[INTERVIEW]<br />
Shirley Franklin: Building Better Communities
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like a lot of us, live paycheck to paycheck. So sometimes preventing poverty is as important as an investment in anything else.

EBONY: There was a national conference held by your nonprofit recently. What were some of the ideas and solutions that were discussed?

SF: We had a wonderful conference. This was our third annual network member conference. We have eight network members and we have another twenty cities we’re working with who are interested in the East Lake model that was developed here in the 1990s with the housing authority, the residents of public housing and private philanthropists. It is a model that is a fully integrated approach. Each conference we invite our network members where some of them make presentations or they’re just participants. We also invited others who were interested in the initiative. We had twenty six cities in attendance. There were philanthropic organizations, business people, school board representatives, housing authority representatives, governmental officials and concern citizens who were civically engaged. We talked about what it means to reform education and what kind of models work best.

We also talked about how we can develop the financial model to allow these initiatives to be sustainable. We had conversations about urban agriculture and grocery stores and the importance of closing the gap on food business in low income neighborhoods. We discussed how to provide job training, financial literacy and community wellness programs in these areas. Our theory is the most predictable change from blighted, impoverished communities occurs at the neighborhood level. The other part of the conference was on leadership.

EBONY: How many communities has your non-profit helped since its inception?

SF: We have eight network members and a couple dozen more that we work with. We would say we’ve influenced the thinking of people far more than the network members. Our goal is twenty five communities in the next three to four years that would have a model like East Lake, the Bayou district or Avondale Meadows in Indianapolis. In the mean time, any time we can help to inspire or support people who are doing part of the approach we’ve adopted we would be happy to do so.

EBONY: What are your plans for the organization over the next five years?

SF: Our intention is to work with twenty five communities who are committed to transforming the most impoverished neighborhoods in their cities. We will serve as supporters, coaches and facilitators on a pro-bono basis. Our administrative costs are covered by the philanthropic gifts of our three founders. We work free of charge. We’re not developers. The decisions about who the developers are, what businesses decisions are correct, what schools work for them are made by local leaders. We’re in the business of encouraging people to invite us in and to give us some time to tell our story. And, then we engage with them in getting the work done in their communities.

Chris Williams is an internationally published writer. You can follow him on Twitter @CWmsWrites.