Community Collaborative Boards (CCB) have been a feature in Participatory Action Research, in which researchers collaborate with community members and organizations to address community concerns (e.g., political, racial, and cultural tensions within their communities) rather than the traditional model of research in which researchers from outside the community study the community for and with their own interests in mind. Dr. Alexis Jemal, a founding ARCC Board member, had participated in a CCB as a part of her academic research. It occurred to her that the CCB framework could also be applied to community organizing. For example, a CCB of community members and groups could be organized to address structural racism and inequity.
One benefit of this participatory approach became clear to her when she reflected on the too frequent occurrences of unarmed Black people being murdered by law enforcement. In the many communities across America where these events have tragically occurred, community unrest has followed. Usually, outside organizers and/or activists have come into these communities to lend their organizing skills and support, or to pursue their own aims, or both. Unfortunately, the activists and organizers who “parachute” into communities often do not coordinate effectively with community members on the ground, nor do they adequately train residents on the frontlines in strategies and tactics.
As a result, no sustainable structure remains to support the community to continue its healing process or prevent another act of violence or respond effectively should another act of violence occurs. The opportunity to create and sustain lasting change to prevent such violent acts is rare. (Similarly, research has shown that interventions resulting from non-community-informed initiatives usually lack buy-in from the residents and do not effectively or adequately address the community’s needs.)
However, models such as Participatory Action Research (PAR) and community-based participatory research (CBPR) use techniques designed to empower communities and build the community’s capacity to study and address their own interests rather than rely solely on outside “experts.”
A second benefit of the CCB model is that the impact of an initiative developed by a single nonprofit organization or a small group of citizens can be magnified. Assuming that the organizations and/or individuals who are part of a particular CCB have complementary missions, CCB members can pool resources and provide mutual support. Amplifying the power of their respective programs and events was a key attractor and motivator for members of SJM Inc. and the MLK Jr. Association to join forces forming the first iteration of a CCB, the Anti-Racism Community Collaborative (ARCC).
Collaboration allows for community organizations to accomplish together what they could not accomplish separately. Organizations can share resources, apply for joint funding, divide the workload, and have greater reach and impact. As a case in point, ARCC has received funding from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the Westfield Foundation, something that neither of the two founding organizations had done previously. ARCC has offered successful programs, such as the (pilot) Dialogue Circles on Race (Winter, 2019) and The Secrets of Shady Rest (Spring, 2019.) Such accomplishments would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, for a single, small, nonprofit to achieve.
The ARCC’s mission is: “Bridging divides, creating awareness, and inspiring innovative action to build just and equitable communities.” Because ARCC is dedicated to education, initiatives and programming that work to disable structural racism, it also serves the purpose of creating a community of like-minded individuals who build relationship through this work. When a manifestation of structural racism (e.g., a race-related incident) occurs in the community, this group of individuals can be mobilized to answer the call and work for just and peaceful solutions.
The COLLAB Model for Community Engagement & Transformation
The COLLAB Model for Community Engagement & Transformation is a multi-faceted approach to community organizing designed to facilitate collaboration between communities, organizations, leaders, businesses and beyond to do transformative work and accomplish action goals that are mutually beneficial. The model is for co-intentional community organizing, which means that it is “community organizing for the community, by the community.” Some benefits that the model is intending to deliver are: shared resources, new partnerships, inclusivity of diverse voices, innovative ideas, greater impact, spreading of workload, and the positioning of people according to their strengths and talents. ARCC is pilot-testing the COLLAB Model and, in future, the goal is for the model to be revised, improved and replicated in other communities.