Last year, on a bit of a whim, I cajoled my employer to ante up $400 to cover my participation fee for the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce's "Greater Richmond Challenge." I had attended the Chamber's Vision 2010 check-up the previous November, and it had piqued my interest with its willingness to invite Richmonders from all walks of life to ask hard questions about the present and paint vivid pictures of the future. I had small hopes that the Challenge might advance the optimism of that half-day event. I also thought I might glean some ideas I could port back to my job in leadership development and training.
What I didn't expect was that I would actually get engaged -- almost inspired -- by a two-day experience that took me all over the region exploring the issue of affordable housing.
You see, I'd been to a number of these "vision events" over the years, starting in 1990 with VCU's Grace Street Task Force -- a university/community panel that got me extremely excited about the possibilities behind the Grace Street business corridor, and left me (and others involved) deeply disillusioned by the "all talk, no action" approach that ultimately took hold. I sat through visioning events at the University of Richmond, at VCU and at various locations on Broad Street -- enough sessions to develop a rich cynicism about invitations to the public to change their community (not to mention the rich cynicism I developed about comfortable businesspeople -- mostly white, mostly male, mostly wearing blue suits -- looking to assuage their consciences and make a buck on urban development). Lest you think my experience with the Challenge kicked my cynicism in the teeth, let me point you to a recent mostly white, mostly male, mostly blue-suit-wearing event in the Manchester District.
Back to the Challenge. It was engaging. It was educational. It was inspiring. I met diverse people who shared a passion for community. It was, basically, many things I had never expected.
That's a good thing.
In the months that followed the Challenge, members of my affordable housing team got back together to learn about Elder Homes, discuss ways we could support the Affordable Housing Trust Fund legislation, and otherwise stay engaged around the issue. We participated in the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Public Square on workforce housing, wrote letters to the editor and volunteered to work on a Habitat for Humanity House. We played a creative role in the Chamber's Vision 2010 check-up event. Who'd've thunk it? Not me.
My simple decision to participate in the Challenge introduced me to some very cool people who have remained connected, which essentially is what community building is all about to begin with.
When the Chamber's Stephanie Kirksey invited me to participate in the planning committee for the second Greater Richmond Challenge, I couldn't say no. And while my dream of an event that drew 2,000 people together for a week-long engagement never materialized, almost 100 people from all over the Richmond Region will be coming together over the next few weeks for orientation and the 32-hour Challenge event.
I'll be writing about the event mostly as a participant, and occasionally from behind-the-scenes. First up -- a meeting with the group of subject-matter experts who will be supporting the ten teams.