From My Perspective: What it Takes

Damon Bailey, Community Development Advisor, Purpose Built Communities

By Damon Bailey, Community Development Advisor, Purpose Built Communities

In a recent interview, President Barack Obama said, “Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.”

From the time I worked in educational leadership to my role today with Purpose Built Communities, I have observed that people who shape our nation, whether one child at a time in a classroom or the Purpose Built Communities Network Members who have broad influence to improve the lives of all who live in a neighborhood, share much the same traits. To change the very systems that create and perpetuate concentrated poverty, leaders must be willing to take actions that will result in tension. Changing the course of history requires bravery, boldness and personal sacrifice.

I began my career as a middle school science teacher, and the need for disruption became clear as I worked with young people and then served as a leadership coach with Teach for America. I worked with teachers every day to help them embrace the power and responsibility of their role. In addition to embracing the discomfort of disruption, they helped me develop a consistent set of necessary characteristics for leaders that apply to anyone who seeks change.

  1. Leaders must have a clear vision for what they are trying to accomplish and why that vision matters to the people they seek to serve and influence.
  2. Responsibility for the people they lead and the outcomes they are pursuing is imperative; a leader can be the bottleneck or the catalyst to achievement.
  3. The ability to broaden support and continuously enlist others in the movement — not only those who have been marginalized and oppressed, but also the people who have benefited from the privileges of the fabric of our country — is essential.
  4. A commitment to actively seeking diverse perspectives is critical, along with the willingness to summon strong judgement.
  5. Leadership requires deeply rooted values of equity, justice, and truth to guide decisions.
  6. And leaders must persist in the face of resistance and the pace of change — fast and slow.

I don’t think the work we do will become any easier any time soon. We must recruit and coach leaders who can match the intensity and complexity of the problems we seek to solve. We need to signal to our country that this kind of neighborhood development is possible and necessary. It is going to take folks who know how to unleash the potential of others around them to restore the dignity communities deserve and accomplish the seemingly impossible tasks ahead.