The Continued Urgency Of Now
Just came from speaking to a group of Black & LatinX teens in Harlem encouraging them to join the community board. I don’t think people truly understand how urgent their situation is, and why those designing their futures (tech community, talking to you) should care.
It took some time for them to warm up to the panel (which included @harlembgced of @harlembgc), but when we gave them the floor to address what they saw from their vantage point, it was pure brilliance. Lack of employment, older folks getting preference in part due to the loss of jobs.
One young woman talked about wanting to know kind of recourse she had against @NYCHA because water was brown and often cold in the shower, and she felt her mom shouldn’t pay rent for those amenities. One man spoke to the judgement he got from folks in interviews, not knowing the content of his character.
Another young man wanted to know why his middle school was at risk of closing and what he could do about it. These young men and women see what is happening, but they struggle most with unpacking their relationship to power; specifically where to get it at a time when it is being stripped away.
Of all the questions, my heart stayed with the jobs conversation the most. In the near future there is going to be a real reckoning automation, lack of inclusion, globalization’s very real impact on local communities, and lack of opportunity more broadly.
I pride myself on being a (reluctant) optimist at heart, but what alarms me are the ways in which folks are legitimately skipping these communities and not attempting to find solutions. That, combined with a historic lack of trust in many of these communities which is justifiable.
What these communities need most isn’t civic tech, it isn’t coding, it’s empathy. We need collaboration for the sake of the future of kids you never met and may never meet. We need empathy the likes of which have been unseen. In short: WE NEED to give a damn.
This isn’t fixed with a fluffy P.R. statement, the “market” sure as sh*t is not fixing these systemic issues. The market is actually incentivizing bad actors far more than it is good. These bad actors include the tech companies promising the world and falling short on accountability.
In an age where @realDonaldTrump at Davos claims (wrongly) “poverty is solved with a paycheck,” we fundamentally misunderstand the depth of the trauma so many communities like Harlem are grappling with. Money alone will not solve this. It cannot.
Before I left I watched over five of those kids grab community board applications. Some of whom you might think would be least likely to. We conveyed to them (honestly) their power lies in helping to hold ADULTS accountable. Just think about that message for a second…
WE are the actors needing to be confronted about doing the right things. I feel we are all falling short of what that can look like, what that can feel like. We need alternative models that help us care more about our unseen neighbors in an age of scarcity thinking & rampant selfishness.
For an example of models of that collaborative form of governing, we may think to look at cases such as what’s been happening in Mexico: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bethsimonenoveck/2018/01/24/city-challenges-collaborative-governing-for-public-problem-solving/#2ed827c66df3