[Editor's Note: This is a companion article to the 2007 Annual Report]
By DUANE M. ELLING
Eric Robinson knows the history of Flint, Michigan. The 50-plus father of three and lifelong Flint resident is well aware of the city’s role as the birthplace of General Motors and the explosive growth and prosperity that the area enjoyed during the 1940s, '50s and '60s.
Robinson is also familiar with the more recent chapters of Flint’s story. He knows about the economic, educational and social struggles that permeate many of the city’s once vibrant neighborhoods.
Despite those struggles, Robinson also finds hope and opportunity.
|Helping to create change in Flint are |
FACT members (left to right) Oscar Barnett,
Rev. Martin Field, Eric Robinson and
“As a person of spiritual faith, I have to look beyond what I see with the naked eye and imagine what’s possible. If Flint as a community can do the same, then we’ll find the power and the ability to move the city forward.”
Generating meaningful, sustainable social change in the Mott Foundation’s hometown is a key focus of Robinson and other participants of Flint Area Congregations Together (FACT).
The group is bringing the power of faith-based grassroots community organizing to bear on such local issues as poverty, education, violence and blight. It was created in 2006 with the help of the PICO National Network, a Mott grantee that has more than 1,000 affiliated institutions working across 17 states.
A one-year, $100,000 grant to FACT in late 2006, made through Mott’s Flint Area program, helped support the group’s activities in 2007. Mott's grantmaking for community organizing, made primarily through its Pathways Out of Poverty program, reflects a belief in the capacity of individuals working together to impact the world around them.
FACT, which has 11 member churches, engages clergy, congregations and other residents in exploring the concerns within their immediate neighborhoods and possible strategies for addressing them.
Membership in FACT includes the creation by each church of a Local Organizing Ministry (LOM), which develops neighborhood-based social change activities. Individuals serving on the LOM also receive, through PICO, formal training on community-organizing principles and leadership.
Rick Carter, executive director of FACT, says his organization has concentrated its initial organizing activities in the city’s low-income and underserved neighborhoods. This will help ensure that families with the greatest need are at the forefront of creating local leadership and change as the organization expands to other neighborhoods and communities, he says.
While much of FACT’s work is in its infancy, progress is being made. Robinson and other participants have held more than 1,000 one-on-one meetings with congregation members and other residents to discuss local needs and concerns.
And FACT members have obtained public commitments from city officials and other local leaders to address such issues as student performance and dropout rates in local schools, and the stabilization and redevelopment of vacant and unsafe properties.
As families work together on these issues, they also discover that they’re not alone in their hopes for the future, says Susan Kirby. She attends the Unitarian Universalist Church in Flint, which joined FACT in 2006.
“Many people have felt isolated with their worries, believing that no one understood or cared what was happening in their homes and neighborhoods," Kirby said. "FACT is creating the relationships that connect these families and help them to learn from and support one another.”
And, she says, those connections ultimately will extend throughout Genesee County, sparking “a dynamic of change that will cross such social lines as race, religion and income.”
Robinson looks forward to witnessing that progress. City of Hope Church, which he attends near downtown Flint, is exploring possible membership in FACT. Robinson says the underlying framework of community organizing is sparking new recognition among families that they hold the power to shape the systems and decisions that affect their lives.
“FACT is helping local people figure out where they are, where they want to go and the steps they need to get there. And it’s those families, by standing up and taking on those challenges, who will write a new story for the city of Flint.”