[This script was for Purpose Built Communities' narrative podcast series, This is Community. You can listen to the series here.]
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JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (0:10)
Growing up in Charlotte, I mean, as a kid, you don't notice much. I think it took me going away to college and my political science background and college learning about public administration and public policy and then looking back on life in Charlotte and thinking of kind of the sad and kind of misfortunate things that my peers that I lived around had to go through. So as a kid, it was fine. I was happy, didn't notice things. And as adult is when I kind of started to take a deeper look in Charlotte and see that it was kind of the tale of two cities. My mom bussed me to the rich side of town in Charlotte, where I noticed a big difference between the west side of Charlotte where I grew up on the south side of Charlotte, and where I went to school in fifth grade. And as a fifth grader, just knowing those differences and seeing what they got on the south side compared to what we got on the west side. It's kind of like what sparked my interest into doing social work for lower-income families.
Welcome to This is Community, a podcast series by Purpose Built Communities. In the last episode, we heard about diversity and disaster in Houston. In this episode, the final one of this season, we'll hear the story of Jamese Pinkston.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (1:33)
I am the Community Engagement Officer for Renaissance West Community Initiative, which is located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It's a story that's not necessarily unique, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. This is Episode Nine: "Full Circle."
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Jamese was born and raised in Charlotte. She graduated from West Mecklenburg High School and went to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro to study political science. After spending her whole life in North Carolina, she wanted to go somewhere else after graduating.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (2:08)
Go to New York City, do big things, be in some corporate place and wear heels every day.
But she felt drawn back to her home in North Carolina. She moved back and got her Master's in Geography with a concentration in Community Planning from UNC-Charlotte. That brought her back to West Boulevard, the neighborhood she grew up in.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (2:26)
So it became like kind of full circle. When I lived in Charlotte and growing up, the Renaissance was actually called Boulevard Homes, which was public housing. And the area was high crime. We described it as: stats that are good, they were low at, and stats that are bad, they were high at. And we had two police officers get killed in that neighborhood. Just very high crime, high poverty area. But I would say that I knew most of the people that live there because I went to high school with most of them. And they were all very good people and very loving people and but just their situation and where they were wasn't that great.
Jamese took a job as a Community Engagement Officer with the Renaissance West Community Initiative, the community quarterback in Charlotte.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (3:12)
Our mission is to break intergenerational poverty. And we know that health and wellness, family stability, education, economic empowerment, all have to work together in order to break the cycles of intergenerational poverty. Renaissance in particular, 97 percent of our residents are female head of households who are African American women from the ages of 26 to 35. We know that single females who have children, that they have goals and dreams of themselves, but they also have to worry about their children. So we try to put things in place that we are taking care of both the adult and the child. So it's an intergenerational approach that we have. Two-generational approach, I should say that we call it. In January, we'll open our child development center so that the moms, mostly head of households, will know that their kids are in a safe place and in their neighborhood while they go off to work or go to finish their education.
And if you couldn't tell, she loves her job.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (4:11)
So I always tell my team that I have the best job, I have the fun job. So my job literally is to build relationships with all residents. So we serve the Renaissance, but we also serve the neighborhood adjacent called Little Rock Apartments. They share the same land so we know that we can't keep, you know, we have to serve them, too. There's no way that anything is going to work if we just ignore Little Rock Apartments. So, there's about 1,300 residents and my job is to know all of them, know what their needs are, and then take their needs back to the Initiative and make sure that we're providing programs and services to fulfill those needs. So, what I do is meet families, build that relationship, know what their goals are, and then find ways to help them meet those goals.
This relationship-building is a major part of Renaissance West's strategy and approach, as well as Jamese's work every day. And building trust with the residents of the community is essential to achieving the empowerment and agency that Renaissance West and Jamese want to foster and support in the neighborhood.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (5:13)
We have one family who is very dear to my heart, who I work with every day. And it's a mom who has three boys. One, she has a middle school boy and two twin, a set of twins who are at our school. And one of the twins sometimes has issues, behavioral issues, and I don't like I mean, they are behavioral issues, but they are for other reasons. So, he's at the school every day, and I have went to the principal and the teacher to let them know like, "Hey, I work with this family, if you need help, if something's going on, you know, you can always reach out to me, and I'll come up to help." So, whenever he's having a bad day, the principal will call me on my cell phones, like, "Hey, can you hit him up? He's having a bad day." I'll text Mom, because I know that Mom is at the community college, trying to finish her education. And I know that she doesn't have a car where she can just drop out of class and come run over. So, she's given me permission to go up. And if he has an episode to go and help the teacher and the principal calm him down, which he has a relationship with me and has built trust with me, which makes it a lot easier. So, I can go to the classroom, and I will look in the door, you know, some days and he'll look and he's like, "Oh, there's Miss Jamese. So let me get my act right," you know. So just spending time at the school with him and help in whatever way that I can. And then, his teacher, at the end of the day, we have a computer lab in our offices where the the kids come after school to use every day. And I've made a deal with him that if he can have a good day, that he can use a computer to play games. But, if he has a bad day, the only reason he should have a computer is to do his homework. So, his teacher and I have a system where she'll text me at the end of the day, and, He had a good day today!" So I'm like, "Great!" So, he'll come down. I'm like, "How was your day today?" And I already know what the answer is and you know, he'll tell me, "Well, I got into a little bit of trouble this morning. But my day got better. And so I had a good day." And you know, I'll just do kind of a little silly dance with them as a celebration dance.
He's not the only one who gets the celebration dance.
JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (7:14)
With all the kids that come in, they like to tell their success stories in school. And I love to hear them, and they know it. So, they'll come down and like one kid was like, "I needed to make 150 on a test and I made a 200!" So, you know, you're doing like a dance like, "Woohoo!" And they know, they're like, "Miss Jamese is so crazy." But they love it, you know, and it just encourages them to continue to have good days. Mom also calls me every day. "Did he have a good day? Did you hear anything? What did he do when you went up there today?" And I'm like, "He had a great day, I spent time up there with him today. He's fine." So, that's just like one of the many stories that kind of happen with my role and how my role is a little fluid and I can kind of break it up. And I can go to the school and spend some time there. I can go to Mom's house in her apartment, talk about her goals, and help her reach those. I can spend time in my office, and the kids come down to my office to tell me. So, I have to build a lot of trust with a lot of people in my role. So, I have to build trust with, first and foremost, our residents. I have to build trust with moms for them to trust that I go up and speak with their kid when they can't get off work or leave class to do it. I have to build trust with teachers to know that I am there for the good of their students and to help them. I have to build trust with our principal to know that she can call me in to do these things. Having the kids see me everyday and knowing that I'm there every day and going to have their back 100 percent everyday has really helped to kind of make it work.
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JAMESE PINKSTON - RENAISSANCE WEST COMMUNITY INITIATIVE (8:40)
They learned to build up a respect and a trust for all of us. That when they see us in the community, they give us hugs, they tell us about their day. If they've done something wrong, we know that we can tell them, "That was wrong. How can we fix this? Like, you don't need to do that again." And that's all from knowing that trust is the most important thing when working with our community. The residents who I work with every day are the most loving and caring people that I've ever met in my life. I have my own neighborhood that I live in. But I go to that neighborhood and feel like I'm a part of the community, because I know that they also have my back and that they also appreciate and respect me as I do the same for them. So I don't know. They're just an amazing, amazing group of people.
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Every day, Jamese is changing lives in the neighborhood that helped shaped her own life. She's building the relationships and the trust, the familiarity and respect, the support for each other, the building blocks for equity and a community. She came full circle to help ensure that everyone in her neighborhood got the opportunities to achieve and succeed like she did. In communities around the country, they want their own Jamese. They know that they're making an impact when they pass along a culture of giving back to your community, to the neighbors they're working with. Kia Baker talks about it for Southeast Raleigh.
KIA BAKER - SOUTHEAST RALEIGH PROMISE (10:08)
We're really committed to the values of community and resident leadership. Because what good does it do to have a fantastic school system? What good does it do to have incredible entrepreneurship opportunities and a thriving economy, if people aren't coming home, if people aren't, if people are going off to college, if our kids are going off to college, and then they decide to go somewhere else, then we haven't invested in the right way. So we really want to bring people back into Southeast Raleigh to keep our community strong. And to continue that investment.
Eddy Moratin talks about it for Orlando,.
EDDY MORATIN - LIFT ORLANDO (10:45)
The ultimate goal is, by reintegrating the neighborhood economically, creating the kind of place and space for families of any income level who want to live in that kind of a home, would want their kids to go to that school, would want to hang out in that park, you start to get people to rub elbows who otherwise wouldn't, to care about each other, to be connected. And the vision, for us, is to by reintegrating the neighborhood economically, over time, that in the next 10 to 20 years, we find ourselves with people growing up there that, even though may they might have started out with meager means this neighborhood, our vision is, would be the kind of neighborhood where children grew up with hope, the kind of hope that opportunity and education and access gives you, but also return with joy, that when they have resources to consider living anywhere they want, they could not think of a better place to raise their own family than the neighborhood where they grew up.
Othello Meadows talks about it for Omaha.
OTHELLO MEADOWS - SEVENTY-FIVE NORTH (11:39)
One of the things that we try to keep at the forefront is just being culturally competent and sensitive to what this place has been and what it hopes to be going forward. We want Highlander to be a place that's welcoming to everybody, but then never loses the character of what it was and its history. So, you know, a lot of it is about preservation. A lot of it is about access. But we'd never want it to be a place where, you know, people who grew up here feel like strangers in their, you know, own land to be literary, I guess.
In community development, it can be easy to measure success against the tangibles-the things you can see and touch, the physical fruits of your collective labor. "Look at this new school we're building! Look at all the partnerships we're making in the community! Look at all the people we're talking to and engaging with!"
OTHELLO MEADOWS - SEVENTY-FIVE NORTH (12:33)
You know, all that is great. But, you know, the truth of the matter is, we haven't really accomplished anything. You know, what we measure ourselves on is not, like, how many people came and said, "Boy, housing is great," you know? It's like, "Did that housing change the trajectory of some family?" right, to where, now they're in a better place their kids go to a better school, they have a safer, more interactive neighborhood to live in. So, you know, it's just one of those things that you always kind of have this self check. You know, because you get to a point now where, you know, buildings come out of the ground, and people are happy, and people love it. And you just have to remind yourself and other people that, "Look, nothing significant has happened yet," right? Anybody can build buildings. But, you know, at the end of the day, our scorecard is about like, "Have we made people's lives better?" And that's pretty much it.
There's a solution that's proven to help fight against the destruction of the city-a three-pronged holistic model that refuses to believe that these neighborhoods can't be lifted up on the arc of growth and the arc of opportunity, as well.
Here, again, is David Edwards, CEO of Purpose Built Communities.
DAVID EDWARDS - PURPOSE BUILT COMMUNITIES (13:45)
This is very hard work. And you've got to bring to the table leaders across the public sector, in the philanthropic sector, in the nonprofit sector, and ultimately, the commercial sector, to be really, business leaders, to really be successful.
Mixed income housing. Cradle to college education pipeline. Community wellness. We're seeing it work in cities across the country. The solution isn't prescriptive. It's malleable, flexible to the circumstances in each community. Looking through a place-based lens, you see that everything is interrelated and inextricably tied to place. That can help ensure that any initiatives are not just touching at the edges of the issue, but driving right at the core of the problem. All poverty is tied to place. So all efforts to eradicate poverty must also focus on place. Only then can we help shift the tide for all to enjoy every possible opportunity to thrive. That's community.
That's the last story in this first season. Listen to This is Community wherever podcasts are available, or on purposebuiltcommunities.org/podcast, where you'll find more information on the Purpose Built model and the stories from this podcast.
This podcast is created in partnership with HL Strategy. Our executive producers are Eytan Davidson, Howard Lalli, and Sherry Crawley. Our producer, director, and editor is Brady Hummel. Mixing and mastering is by Matt Honkonen. And our music is from Pitchwire. If you liked this series, be sure to subscribe and share it.
I'm Alexandra Wiggins for Purpose Built Communities, and this—is community.
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