships. In exploring how both a corporate partner and a community partner embody this theme, I reflected on how our mission of bringing about more equitable, inclusive and resilient New York City neighborhoods hinges on community development partnerships that bring diverse sectors together to meet pressing challenges.
In the 1970s when Banana Kelly was founded, the critical challenge facing the South Bronx was stemming the tide of disinvestment and reversing the deplorable housing conditions that low-income communities of color endured because of redlining, landlord abandonment, and arson in their neighborhoods. Grassroots organizations like Banana Kelly worked with LISC and city agencies to set up partnerships that utilized public resources leveraged by private capital to turn those conditions around. It is thanks to Banana Kelly and other community development corporations of that era that the physical fabric of neighborhoods like Huntspoint and Longwood in the Bronx was rebuilt.
But in honoring and telling the story of Banana Kelly, I was reminded that it was the determination, grit, advocacy and sweat equity of the people living in these neighborhoods that enabled them to cobble together the resources to improve their living conditions. They envisioned a better future for themselves and their children, and they demanded it.
So it’s the resiliency of the civic spirit and the beauty of collective efficacy that we as a community development movement celebrated that evening. The idea that at the community level, our fates are tied to one another, and that when we engage in efforts that benefit not only us as individuals, but lift up our neighbors as well, we make our neighborhoods safer, healthier and more prosperous.
That part of our work -- community organizing and advocacy -- is critical. And it gets done by leaders who make it their mission to knit their communities together and mend the frayed social fabric of neighborhoods burdened by poverty, racism and lack of opportunity. It’s leaders like Harry DeRienzo, the founding president of Banana Kelly, and Hope Burgess, the current president who started out as a resident of Banana Kelly’s housing, who make sure that community is not just a buzzword, but a powerful concept that compels people to keep advocating for social justice, despite the fact that the legacy of segregation and the persistence of racism in our society continue to deprive many people of access to economic opportunity and the basic necessities of life.
To bring about social justice, we must invest in today’s emerging leaders who continue to fight for healthy, prosperous places for everyone, not just the privileged few. So we honor and thank Harry DeRienzo and the other giants of community development who got the movement started and brought us to where we are now. They rebuilt devastated neighborhoods brick by brick, and they remind us that our work is not done. We now need to commit to supporting a new generation of leaders of color with lived experience like Hope Burgess, and to increasing the capacity and resiliency of the organizations they lead so they can tackle the urgent challenges of today: rising housing costs, the threat of displacement, growing inequality and a fast changing economy that is leaving more and more people behind.
In order to support that critical work, we need partners like Morgan Stanley who are guided by the belief that the corporate sector plays a vital role in our society as an engine of creativity, innovation and economic opportunity. We need allies who embrace tenets of corporate responsibility grounded in the understanding that their success is dependent on investing in people and places where they operate.
So at LISC NYC’s Big Apple 2020 Innovation Awards, we made a commitment to continuing to work with our government, nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate partners to support a new generation of community leaders to carry out this critical work. And we affirmed our dedication to cultivating resilient partnerships aimed at developing and preserving affordable housing, spurring equitable economic development, bringing about health equity, and strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations who engage residents in collective efforts to build more equitable and inclusive New York City neighborhoods for all.