Innovation: Establishing an academy to offer training in community organizing skills at the neighborhood level
Home: Baltimore (Edmondson Village)
Occupation: Community organizer
Hobbies: Organic gardening, running
A training academy can give community leaders skills they can transmit to their neighbors.
Photography by Jim Sandoz
Kristerfer Burnett thinks he can change that by tapping into one of the city’s existing strengths: the resiliency and talents of its ordinary people. The Edmondson Village resident wants to create a Community Leadership Training and Organizing Academy where activists from all over Baltimore can learn how to solve their problems – and pass those skills on to their neighbors.
“There’s a lot of untapped potential among people who care about the success of neighborhoods … but there’s no one reaching out to give them the skills to make a huge impact.”
And he sees it in his own backyard, where a local shopping center that was once a jewel of the neighborhood now has a reputation for crime, trash and neglect. He advised fellow residents about how to take action beyond “the traditional method of calling 311 [the city’s municipal services hotline] and hoping it gets dealt with.” That means things like writing press releases, circulating petitions, launching a website, forming coalitions with other groups, and putting real pressure on city officials and business owners.
That’s where Burnett’s training and organizing academy comes in. He would bring in community leaders for skill-building activities and discussions on topics like navigating government bureaucracies. There would also be analysis of larger issues such as race and education.
Leaders who take the course will then be able to go back to their communities and train ordinary people in the basics of organizing – and those people will in turn be able to train others. The basic idea is that almost anyone can be a community organizer if they have a few tools, a little knowledge and the other key ingredient that Burnett says is often lacking: “the confidence in believing that they can do it.”