Florence Aliese Development Network, LLC approaches community development through an historical tradition shaped by organizing, community dialogue, advocacy, teach-ins, networking, and healing in the Black cultural tradition. Our values are rooted in collaboration, dialogue, active listening, self-reflection & accountability, good character, and radical love. Our wellspring of inspiration comes from the legacies of Ancestors Mother Biddy Mason, Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, Paulo Freire, Zora Neal Hurston, & the Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally. We also continue to review the works of and lean into the lessons of living legacies like bell hooks, Dr. Angela Davis, Kimberlee Crenshaw, and the emergent wisdom from rising voices such as the Idle No More and Black Lives Matter Movements, along with everyday unsung heroes and heroines.
Below are five case studies describing projects that established Florence Aliese’s participatory advocacy as a foundational practice.
Case Study #1: Skid Row Refresh Spot
The Skid Row Refresh Spot is a community-driven 24/7 shower, laundry, and restroom center dedicated to bringing dignity and personal hygiene services to unhoused residents of Skid Row. For decades, as the number of unhoused persons increased and resettled as urban refugees from the region’s growing housing crisis, the City failed to implement basic necessities to support the community’s human needs. So after years of advocacy, a perfect storm erupted including the outbreak of Hepatitis A among communities experiencing homelessness.
As the Director of Homelessness Policy for the Mayor, my colleague and I met with the Skid Row Improvement Committee for 8 months to plan and develop the Skid Row Refresh Spot. The community identified all aspects from the operating providers to security to aesthetics. Job creation for people from the community – living in a tent, a car, or housed- was a key priority. Goodwill Industries stepped up and manages local hires to clean the facilities after each use. In addition to meeting basic needs, guests can speak with a housing case manager, check their vitals with a public health nurse, and access harm-reduction materials as they navigate through addictions until they are ready for substance use intervention services. Homeless Healthcare LA provides the overall site management and case management services. United Community East Prevention Project provides peer support and substance use alternative services.
After much doubt and fear from the local business community, law enforcement, and other community stakeholders, the Refresh Spot is a huge success. Since the initial opening in 2017, it has moved to a larger, permanent location. The Refresh Spot consistently reports at least 10,000 uses a month.
Case Study #2: Callie Rose Literary Arts Center
Founded in 2014, Callie Rose opened in a Downtown Inglewood storefront to promote literacy and dialogue through the literary arts as a tool of community building, inspire civic engagement, and facilitate personal transformation. It was an urban homeplace where all were welcomed as long as they were willing to contribute to a storytelling process through one of the many genres offered by community artists including fiction writing, memoir, poetry, spoken word, screenwriting, drama, comedy, music, drumming, visual arts, dance, and old-fashion dialogue around the ‘family kitchen table.’
During its first year, 232 unique guests participated in one of the Center’s many program offerings. Children ages 3 to 10 were exposed to one-hour of reading a week, after-school enrichment, arts 7 crafts, and access to free books to take home to encourage reading. Community residents gathered in dialogue around concerning topics from college access, civic affairs, to world events across the African Diaspora led by indigenous scholars, activists, artist, and practitioners of their various fields. Callie Rose also worked with the Inglewood Business Expansion Club and Inglewood Public Library to host community-wide events such as the 1st Holiday ArtWalk and Literary Arts Festival. Finally, world-known Inglewood based artists hosted many events and classes for the community including Otis O’Solomon from the Watts Prophets, R&B and jazz singer Phyllis Battle, and author and musician Delfeayo Marsalis of the notable New Orleans Marsalis jazz family.
Callie Rose continues in the virtual space and is reorganizing to make a come back in 2021 as a tool to continue to support community-building post-COVID and the post-Trump Era.
Case Study #3: Echoes of Africa
In 2004, in response to growing numbers of African immigrants resettling into the West and Southwest Philadelphia communities, as the Director of Special Projects for Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, I convened several organizations to organize the 1st Echoes of Africa event. It was held at Malcolm X Park and comprised music, dance, fashion, food, representing the many African nations living in the Diaspora and calling Philadelphia home.
Since the 1990’s several African countries had undergone sever civil war and political unrest that had led to genocide against many ethnic groups including those in Liberia and Rwanda. Caribbean countries such as Haiti also experienced violent political unrest. Several international humanitarian groups resettled survivors in Philadelphia without full integration into the broader community. At the time, there were at-least two violent incidents among youth – native born youth who felt threatened by the incoming new youth, and resettled youth – many of whom either participated or witnessed extreme violence and loss of close family members. Both groups expressed an unmet need for community building and mediation. At the same time, many new West African businesses were feeling harassed by local city inspectors reflecting an unmet need for small business orientation and cultural sensitivity training among city staff to better serve the needs of this community. Echoes of Africa was therefore created as a neutral ground. The first series of planning meetings served more as an exercise to build trust and understanding between long-standing neighborhood groups and new immigrant organizations. After a few tough conversation, we hosted an amazing event that created a joyful space for neighbors -regardless of where they were born – to get to know neighbors, learn each other’s name, and open up lines of communication to increase understanding of each others’ cultures.
Several individuals and key organizations that made this first event possible and set the foundation for its legacy that continues today include: City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, Tiguida Kaba – African Family Health Organization (AFHO), Voffe Jabateh – ACANA, Marty Cabrey – Community Activist, Friends of Malcolm X Park, Friends of Malcolm X Park, Africom, and many more.
After this event as dialogue continued and evolved, at the urging of Councilwoman Blackwell, then Mayor John F. Street created the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs by executive order. The Commission created a formal standing for this community in the city structure and provided a platform to give voice to the diverse African and Caribbean communities.
The Mayor’s Commission and Echoes of Africa are still continuing today.
Case Study # 4: New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger
In 1996, at any one time in the state of New Jersey, 292,000 children under the age of twelve were hungry or at risk of hunger. In total, 7.3% of New Jersey’s children lived in extreme poverty. Local food relief programs reported serving at least 100 people a day across the state. In response, several farmers and leaders of the state’s agricultural field began organizing to develop a process by which they could donate excess produce.
New Jersey Farmers Against Hunger was formed through a partnership of the New Jersey Agricultural Society, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the Bonner Foundation, and 17 local farmers. They created a piloted program of which I served as the Project Manager. With a team of five Ameri-Corps participants and faith-based volunteers, we gleaned 220,108 pounds of fresh produce from farms across the state and delivered to local food banks, homeless shelters, and other social service agencies serving children and families.
In addition to providing fresh produce to families living in economic challenges, the greatest outcome was guiding several conservative farmers through their negative and mis-informed stereotypes of inner-city and communities of color. At the end, shifts in attitude opened the door for increased farmer participation, ownership, and pride of the program, sustaining it for months after the summer ended. Food rescue and gleaning programs are a great way to engage large numbers of volunteers and fill gaps in community need with pride, dignity, and health.
Case Study #5: Kingston Restoration Company Writing Program
Worked with marginalized youth in an inner-city arts-based leaderships development writing program in Downtown Kingston, Jamaica in 1993. These youth were from a close-knit community that experienced a significant level of violence from political warfare, the drug trade, poor sanitation and environmental conditions that impacted quality of life, and limited employment opportunities. Together we designed and implemented a program of writing expressions using guest speakers, poetry, essays, field trips outside of their community, dialogue, and short-stories to re-socialize five young men from the community.
Over a series of ten-weeks, through active participation, the young men developed confidence, increased their writing skills, and developed career plans. Today, nearly thirty years later, at least two are still in touch and doing very well. This was an early lesson in understanding how where one lives – more than aptitude and talent – significantly impacts life opportunity. This project made me a strong believe in mixed-income communities and the value of youth mentorship programs.