community change agents
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we knew it. Our organizations, the restaurants we frequented, and our children’s schools are all scrambling to keep up with the latest news and information. In the midst of the storm there has been one constant - a group of men and women - change agents - who from one crisis to the next have never stopped caring about those in their community.
Highly connected in their neighborhoods, these agents of change, serve as points of mobilization in their communities, connecting people to resources and information needed to navigate this crisis and others.
They earned their place in the ecosystem not by having the most money, the best resources or cutting edge programs - but through consistently showing up. The relational equity they’ve built has more value than any other exchange when it comes to touching the lives of those most in need. Their currency ... is trust.
One of those leaders is Ms. Gloria Dukes, the Director of Bright Future Learning Center in Camp Greene. About a year ago, our team set up a meeting with Ms. Gloria after finding out that the children from her Early Learning Center were growing into some of the best readers at the local neighborhood schools.
We wanted to know what made her center special. What was her “secret sauce”?.
It became immediately apparent that she was the secret sauce. This work for her was more than a job; it was a calling. It was part of her life’s mission, something that she was uniquely created to do. It was in her DNA.
At Bright Future, Ms. Gloria and her husband Ray, have built a successful business, and also a warm and loving family comprised of the staff she employs and the caretakers of the children enrolled. She recognizes her employee’s hard work with plaques for “resilience” , and makes sure they can access training to further their education. She has waived tuition co-payments if families cannot pay, absorbing the costs herself and has even taken on fostering some of the children when need has arisen.
She has been doing this work, steadfastly building her legacy for 20 years.
When COVID-19 hit, she was one of the first to host a food and book drive, and has been providing resources including food, diapers, books and much more for families every single week.
There are thousands of nonprofits, churches, and public services of all different shapes and sizes claiming to be the ticket to solving our most pressing challenges. But the real change agents are the neighborhood leaders like Ms Gloria who serve their community at the grass roots.
Many of our community’s most vulnerable are tired of being experimented on, dehumanized through pity marketing and data driven impact evaluations. Tired of being promised great things only to have those promises fall through. It is interventions like these that have lost the trust of our most vulnerable - promising slam dunk, Hail Mary impacts and being completely disconnected from those community mobilizers like Gloria, who actually have the influence and relational equity to execute.
At Freedom Communities - we see Leaders like Gloria across the Freedom Corridor - faithfully committed to meeting the most pressing needs of their neighbors. They were here before the news trucks showed up and they’ll be here long after the dust settles.
And that not only matters now, but it matters for our city and how solutions are fundamentally designed to transform communities. Leaders like Gloria need to be at the decision making table we should all be following their lead.
Organizations like Freedom Communities have the privilege to come alongside, to listen to and help be connectors. We can leverage our social capital to bridge some of the longstanding equity gaps and amplify the solutions coming from the grass roots.
Imagine what could happen if we connected a network of Glorias to each other .... and equipped these change makers with the tools and resources they needed to move their whole community forward. That is what we are striving to do at Freedom Communities through the Freedom Corridor Collaborative. To mobilize, equip, and connect the true community heroes.