Development without Displacement

"We do not want to be passive recipients of our neighborhood's destiny. We want to be active creators and participants of its future."  - Dr. Assata Richards

"We do not want to be passive recipients of our neighborhood's destiny. We want to be active creators and participants of its future."

- Dr. Assata Richards


A few years ago, the city of Houston decided to embark on a huge project; renovating Emancipation Park. This is a 10 acre park in the northern part of the Third Ward. But this is not any regular 10 acre plot of land. This land was purchased around 1872 by former African American slaves to celebrate their freedom. African Americans have occupied the neighborhood around this park ever since.

This renovation is much needed. I remember days when I would pick up my soccer ball and go shoot around on the wide open green spaces in the park. The pool looked like it hadn't been used or cleaned in years. The structures were falling apart. But with these renovations, I see the park returning and preserving its historic status as public place for all to celebrate freedom. 

Or will a different story emerge? Will the descendants of freed slaves and descendants of slave owners celebrate together on this hallowed ground, or will there be a complete erosion of the neighborhood's character, history, and culture?

Unfortunately, like most historic African American neighborhoods, the northern Third Ward is beginning to see an erosion of its character, history, and culture. With the influx of middle to upper class citizens into the neighborhood, many local Third Ward residents who want to remain in the neighborhood are being squeezed out by economic forces; rising property values, taxes, and rent prices threaten what was once a vibrant haven for African American people, history and culture in Houston.

Is this the only way to develop a neighborhood; in with the "new," and out with the "old?" Are there alternatives to this kind of market-driven development of neighborhoods where we focus on the weaknesses of a community and not it's strengths? 


Over the past year, I have been learning a lot about Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Unlike the needs based approach to development of market economy, ABCD seeks to build on the strengths and resources that a community already has.

A blessing of serving my neighborhood as a Community Chaplain is that it affords me the freedom to participate in a wide variety of neighborhood initiatives. It gives me freedom to find the places and people in my neighborhood through whom God is working, and come alongside that work.

Over the past year, one of the most powerful associations I partner with is the Emancipation Economic Development Council (EEDC). The EEDC is a collective of businesses, non-profits, and residents of the northern Third Ward. This is the neighborhood that surrounds Emancipation Park, a 10 acre plot of land purchased in the 1872 by former African American slaves to celebrate their freedom. African Americans have occupied this area of town ever since.

Our collective shares a common purpose. We see beauty in our neighborhood and its residents, where others see lack. We want development without displacement. We desire the eradication of urban blight, and the creation of flourishing communities with economic opportunity for all! Development that does not take into account a neighborhood's people, history, and culture can never be equitable and should never be pursued.

To read more about the EEDC, please click HERE.

Metamorphosis

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Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis: change or transformation. The best example of this in nature is the process by which caterpillars change into butterflies. This has always fascinated me. A seemingly unattractive egg, laid on a leaf, hatches into a caterpillar, which eventually becomes a beautiful butterfly.

The caterpillar eats and sheds its skin as it continues to grow. This process repeats many times, until the caterpillar finally creates a pupa, and outer casing that will nurture the caterpillar as it transforms into an adult butterfly.

What is most noteworthy to me about this process is how much change comes from within the pupa itself. It is a slow process of transformation through a complete cycle of life. 10-14 days inside this encasing, that changes a seemingly ordinary caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. 

Immediately after the butterfly emerges, it still needs some time to grow. To strengthen its wings. But eventually, that butterfly grows strong and gracefully takes flight.
 
Third Ward, Houston
 
Over the past few months, God continues to remind me that to the untrained eye and despairing heart, my neighborhood may look like a caterpillar. But caterpillars are beautiful, because they carry promise to term. Caterpillars are butterflies in the making! The Third Ward, I believe, is undergoing a metamorphosis. It is a neighborhood that brims with so much history, culture, character and hope. 

Our ministry is also going through a metamorphosis. Over the past few years, we have eaten the leaves of learning, as we explored and discerned where God was leading us. We have also shed some skin, as God constantly surprised us by giving us new models for doing ministry every time we thought we had figured it all out.

Now, we are encased and transforming. Through his Spirit, God is breathing new life into what we are doing in the Third Ward. It is hard to do the work of resting, but we trust that God is transforming us into a beautiful ministry that will bring him glory in Houston's historic Third Ward.
 
We believe that God is calling us to nurture our own corner of this neighborhood. The seeds of a new creation are here. Where others see a "worthless" caterpillar, I choose to see a butterfly in the making. God is in the Third Ward. I'm excited to be on this journey, finding the places he is already working, and humbly joining him in his daily work of renewing and restoring all things!

We're Starting a Nonprofit!

A renewed mental model for Square Inch as a ministry in Houston's historic Third Ward.

A renewed mental model for Square Inch as a ministry in Houston's historic Third Ward.

"Confused?"

Many times, when I tell people I am an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, one of the first questions they ask is, "Where is your church?" To which I reply, "I am actually a Community Chaplain, and I worship on Sundays at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I am not the pastor there. But I lead a small missional community/ house church that gathers in my house on Saturday evenings."

Then I proceed to let people know that I connect a diverse community of people and organizations for the social and spiritual renewal of the Third Ward. I also connect with and serve with already existing networks that are working for renewal in our neighborhood. Oh, and yeah; I am also in the process of starting a non-profit organization that focuses on educational justice, leadership formation, and community transformation.

As you may have guessed, at this point things can seem a little confusing. How does it all work together? Is there congruence and cohesion to all these different affiliations? What picture can we use to describe my work, responsibilities and relationships as a community chaplain in Houston's historic Third Ward?

"Mental Model"

The best picture that we have reached for the posture of our ministry is a Venn diagram ( see picture above) with three different sets. 

1. Missional Community: 3 years ago, we started a faith community, gathering weekly in our living room, seeking to grow our faith in Jesus Christ through three rhythms; study of scripture, service to our city, and celebration of the world around us. As a missional community, we describe ourselves as an extended family that joins Christ in his redemptive and restorative work in this world in the places where we already are.

2. Transformational Network: transformational networks are diverse communities of service and learning, training people in an integral worldview, and connecting them for the social and spiritual renewal of their communities. I serve as a chaplain to a network of pastors and non-profit leaders who God has called to actively seek the peace of the Third Ward. 

3. Transformation Initiative: I believe the Third Ward is a neighborhood that overflows with the abundance of God. It is a neighborhood that is full of leaders. With two of the biggest universities in Houston in the Third Ward, (University of Houston & Texas Southern University), this neighborhood holds some of the greatest assets for transformation in a grassroots way.

While great higher educational institutions exist in the Third Ward, we know that not all college-aged and college-ready residents have equal access to these schools. We want to level the playing field by providing full-time scholarships to a few emerging urban leaders who view their education as an opportunity to become gospel-shaped leaders with purpose who transform their communities.

I hope this at least begins to help you understand how God is placing our ministry Houston's historic Third Ward. I am more than happy to answer any questions. Over the next few months, I'll periodically give updates about the various facets of our ministry.