We have a special series of episodes that we’ll be sharing over the next few months between now and when Cities@Tufts officially resumes for our fourth season in the Fall.
Over the course of our lecture series, we’ve talked a lot about the crucial role that community plays in building alternatives to capitalistic models of access, resource distribution and social equity. We are living through a historic moment where the common crises – from climate change to the erosion of democracy, virulent racism and fascism — are constantly emerging and evolving.
It’s without blame, and fairly common, to get trapped in a kind of hopelessness that another world is attainable in the face of ever-growing systems of oppression. But we believe two things. Not only that another world is possible, but that it’s often already here. We believe that the world that our planet and everyday people need is often within reach, waiting for us to take hold, take root, take action and to re-shape our everyday lives through radical collaboration, collective activism and a world of care.
This week we are joined by some pretty amazing guests as part of the Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy webinar series, giving us some insight about how post-capitalist models of survival and sustainability are constantly being created by communities all over the country, addressing some of the most critical issues we face everyday — such as housing, childcare, food access and sovereignty.
We’ll be hearing from Minnie McMahon, of the Dudley St. Neighborhood Initiative, a community-led housing and land trust in Boston. We’ll hear from Mindy Barbakoff of Childspace, a worker-owned childcare center in Philadelphia. And we’ll also hear from Amaha Selassie of Gem City, a food cooperative in Dayton, Ohio. All Moderated by Steve Dubb of the Nonprofit Quarterly.
Below you’ll find the graphic recording, audio, video, and transcript from “The Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy: Community Ownership” presented by the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network.
About the series
The webinar series on The Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy showcases the myriad ways that solidarity economy practices are providing models and pathways to build a more cooperative, democratic, equitable, and sustainable world — one in which many worlds fit.
Brought to you by Shareable, Resist & Build’s SE Narrative Circle, the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, and the New Economy Coalition
Listen to the Cities@Tufts Podcast (or on the app of your choice):
“The Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy: Community Ownership” Transcript
[The timestamps in the transcript correspond with the audio version of this lecture.]
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:06] Welcome to a special episode of Cities@Tufts, brought to you by Shareable and Tufts University with support from the Barr and Shift Foundations. As we mentioned on our most recent show, we have a special series of episodes that we’ll be sharing over the next few months between now and when Cities@Tufts officially resumes for our fourth season in the fall. Over the course of our lecture series, we’ve talked a lot about the crucial role that community plays in building alternatives to capitalistic models of access, resource distribution and social equity. We’re living through a historic moment where the common crises from climate change to the erosion of democracy, virulent racism and fascism, are constantly emerging and evolving. It’s without blame and fairly common to get trapped in a kind of hopelessness that another world is attainable in the face of ever growing systems of oppression.
[00:00:54] But we believe two things: not only that another world is possible, but that it’s often already here. We believe that the world that our planet and everyday people need is often within reach, waiting for us to take hold, to take root, to take action, and to reshape our everyday lives through radical collaboration, collective activism, and a world of care.
[00:01:15] This week we are joined by some pretty amazing guests as part of the Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy Webinar series, giving us some insight about how post-capitalistic models of survival and sustainability are constantly being created by communities all over the country, addressing some of the most critical issues we face every day, such as housing, child care, food access and sovereignty.
[00:01:38] We’ll be hearing from Minnie McMahon of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community-led Housing and land trust in Boston. We’ll hear from Mindy Barbakoff of Child Space, a worker-owned child care center in Philadelphia. And we’ll also hear from Amaha Sellassie of Gem City, a food cooperative in Dayton, Ohio — all moderated by Steve Dubb of the Nonprofit Quarterly.
[00:02:02] This bonus episode is brought to you in partnership with the Resist and Build Solidarity Economy Narrative Circle, the US Solidarity Economy Network, and the New Economy Coalition and is packed with food for thought and a movement for action. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. Thanks for listening.
Steve Dubb: [00:02:31] Welcome to Imagining Cells of the Solidarity Economy: Community Ownership. I am Steve Dubb, senior editor of Economic Justice at Nonprofit Quarterly, coming to you from Boston on land historically stewarded by the Massachusett nation. This webinar launches a series curated by Emily Kawano, who is a co-founder of the US Solidarity Economy Network and which is also one of today’s event sponsors. Additional sponsors are the Resistance Builds Solidarity Economy Narrative Circle, the New Economy Coalition and Shareable, which will be hosting the recording after this event.
[00:03:13] In this community ownership discussion, you’ll hear from three expert panelists I’m pleased to be joined with by Mindy Barbakoff, she’s the director of Child Space too, which is one of two child care sites of the Philadelphia-based child space daycare centers worker cooperative. Minnie McMahon, who is network coordinator of the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network, as well as project and operations manager with Dudley Street Neighbors, Inc, also known as DSNI. And Amaha Sellassie, who is co-executive director of Co-op Dayton and the board president of West Dayton’s Gem City Market.
[00:03:54] A few notes. First, we’re very excited to take your questions. We will start with some of our own, then get to yours. This is a 90 minute webinar. We’ve dedicated the last 30 minutes to answering your questions, so please enter your questions in the chat. We’ll get to as many of them as we can. Second, in case you’re wondering, and as I referred to earlier, there will be a recording posted afterwards — allow shareable about a week, but by next Wednesday it should be posted. So please don’t ask will there be a recording? There will. So with that, let’s get started. Thank you so much for joining us. And I want to begin by asking Minnie McMahon from Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network to introduce yourself and talk about the work of the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network.
Minnie McMahon : [00:04:48] Thank you, Steve. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy to be here with you. My name is Minnie. I’m here in Boston. I’m the coordinator of the Greater Boston CLT — Community Land Trust Network, as Steve said.
[00:05:05] I think I’ll just briefly define a community land trust, and I can talk about the work of the network. So there are about 315 of these nonprofit organizations worldwide. Most of them are in the US and the CLT first came out of the civil rights movement. The first Community Land Trust was and is in southwest Georgia, Albany, Georgia, founded in 1969 called New Communities Inc. And please look them up, they can tell their story. But that was a group of African American families who came together to own, co-govern, control land resources and have an agricultural cooperative and really come together to self-determine. And that is, you know, the legacy that CLTs are working off of.
[00:06:02] So CLTs is an organizational structure where nonprofits that own land — we take that land out of the market and the mission is to make land available in perpetuity, keeping it permanently affordable for different users. So the nonprofit owns the land. It’s governed by a board of directors that is all community, all from communities, and the land is then leased for various purposes — housing, rental or owned homes, commercial uses, farms, gardens, any amenity that a person might want to see in their community. So it’s a way to sort of to separate the use value of the land from the actual legal ownership of the land. And we can get more into the purposes of that later in the discussion.
[00:06:55] But I will say that anti-displacement is a big part of our work. Community planning and development is a big part of CLT work, and really distributing the benefits of land ownership and housing ownership and sort of asset and community ownership across community and not having such a focus on the individual gains that people experience when they have the ability to own versus those who don’t.
[00:07:27] So very briefly, the Greater Boston CLT Network — we are a network about seven strong, seven member community land trusts in Greater Boston. We started with one Community Land Trust in 2015, and in just a few short years across our neighborhoods, we’ve seen these CLTs pop up, emerge. We do a lot of peer support among each other. You know,how did you do in your neighborhood what we want to do in ours? How did you take back land from the control of developers and the city and the forces of gentrification? How can we do that here? What does your community organizing look like? All that kind of stuff.
[00:08:15] So we do a lot of support for one another. And then we also have, in the last couple of years, started looking more externally to change policy, to try to get more public support, financial tools, resources for this sort of work, this sort of getting land out of what is a very speculative market, where we are and where many people are, getting out of the speculative market and more into the hands of the people for really the sort of mission-aligned uses. So I will leave it there. Thank you.
Steve Dubb: [00:08:47] Thanks Minnie. Mindy Barbakoff from Child Space, do you want to introduce yourself and talk about the worker cooperative in Philadelphia?
Mindy Barbakoff: [00:08:57] Welcome, hi. Thank you. My name is Mindy Barbakoff. I am the director of one of the two centers in Philadelphia — child Space Cooperative was formed 35 years ago, and the idea behind it way a way of empowering women and to create jobs and also fill a real need for child care. The idea behind it was to provide child care for a diverse population of children, both economically and racially. The structure of having it be a co-op put the power and ownership of the centers into the hands of the teachers and the staff that work there.
[00:09:47] Historically, child care is an underfunded and underpaid occupation. And so by allowing the teachers and the staff and the people who work in the centers to be the owners of the centers, it gave them more control over it, more power, it also would enable them to hopefully feel more ownership in the job. And by feeling more committed to the job, we would then in turn, it would increase the staff staying longer. The motto reflects really a couple of things the desire to create quality jobs as well as providing quality child care and empowering our staff.
Steve Dubb: [00:10:34] Great. Thanks, Mindy. Amaha, could you introduce yourself and talk about the work of both Gem City Market and Co-op Dayton?
Amaha Sellassie: [00:10:47] Greetings, everybody. Thankful to be here today. So my name is Amaha Sellassie, I’m with Co-op Dayton, we’re in Dayton, Ohio. I’m a public sociologist, and we formed out of a need, right? So I’m gonna kind of give a little bit of the backstory and then I’ll explain how we came to be who we are. Dayton’s hyper-segregated. So we have a river that runs through Dayton that divides east and west with 98% of African-American living on the West Side, 94% of white living on the east side with the Turkish, Latino and African refugee community. And why that’s significant is because he river then divided opportunity and access toresources with the west side, the Black side being redlined. And so we had a multi years of disinvestment — I would say intentional disinvestment and underdevelopment on the west side which led us to having 40,000 residents and no full service grocery store.
[00:12:03] So the community was having to take two buses to get to a Kroger’s or to a Walmart or to a to a Meyers or if you didn’t have that, and they had to go to a Dollar Generals or corner stores where you pay more for less quality food. And so food access was an issue to the extent that I want to say that it was like 2014, we were named second in the nation for food insecurity for kids.
[00:12:33] And so that was kind of our initial catalyst, right? Was that if we waited for a box store or for the city or anybody to to step in, we might be waiting forever. So community started organizing around — do we want to open up a grocery store? And so our first project was the Gem City market. We walked with the community and built the Gem City market with a full service grocery store, with a teaching kitchen, community room and a health clinic. And through that process, we started developing, I guess, the back end, which is Co-op Dayton, which is basically we’re building a cooperative economy, right? So like, how are we building the economy that’s for the people.
[00:13:26] And through doing that we have multitude of co-ops. We have a doula co-op called Tribe to provide doula services for in particular Black and Brown mothers that are experiencing high mortality rate. I’m sorry digress like the reason why I think redlining is so important because when you have concentrated disadvantage, all these things come out of it, right? So food is a canary in the coal mine. But we also have high infant mortality rates, high rates of mass incarceration, low housing quality, right? So Co-op is kind of like how can we meet these needs by developing a cooperative economy? You know, we focus a lot on food systems work, but also just in general. So we have a mushroom co-op, we have the doula co-op, we have a maker space. And so we’re trying to like see like how all these things can interconnect together to kind of build the economy of the world that we’re trying to create. So think I’ll stop there.
Steve Dubb: [00:14:34] Great. Thanks. So I wanted to kick off the conversation with the question about community ownership, which seemed appropriate given that’s the theme of this webinar. So, how would you define community ownership? I’ll just pose this to the panelists and how must ownership rights be restructured in order to create a more equitable economy and build towards a solidarity economy? And I’ll start with Minnie and you guys can chime in from there.
Minnie McMahon : [00:15:07] Well, what I think of community ownership, I think of community wealth, I think of community well-being. I think these are the sort of the concepts and the need that we’re talking about and working within as these these models, these economic models, these social economic models that we’re all representing here today. So, well-being requires security of housing, food, education, meaningful pursuits in one’s life. Meaningful economic opportunities, decision making, power, enjoyment, fulfillment, a spiritual life if that’s meaningful for you. So that is part of community ownership and wealth and well-being.
[00:15:58] And in the case of CLTs — Community Land Trusts, you know, yeah, it’s a nonprofit that owns the land, right? So it is somewhat concentrated land ownership because it’s a nonprofit and there’s a board and it’s going to be geographically bound and whatever — it’s a legal structure within the world that we live in. But the significance of having a board of directors that is helping set the mandate for the organization and for the way that the land itself is in use and the policies about how do we operate as the land holding entity in relationship to the people on the land — these are decisions made by the community.
[00:16:52] So there’s the ownership of the land itself. And then there’s also community ownership, again, its voice, its political power. It’s your ownership over like what kind of experience you’re having while walking down the street. So like, you can be a community land trust that isn’t really super steeped in community — those do exist. But at our roots and certainly within the greater Boston CLT Network, all of our CLTs come out of organizing and depend on our members. So it’s the land that we own and control, but then it’s also the land next to us. And how is that land developing? And because we’re organized, we know that we have a say in how that land is developing and we create community plans and that sort of thing. So there’s the like asset ownership and then there’s governance and that goes quite deep.
Steve Dubb: [00:17:53] Great. Anyone else want to chime in here?
Amaha Sellassie: [00:17:57] Yeah, I can. I really appreciate what you just said, Minnie, about the ownership and how you mentioned controlling the experience, tight? Because I think oftentimes we feel that our experience is like out of our control. We’re at whatever winds are or whatever, right? But to me, community power is how are we organizing ourselves to create our own wind? Like, like, How do we create our own flow by connecting by the multitude of gifts and talents in our community. You know what I mean? So, there’s a phrase we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, you know what I mean? So to me, that is an example of community power. How do we leverage to get some talents in our community towards envisioning what is this world that we’re trying to live into together? Like what is this shared future, right? And then how we’re building our institutions, our structures, our policies, how we interact with each other towards making that happen, right?
[00:18:54] So to me, self-determination is like the key, so that we’re not just on the whims of whoever else, right? Because, if not, then we’re operating off of someone else’s imagination, you know what I mean? Redlining is a product of someone’s imagination, you know, all these things, you know?
[00:19:10] And I also think a part of community power is like, what is the governing narrative in our communities? What are some of these underlying assumptions — you’re looking at social change, right? The bottom of it is like our mindset and then it moves up, right? And so like, what is the governing narrative that is determining how we see each other and interact with each other — do we truly have a shared future? You know, I mean, are we actually a single garment of destiny? You know what I mean?
[00:19:39] So to me, part of community power, how we’re rooting an underlying assumption of our interdependence. And then from there, then how we use our gifts and talents together, right? That cooperation piece. Not looking for others, but realizing the power that we have within ourselves. So, opening up the grocery store with an example of community power, right. Or creating these CLTs, that we’re making sure that we’re having or — even childcare is huge, right? You know what I mean? These things are important to us, they have value for us. And then how do we pool our resources and talents together to create the things that we need in order to create an atmosphere for thriving from our elders all the way down to the babies.
Mindy Barbakoff: [00:20:28] I think for us, our community, we have actually two communities. One community is the community of the co-op, and the co-op are the teachers and the staff that work in the center. So that is one community. And we empower the teachers by — and all of the staff — that they’re on the board and we make decisions as a group and that impacts everybody. You know, it goes from every co-op meeting we have, we look at the books and the budget and we see, are we on budget? Are we not on budget? Can we afford raises this year for the teachers or can’t we? Can we expand the benefits? They have the power to make those decisions. Childcare is a field [where] you don’t have that kind of decision, usually. There’s one owner and you’re told what you can and can’t do, and you don’t get to see the books or realize why we’re not giving raises this year because our insurance went up or other things went up. They get to see that. So it really is empowering to them to make those decisions because sometimes we’ve had to make those tough decisions. Do we raise the percentage that staff pay towards their benefits and things like that? So that’s very empowering for them to realize why they have to make those decisions.
[00:21:46] But we also have the broader community because we have a nonprofit board that is made up of community members, and child space is an integral part of the communities that we are operating in — that we operate in, those parents depend upon us for their child care. Parents and families cannot work if there is not childcare there. And we’ve had to, during this pandemic where things were crazy and just like everybody else, having staffing shortages and crises, and if we had an issue, we had to close a couple of days because if we had an outbreak of COVID and we had teachers that were sick and no staff, we might close a day here or there and how we impact the whole community because then the parents had to deal with what can they do because they can’t go to work. So we impact a larger community in just by providing the services that we do and we serve between the two centers, approximately 200 families. So that’s a lot of children that come to see us every day. And if we’re not here, their parents are really in a bind.
Steve Dubb: [00:22:59] Great. Thanks. Anything else that any of you want to say about how community ownership solves specific community problems Such as, well, Mindy just talked about childcare, but, housing and food and maybe some of the things too, Amaha, that you were talking about in terms of the interrelated systems in terms of the legacy of redlining and how that affects health and so forth. But why is this ownership piece so critical?
Amaha Sellassie: [00:23:34] Yeah. I mean, think part of ownership is being able to name it. And so, the more that the community is understanding what are the forces at play that are like shaping experiences, then we can then organize together towards creating different experiences, right? Which I think is the theme that we’ve been hearing throughout all of these, right? And so one of our instances is the food system, you know what I mean? Like, so right now we’re trying to understand like what actually is our food system, not the narrative that we’ll hear from other entities, you know what I mean
[00:24:12] But like, how do we capture —— I’m an action researcher, right? So like, how do we capture the community’s experience that we can create our own story and understanding of like how our actual food system is working right now and then using that as a catalyst then, okay, how do we shape new experiences, right? How do we leverage resources in different ways or how do we build more urban farms or however, you know what I mean, to structure things.
[00:24:38] So I think community ownership is key so that we can be like the driver of our future and the driver of our experiences. And I think the more that we understand how we’re having common experiences, I mean, it’s not just me that has to take two buses, but it’s the person down the street and it’s the person over here, right? That we’re having these shared experiences that can be like, Yo, why can’t we work together, right? And so to me, it’s like, how do we exploit our areas of agreement, you know? So I saw someone mentioning there, how do we move across the differences? Like one of the questions in the chat, so it’s like, if there’s ten things on the table, we’re probably not going to all agree initially on all ten, right?
[00:25:25] But there’s probably that one thing, you know what I mean? It’s like, okay, so can we agree to step forward in this, right? As we’re building a deeper understanding of it all. And I think underlying, I think Mindy kind of hit to it, is like the relationship network, right? Like how we’re building the deep relationships, because it’s that trust that’s going to enable us to cooperate and collaborate. And our level of relationship has to be stronger than any opposing force, you know what I mean? And so how are we deepening our relationships and developing our shared identity? If it’s through studying, if it’s through practicing together, you know, acting in the community together, right? That we’re building that shared identity towards whatever the future is we’re trying to create.
Steve Dubb: [00:26:06] Great. Minnie, I think I’m going to ask you this off script a little bit, but I feel like, you know, it’s important to get this into the story. So, talk a little bit about the, just the history of DSNI and so, there’s the ownership of the land, there’s also the fact that they were able to gain through unusual political circumstances, let’s say, ownership of the community planning process and actually used, at some point, eminent domain, as I understand it, to acquire some of the initial properties. So if you can like give a little bit of context to that whole vision.
Minnie McMahon : [00:26:46] Yeah. So, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, which is home to one of the first CLTs in this country, in kind of the center of Boston here, in the 1980s, this neighborhood was literally burning. That was not always true. That hadn’t been always true, but it was true in the 80s. There were absentee landlords or vacant buildings or property owners who would burn their buildings down for insurance money because that was their view of the value of this place and of the home that they held. There was a legal dumping, there were transfer stations. So there were a lot of environmental issues in the neighborhood. And to say, including a lack of city services you know these again, these are the legacies of redlining that Amaha points rightly to.
[00:27:50] The community came together and said, we need to stop this dumping and we need to stop these fires. And that’s where they started. And they were also really afraid of gentrification because that was happening back then too. Urban renewal started happening in the middle of last century. And so the people came together across languages, across cultures, not without struggles and challenges to work together to try to reclaim the neighborhood from disinvestment from the city, from disinvestment from private homeowners, and out of the fear that the neighborhood would be gentrified, and sort of redeveloped according to the vision of the city.
[00:28:36] The city and some outside folks actually came in and said, oh, we have a plan to fix up your neighborhood. And the people here said no. They said, we’re actually organizing to clean things up ourselves. We do need your expertise. We’re not urban planners, but we’re going to create our own initiative. And you can help us. You can help us with your expertise. You can give us money. You can help us with the urban planning process. But we need to be the voice in this. We need to create the vision.
[00:29:06] So in a sort of incredible but true turn of events, the city actually pledged all of the city owned land within a certain area, maybe a mile and a half area, to this organization. The community formed an organization. They said, we will over time you can actually own this land. And then they also gave the community the power of eminent domain, which is typically just a governmental power. It’s a so-called police power, a state power to actually go in and buy privately-owned land at fair market value, which was very low at that time for public benefit. So the community was actually able to get 30 acres of land over time to put into this community land trust.
Minnie McMahon : [00:29:59] And the development of the community plan was a really huge part. It wasn’t, Oh, we know what a community land trust is and this is a great model and let’s use it. It was, Wow, how can we really – we’re regaining control of our land from dumping, from fires, from that kind of illegal, dangerous activity. But oh, wow. We can actually literally own this land. We can have the title to it. And the CLT is the model that can help make that happen. But the planning was key. And then just one last piece I’ll say is that again, we have the land, we have about 30 acres on our CLT, scattered site, multiple uses, and then we also have DSNI, which is the overarching sort of mother or sister organization that is the community organizing, the community visioning, the community planning organization. And then DNSI, the Land Trust really helps physically implement some of those plans. And through this almost 40 year history, we’ve built up quite a bit of negotiating power with the city of Boston. With developers, we have different processes by which we don’t get to say what can and can’t be built. We don’t have the final authority if it’s not on our land. But the city listens to us and we’ve built up quite a bit of real negotiating power.
Steve Dubb: [00:31:24] Great. Thanks. That’s, I think, really helpful context and it speaks to why community ownership can be so powerful. I did want to go to a couple audience questions. Just because I think they sort of fit with the flow. So one is really for Mindy, you know, given the huge challenge of finding affordable child care, what is preventing child care co-ops from exploding across the country? And then a related question, although it’s not about child care at all, is where does the money come — this is from a different person, but where does the money come from to open a grocery store or do a community land trust?
[00:32:07] So talk about the finances and, you know, how do we sustain these sort of counter capitalist institutions that are sort of indicators of a solidarity economy given all the challenges. So, Mindy, I’ll go to you first to talk about child care, and then I’m interested to hear what Amaha and Minnie have to say about their efforts.
Mindy Barbakoff: [00:32:32] Child care cooperatives are a rare thing. And you basically — because you would need, you need someone who has the capital to — it’s very expensive to start opening a center. And so there was a time probably about 20 years ago that child space was working with trying to help people convert from privately-owned centers to cooperatives. But the owners really didn’t want to give up their power because there isn’t one big boss in a co-op. So, we didn’t find a lot of folks that were looking because you really would need to have a community that wants to open up a center.
[00:33:12] Child space was initially formed by three women, one of them who had experience as a co-op, one of them who was a social worker, and one of them who was an educator. And they were actually in the dilemma of trying to find child care for themselves because they were working young mothers. And so they came together in the community of Mount Airy as friends to form the first child space center 35 years ago. And we’ve tried to find other folks that have been of like, mind, but it is a unique way to think about it.
[00:33:50] And many centers, if you look around your cities, most centers are often for-profit organizations. And co-ops are really not a for-profit endeavor. And the nonprofits that you’re finding are often run by like YMCAs or other religious institutions. And so there has never been a great — every once in a while we’ll get somebody who will contact us and say, Hey, I want to form a co-op. How do we do it? And we have offered resources and technical assistance to them, but have not really found much success in being able to help others adopt this model.
[00:34:33] There are some parent co-ops out there, parent-child care co-op, that’s a different kind of model. And the problems with parent co-ops is like after five years, if your child ages out, you lose your leadership. Whereas a worker co-op in a child care, we hope that our teachers stay a long time. And child space has been fortunate that we do have quite a few staff that — I’ve been at Child Space for 29 years, my lead teacher in my preschool room, we just did a big celebration because she celebrated 25 years. So we do have some staff that have been here double digits, which is often unheard of in the child care field, which has great turnover because it is historically and unfortunately the lowest of the paid educational institutions. And usually with the worst benefits that you can have.
[00:35:36] But as a co-op we have great benefits because we give them to ourselves and we make sure that we are treating ourselves right. We get 12 sick days in addition to two weeks paid vacation and the week between Christmas and New Year’s off all paid as well as any paid holiday. We have great benefits. My kids who are grown now and getting their own jobs and I hear what their benefits are and go, Oh, you don’t have as good of benefits as we do. And they’re in the private sector or nonprofits and a variety of things, and they don’t have benefits that can touch ours. We don’t pay our teachers the highest salary, but we have great benefits. And it’s hard. We would love more centers to be co-ops because it’s something we believe in, but we haven’t been successful in getting others in the childcare field because it’s so hard to keep centers open to begin with. And the co-op model makes it a little bit more challenging too.
Steve Dubb: [00:36:40] Thanks. And I suspect maybe after this webinar you might have a few more people approaching you because I’ve seen a lot of interest in communities to develop worker-controlled childcare co-ops, including where I live in Boston. But thanks. Minnie, do you want to talk a little bit about financing community land trusts? How do you actually make this happen?
Minnie McMahon : [00:37:05] Sure, yes. So, it’s going to depend on where you are. If you are in Boston, we have a good relationship with the city. The city is interested in taking city-owned land and getting it off their books and into use. And if the use is affordable housing, they will sell it for like $100 a parcel. So that’s just a setup in which if there’s city will to get land into a use that’s aligned with our kind of work, that’s one way to access some land. Some cities might do land banking where they’ll have, altogether, they’ll have a tax foreclosed properties right. They will regain control of those properties. They have a land bank and then they might want to sell it off to the highest bidder. I saw someone — there was a comment of someone in Chicago. Or maybe they’ll actually attach that resource to a goal of housing people or having more land go for some sort of public benefit.
[00:38:23] So it just depends on the conditions. But in our case, we do have access to low cost city land. That’s when we’re doing new construction. You still need to put together all the construction financing with a developer like we don’t ourselves develop as CLTs, typically, but we’ll partner with the developer so that all the constraints of low-cost housing, affordable housing development, are the same for a CLT. But the sort of the burden of figuring out the financing is typically going to fall on the developer.
[00:39:01] A big reality that we’re in now, so we talked about DSNI, we’ve been able to build out about 30 acres of land over 35 years. Now is also the time that we’re seeing lots of folks trying to acquire existing privately-owned housing units — get it out of the market, stabilize the units, meaning the CLT owns it, the tenants can stay in place, maybe they can work towards a rent to own or purchase someday if that’s appropriate for them and they want it. But in order to do that, in order to really do this big preservation of existing housing push, which we’re doing here in Massachusetts, we have to come up with the financing. So it’s going to banks for typical regular mortgages, it’s getting a certain amount of city subsidy, which we’re fortunate to have here in Bosto — and we’re trying to push to create a state level tool for this — it’s philanthropy, and it’s taking out costly loans and mortgage and piecing together lines of credit.
[00:40:09] So it’s a little wild — I’m trying to think of the right word. But we’re mostly community organizers who also find ourselves in this real estate business and we’re trying to piece together real estate deals. And we don’t have special tools, really, and we’re working on trying to get more of the public support for this kind of thing. But, I’ll just make this brief comment and I’ll let Amaha speak up, but this is the problem, right? We are practicing alternatives within this system that does not — this is a system that wants to accumulate wealth, right? It’s about profiteering and wealth accumulation. It’s not about distribution of benefits. So models like ours where we’re like, we’re working to distribute benefits in an equitable way, but we’re trying to fund them through a system of accumulation. So it’s very complicated and we struggle with it every day.
Steve Dubb: [00:41:14] Thanks. Amaha?
Amaha Sellassie: [00:41:16] So we’re talking about how we fund the work?
Steve Dubb: [00:41:22] Yeah.
Amaha Sellassie: [00:41:22] Well, first thing I want to say is that, you know, Dudley Street was, when I was when I was in undergrad, I studied Dudley Street, and I showed this old YouTube video that I showed to my community all the time, like, yo, it actually is possible, you know what I mean? So, I’m just thankful to be here. I want to make that plug.
[00:41:41] But, yeah, we do it in a couple of different ways, right? We sold shares. So we’re a community-owned. We’re a multi stakeholder, right? We’re a community owned and worker owned. So we did a campaign to sell shares in the community. One share, one vote. the typical share was $100 one time lifetime membership. And then we built a health equity case due to redlining and the extreme differences of health outcomes that an underdeveloped area has. And so we were able to build partnerships with the various health care systems, which donated some money towards the project. And also they gave 50% membership for people in the trade area. So if you lived in a trade area, you could get a membership for $50. And then if you were on any kind of governmental assistance, you had to just tell us, you don’t have to prove anything, your share was $10, right? Because we wanted the people with the least disposable income that make sure they had same access, even though you can shop there without having a membership.
[00:43:09] And so we did that to kind of fund the internal operations of like, you know, shelving and everything inside the store. But then we had to actually build the building. And so we did that through philanthropy. We did a new market tax credit, which is extremely, extremely, extremely — did I say extremely? …complicated. And I think it’s like purposely complicated, you know, it didn’t have to be like that. So we did that. We got federal grants — our project ended up being — the initial grocery store ended up being close to like $7 million, right? Which I think in the beginning, if we had known that, we probably wouldn’t have did it. But, but we were already in the journey and so we just kept walking.
[00:44:01] So yeah, we did a multitude of ways. And we actually looked out because there was some HUD money that was slotted for something in the two blocks down — I can’t remember the name of… it was a Hope Six project, I think it was called, you know, and they had not used the funding and were getting ready to send it back. And we kind of just connected like, hey, like this mission kind of aligns. And so we had, you know, both our senators, Democrat and Republican, that wrote support letters, and we ended up getting that money as well. And so we kind of like pieced it together in a multitude of ways. And as new co-ops are emerging, we’re part of Seed Commons as well. So Seed Commons can help — if you have a strong business model, can help fund cooperative development. And so like we’re beginning a phases of that. And we just got some money, a million for the maker space through ARPA funding. So like there’s different ways that we’re trying to pull it all together.
Minnie McMahon : [00:45:19] I just wanted to mention too that, through ARPA money, through COVID relief money, we at the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network, the city of Boston, actually put $2 million into their city budget in 2021 for community land trusts. But there wasn’t like a program or plan behind it. So we said, Oh my gosh, thank you so much. What is this for and how can we get it? So we actually put a proposal together that said, you know, give this money to us and this is what we want to do with it. And largely what we proposed with the bulk of it is, was to actually seed a community land trust fund that we ourselves control. So that was a huge win for us. The money was released to us this year, $2 million is a tiny amount of money in the grand scheme, but symbolically huge. And we’re really working to fundraise.
[00:46:22] And it is about having control of the capital and using it for projects, but also we’ve spent like 18 months since before actually getting the money — what’s our governance structure? How do we want to use this money? How is this money sort of different from other sources of funding? When applicants apply to use this funding and we have to make a choice, do we want to uplift a project that maybe has deeper affordability, meaning it’s cheaper to live there? Or more units? Or do we want to give the money to a CLT that is brand new and this would be their first project and this would open up doors for them even though it’s only a couple units and maybe would impact fewer families right now? So really getting into that governance stuff that — just wanted to bring that up, that’s really an example of like how the ownership just operates on different levels, right? It’s the asset and it’s the process.
Steve Dubb: [00:47:28] Great. Thanks. I’m going to ask this question to Amaha because I know you wanted to talk about this a little bit, how do you see community ownership contributing to self-determination and hope specifically?
Amaha Sellassie: [00:47:46] Yeah. The more that we’re walking this out, I’m seeing a relationship between hope and power, right? So, in an area that’s been underdeveloped, we’re often, through the trauma of that experience and being overpromised and under-delivered, we have this trauma and I think that trauma shows up and we’re more like recipients in the community. And so,this process of building the market, which was highly participatory throughout the whole process, like we, the community, made decisions. And as the community made decisions together and saw those decisions come to reality, it transformed us from being recipients into seeing ourselves as co-creators.
[00:48:42] And I think that’s the key because the more we see ourselves as co-creators, the more that we realize the power we have and the gifts that we have. And as we’re doing that and building trust, it’s like, how do I put my gifts into the center of the circle, right? Which I think is like the ultimate challenge, you know what I mean? If we’re talking about true community power is — what are the gifts we have in our community right now? And what is hindering us from from putting our full gifts into the center and connecting by our gifts. Because as we connect by our gifts, we’re actually co-creating opportunity, right? So like, I used to think that opportunity was in the structure, but it’s not in the structure. It’s in the bringing together of the gifts and talents, right? You know, and so the more that we bring our gifts together, we’re literally co-creating our own opportunity towards the vision that we’re working for, right?
[00:49:30] That’s why I think that cooperation itself is like a moral force for human development, right? Because the more that we understand how we’re connected together, it’s like, yo, how are we working together towards creating this future that expands the circle or expands the we for all of us? And we have our grounding human dignity. You know what I mean?
[00:49:52] And so I think all of that is it examples of community power, right? And if we’re looking at imaginal cells, in full transparency, I love imaginal cells, and I never in my life thought I’d be on a workshop that like had that as a title. So I was like, oh my goodness. Right? And so I think like the more that we’re manifesting, the more we’re seeing others who are manifesting in the community and the more people are believing that change is possible — it serves as like being an invitation into the space we’re trying to create, you know what I mean? So I think all of that stems from manifesting community power.
Steve Dubb: [00:50:31] That’s amazing. So, I’m going to switch gears a little bit. Mindy, I want to go to you and ask a question about — because there’s both like the startup phase, which can be heroic, and then there’s like, how do you actually keep this going over time? And you mentioned you’ve been there for, I forget how many years, but a lot of years. And this is an institution. So what are the elements that enable a community to sustain leadership and community ownership over time?
Mindy Barbakoff: [00:51:03] Well, it is a very tricky situation for us. Because as I said, I’ve been here 29 years andthere are other folks that have been here longer than I am. And the reality of it is we are all getting to the point that we are looking towards retiring. And so for us, it’s a real dilemma. Everyone who works in the centers does not automatically have to become a co-op member. You have the option to join. So after you’ve been employed a year you get the option to join and it’s $100 and we take it out in $5 increments from your paycheck over the next year. So it’s not a hardship, so no one has to feel like it’s hard to come up with $100.
[00:51:58] And so we are actually at one of our, I think our all time highs as far as membership across the two centers and having close to around 17 or 18 members, which is about 50% of the staff are co-op members right now. But not all of those are — here are always about 10 or 12 that aren’t eligible yet because they haven’t come up to their one year anniversary. So we’re actually at a pretty high level of membership in the co-op, but we struggle with getting folks who want to get committed. You know, to take on leadership roles in the co-op because we do have officers as far as president, vice president, treasurer. A lot of the staff are comfortable making helping to make the decisions but don’t really want to take on those leadership roles. So we struggle with it, but we do spend time working with our existing co-op members, giving, you know, educating them on the co-op, the responsibilities.
[00:52:57] I don’t know that we have done as good a job as we would like and think that all of us in the co-op are worrying a little bit — I am actually retiring in August and who’s taking my place and who’s taking over the roles that I’ve had in the co-op? Um, we do have other members, but we struggle with that. And often we don’t leave totally like we have co-op members who have left, but then they work a couple hours a week so that they continue to help and support. And I know that when I leave in August and finally retire, I will be available to help out and work and support because I’m committed to the organization. But it is hard to do and hard to do in our field because it’s hard to get people who want to stay in the field. You know, sometimes we’ll have a teacher that will stay here five, ten years and then decide, you know, she’d like to have her summers off and work in the school district. And she has her degree because we encourage and help our teachers get their education. So most of my teachers have degrees that we’ve helped them to get, but now they want to go off and have summers off and have a pension, which we don’t do either of those things. So it is a struggle to do that. And I don’t have an answer, a good answer yet.
Steve Dubb: [00:54:24] Well, thanks for your answer. And I think this, you know, we learn from our struggles, right? If this were easy, we would have already done it. But the fact is that you’ve maintained the organization for decades and that itself is a huge accomplishment. I want to jump to Minnie think and get you to talk a little bit about how you think we should be talking about scale in our movements.
Minnie McMahon : [00:54:53] Yeah, great question. So I’ll try to get to this by telling a little story. A couple of weeks ago, the CLT network, we have a financial partner who’s helping us design and run this new fund we’re starting. They’re awesome. We love them. Totally community-aligned financial partner. And they invited in banks and philanthropies — we knew most of the philanthropies. We didn’t know the banks, the bankers, so that we could pitch them this fund and talk about community land trusts. And, you know, people, Oh, it’s a great concept. We like it. We want to support it, which I think is true. I think that’s true. But people want to come back to – what’s the impact? How many people are you housing? How much land are you controlling? How much money is in the banks of the homeowners who have bought homes on the community land trust 20 years ago and are selling the homes now? These are great questions. These are really important questions. But the number answers don’t capture the significance of the land trust in the neighborhood.
[00:56:22] So it’s just hard. It’s really hard to think and talk about scale and impact, especially when you’re trying to convince funders to support this kind of work, because that’s the mentality that we’re in, right? It’s like, well, I want my dollar to go as far as possible.
[00:56:41] So, that being said, you know. Ad Dudley Neighbors Inc., we do have 30 acres of land that we control. And we have 227 families living on the land trust — 100 and something of which are renters and about 100 are homeowners. We have a playground. We have two farm sites, nonprofit farm sites, and then we have a third nonprofit farm site that has a 10,000 square foot greenhouse in it. And there’s a greenhouse advisory committee, there’s a resident committee that they don’t run the greenhouse, but they run the garden bed part of that. And, and that can be a little tricky, frankly, between the community members and the nonprofit that runs the space. And then we come in to try to, you know, problem solve and mediate and work together. Um.
[00:57:39] And then some of our CLTs have five units and some of them are just starting like they just put in their first bids for property. So we are we here in our network, we’re very grassroots. All of our CLTs — almost all of them came out of sort of existing sister organizations that are organizing focus. You will see CLTs with hundreds of housing units in other parts of the country. So it just depends, I think I’ve probably focused a lot on housing in this talk and that is a typical use of CLTs. And that most of the units on our CLTs in Boston are, is housing — we’re not just housing, one of our CLTs is a farming CLT. So the organization’s a nonprofit, but their work is they support urban farmers, like they support people to become farmers, to be able to run their own businesses. So they’ll get get people access to land and to like the infrastructure on the land, right? The irrigation, goods soil, tools, inputs, technical assistance, that kind of thing — to support that person’s business.
[00:57:39] But the scale, the scale question is important and we need to do a good job of sort of better measuring our scale across the country in CLTs and question what are the right questions to be asking around like scale and impact with this type of work, with this sort of like solidarity economy models.
Steve Dubb: [00:59:31] Great. Thanks, Minnie. Amaha, I’m going to ask a question to you and then I want to get to a lot of the audience questions. But I wanted to have you talk a little bit about how you structure community ownership to benefit a range of stakeholders since you do have this multi stakeholder model.
Amaha Sellassie: [00:59:46] Yeah. You know, I think one of the keys is how we co-create a table together, right? Like, I think part of our initial success was there was an organizer named Erica Brewton that early, early, early, early in the process brought together a — we built a solidarity table that had community members, nonprofits, unions, city and county all in a room together throughout the whole process. And so, as we’re building it together, so we were able to co-create this space that as we started to build, we were able to make sure that all these voices was represented and it helps move the process instead of when we reach this next level, then you’re introducing it to this whole next group of stakeholders that had no idea this thing was happening. You know what I mean? Everybody was co-creating it early on, which I think is part of the process.
[01:00:58] And having deep listening, you know what I mean? What are the experiences that different stakeholders are having? How are their lives being impacted? And so I think all these things early on, developing our shared understanding, you know what I mean? You know, it’s critical to make sure that we have a market that meets a multitude of needs. So even in market, we have three scale pricing, we have pricing for those with limited income, we have those in the mid-range and then those that want like, off top of my head, I will say Annie’s, you know what I mean? We have that as well. And then we also, you know, since the west side is primarily Black, we we segment Black dollars, right? So we mark products that are west side so if you want to make sure your money is going into the West side, you know what I mean? You can buy these things with the sticker, right? And so in that way, like we’re making sure we’re hitting those things. So I think having to share understanding allows us to build structures and models that meet multiple needs — or even identify our common needs too.
Steve Dubb: [01:02:09] Great. Thanks. So I want to go to an audience question. There’s a lot of good ones. Thank you, everyone who’s on the call for for your questions. So what are some of the major barriers to implementation and support that you are facing and what type of language are you using to overcome them and how do we combat the prejudices that folks in leadership may have in terms of things like collective or trust? So anyone want to take that?
Amaha Sellassie: [01:02:39] So I’m a nerdy sociologist and so, to me, I think language is the key to transformation because the language we use determines how we interact with each other, right? So early on we started introducing the language of food desert to the community, but we switched it very, very, very early on to food apartheid, right? Because we wanted to acknowledge the structural violence and the structural part of it. And when you say food apartheid, you’re acknowledging someone’s imagination that made this system that is impacting us. And if it’s imagined, then we can reimagine it, right? And so that’s the power of like, yo, we’ve accepted the unacceptable. And as we’re changing our language, we’re framing this dialogue that like, yo, like we actually have the power to change this because someone else’s imagination made this current reality and we can reimagine what is the collective hope of our future reality, right?
[01:03:45] So again, it’s like all these ways to build hope, to then release the power of our gifts and and talents. And it’s interesting that we’ve used the language enough now that even local foundations are now using the word food apartheid, which probably would have been unthought of like like five, ten years ago? You know, So the more that we are consistent on the narrative that we’re creating it changes the epicenter of how everybody has to interact in the space. And you have to use the language that the community is saying identifies or relates to their experience.
Steve Dubb: [01:04:19] Great. If anyone else wants to go in on that question?
Minnie McMahon : [01:04:38] Yeah, just really appreciate what you just said on that, Amaha. One thing — this is a really big debate, conceptual tension that we’re encountering right now or we’re seeing in the housing and home ownership space around limited equity home ownership, because that is a big piece of our community land trust. Meaning, if you buy a home that has any amount of public subsidy in it, which is true on our community land trusts, there’s going to be a resale restriction. So the idea is you buy the home, you build equity in the home over time, and then when you sell it, if you want to sell it, you have to sell it at a price that is dictated by an equity formula as opposed to being able to sell it to the highest bidder. And the logic there is because, well, public subsidy has been put into developing this building, it’s creating access and equity for this family. And it’s passing that opportunity on to the next buyer. So it’s keeping the home affordable for the next family.
[01:05:47] On community land trusts that — a set equity formula that passes on generation after generation after generation, that is a key part of our model to stewarding affordable housing for the long term and stabilizing communities and building up this community wealth. We are seeing some folks in the housing space and some leaders in nonprofit housing and really in racial justice work as well, saying, but we have a huge racial wealth divide that is a result of a white supremacist capitalist way of functioning since the origins of this country. And that’s true. The problem or where the debate is or where we’re not necessarily conceptually meeting, is this idea about trying to help close that wealth divide through profits from real estate.
[01:06:50] So we know that white wealth in this country is very largely predicated on policies that have brought white people into land and housing ownership, that have privileged ownership for white folks while keeping other people, Black people, other people of color out of homeownership. So this is real. And we in the CLT space, we don’t see that sort of way of building wealth, that sort of profiteering off of housing as a viable way to actually have reparations and to close the racial wealth gap. So that’s really challenging because we have shared goals, right? This a shared goal, but we are very much about de-commodification of housing and really holding land and housing in trust.
[01:07:43] Where other folks are making very legitimate arguments about, well, wait a minute, why can’t people of color benefit from asset ownership in the way that white people have? And so it’s very complicated. It’s not simple. And I think very logical minds are making very different arguments from one another. But that’s — I think there’s a lot of work to do around understanding — I think we do understand the racial wealth divide quite well, but understanding how do we shift, how do we redistribute wealth and power and money in a way that is actual that that doesn’t lift up some ships while not lifting others and not fully transforming our system. So there’s a sort of commodification — there’s difference in how are we seeing commodification of land and housing.
Steve Dubb: [01:08:40] Thanks. That could be its own topic for an entire webinar. I do have a response, but I’ll not give it here. But thanks. That’s really important stuff. I did want to like, ask another audience question about — so this came up, you know, and I know how you were interacting with this guy a little bit, but how do faith leaders step into the solidarity economy space? I’ll just say like at a personal level, I volunteer for Boston Ujima Project, We’re doing a faith-based gathering tonight. So this is a live question for me, but I’m interested in your thoughts on it.
Amaha Sellassie: [01:09:23] Yeah, I think regardless of the faith tradition, if our goal is to live into the world that we believe is possible, then I feel like faith leaders should be like a spearhead in inside of this as far as living out the example. And I think from a Christianity perspective, that solidarity economy lines up with the nature of the body of Christ because many members in one body and the foot can’t do about the hand and the hand can do about the eyeball. So that in itself shows interdependence, right? And so then it’s like, how are we building an economy in a way to interact that builds a cooperation amongst the different parts to fuel cooperative development.
[01:10:20] But I definitely feel that regardless of the faith tradition, I think how to interact with thelocal community, you know what I mean? And if I could take that and talk about the scale part, I think scale can — I question the scale conversation sometimes because like I think there’s a dominant narrative of, oh, how do you scale up? How do you scale up? And I’m not convinced that that’s like the full answer, right? I wonder how we go deep with the small and then connect with other smalls and other places. And then scale up that way instead of like expecting one organization to be like the scale thing or create spaces to collaborate — scale out. Yeah, Yeah. I appreciate that. So, especially we’re talking about the human network that I think is part of this work, I think the more faith leaders can come together to be an example of how we build those type relationships across humanity.
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:11:32] I think as far as faith based with us — child space is philosophy is that we are totally secular. We actually do not even celebrate the holidays in the child care program, which in some centers is sort of unheard of. We don’t do holiday, you don’t do a Christmas pageant or Christmas plays. We don’t even do Halloween. We don’t do any of them because we want to be so inclusive of all faiths and and bases and don’t want to have one child feel excluded if they’re not doing that holiday.
[01:12:04] So we don’t do any holidays, but we do partner with lots of different faith=based organizations. You know, we have a food program that’s through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We get grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. They focused and funded our advocacy programs. And I think they gave us — we have had a mortgage with them in the actual purchase of our building. So we do partner with different faith based organizations and we are part of a director’s group that has affiliations and working with centers and directors from all different denominations. But we really have, as far as our own basis have kept that secular, um, status.
Steve Dubb: [01:13:01] Okay. Thanks. So I wanted to go to another audience question. This one is about decision making methods. So, the question is do you use majority rules, consensus, or something in between? And are you satisfied with it? Maybe another way of thinking about it is what kind of decision making rules do you have in different areas or aspects of your operations — but however you want to take that?
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:13:26] I can jump o quickly on that. Child Space is two different organizations, has two different decision making bodies. The co-op is basically made up of anyone who has paid their $100 to be a co-op member. And it’s one person, one vote. Everyone paid the same amount to join. And the CEO, as well as an aide, all have just one vote. We basically discuss things and then hope to come to a consensus. But we will also take a vote and it will be majority rules. And so I’m going to tell you it sometimes our decision making process is slow because it has to go through committees. And so things don’t often, you know, we don’t change. Some things don’t change quickly. There are some decisions about the runnings of the day to days of the centers are done by the administrators — not everyone votes on, we don’t vote on chedules or have everybody decide on who I’m going to hire as a teacher. But the directors, when they’re hiring a new director for a center, we take input from the staff on who the director is and they’re part of the interview process.
[01:14:40] We also have a nonprofit board because Child Space — it’s a really strange because Pennsylvania has its strange way of doing it — co-ops in the state of Pennsylvania have to be for profit. But we also are a nonprofit, so we have a nonprofit board that oversees us and they make other decisions that affect the center. So they will vote on our budget and whether we can raise increases over 5%. They also help to hire the teachers, the directors only. And if we want to do any changes to our contract with them as far as adding additional closings, they make those decisions. So we have two different boards that make two different decisions on two different levels and nothing happens quickly.
[01:15:33] If you want to change policies — like if we want to say this is the disciplinary action policy, if we’re changing something like that, those things can take months to make a decision because they go back and forth and before we decide on things. So things don’t go quick. We don’t make decisions quickly for lots of things.
Steve Dubb: [01:15:56] Thanks. Minnie or Amaha, do you want to say anything about decision making?
Minnie McMahon : [01:16:02] I can’t resist. So at Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative we are very process-heavy. And we have lots of committees and if there are sort of committee decisions, the committees might make recommendations to the board of directors. And then it’s a board of directors who has the ultimate say. We have a 35-member board. It’s not a fundraising board. It’s truly a governance board. And you have tolive or work within — well, the majority of the board are community members, just individual residents. You have to live in our neighborhood. to to be on the board. And you run for the board and you get elected by your neighbors.
[01:16:50] The other seats are nonprofits, religious institutions, community development corporations, and businesses. And those also all have to be within our catchment area. So that’s really huge. I mean, well — I was going to say huge — it’s significant that we have a community board. It’s also a large board and I think it can really be a wonderful sort of retainer, sustainer of the mission, the vision — it can be a space that really helps carry knowledge. And the oral history of our organization is very, very important. We have people who’ve been on the board for a really long time. And we’re not super nimble — DSNI, Dudley Street, we can’t be that nimble with decision making always. Or, we can be, but when there’s that amount of process, which is hugely beneficial, it also means things can’t necessarily be very nimble. It just depends on — different CLTs will do things differently but are very reliant on their community-led boards of directors.
[01:18:00] And then yeah, at DSNI we have a lot of committees that help make really important decisions, including, right now at one of the land trusts, we’re going to be building a mixed use housing and commercial building. And rather than the Land Trust director just decide which of the two proposals from the developers to pick to meet the vision, there’s a steering committee of residents and we’re working with the steering committee over like four months to review the proposals together, to look at the criteria, to score it, and to try to come to some sort of consensus around choosing the right developer to help make the building and the mission of the building come to fruition.
Steve Dubb: [01:18:49] Thanks. So another question from the audience was about staff burnout. So this is a sustainability question, I think a very serious one. How do you prevent burnout and keep people engaged in the movement? So there’s always work to be done. There’s always more work to be done than there are staff capacity to do it. Anyone want to take that on?
Amaha Sellassie: [01:19:18] We’re still trying to figure it out. So I’m going to hear what others have to say.
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:19:25] Well, we do have a lower turnover rate than many early childhood programs. But it’s sometimes it seems like if they can last the year, then they stay five, ten. But sometimes you can’t get them to last the year because they go into the field not knowing what it’s going to be. And it’s not an easy job. And again, we try to do it because we become a family, and we’re small enough — the two centers are, one center is larger than the other. My center is really very small, but they’re still very family-oriented and we’re very family friendly. You need to get off a little early to go see your daughter’s performance at school? We’ll work around that. So we really try to be very family friendly, flexible and really work with the staff and we try to give little perks.
[01:20:27] But again, we’re a small organization and — I hate to say this, we’re predominantly women — so we’ll have Teacher Appreciation week everybody got a little envelope with a with some money in it as an appreciation from the organization. So we do try to do those little things to recognize and appreciate them. They get a little token on their year anniversary. We do little things like that all along just to try and keep morale up and to kind of recognize their achievements. As I said, we give great, great benefits. They get more vacation days after five years and after ten years and after 15 years and crazy as it is 20 years, you get more vacation days as you stay longer. And it’s just a way of recognizing the longevity. It’s those things that we can do but it’s not necessarily enough. I mean, we still lose teachers every year and staff every year.
Minnie McMahon : [01:21:33] Can I just add just that all totally resonates, Mindy, And I just I think celebrating is so important. Recognize the accomplishments and get people together. We do lots of community events and sometimes it’s like, Oh my God, we have to plan this thing and it’s a ton of work. And then you do it and it’s awesome. And I just think, it’s the sort of small — it’s th celebrating and acknowledging just on the day to day as best you can with your staff, with your closest people, whatever. But then also bringing your members together, your organization together, your partners together, because that’s what it’s all about is the relationships. And we can’t experience it unless we really, like take the time to do that.
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:22:28] I think one other thing that we try to do also is we really try to educate them to become their own advocates. And so we do advocacy things for the whole early child is a field as a whole and a community. So if we can get them to become the advocates, so then they feel a little more empowered, and just even more — it strengthens their connection to have them have that leadership in the community.
Amaha Sellassie: [01:23:02] Yeah, I think yeah, I appreciate that. You may say one thing I think is important that we’re striving to learn is because we’re so — we have different scales, right? So we have Co-op Dayton, which is kind of like the mothership. And then we have the individual co-op, right? But in Co-op Dayton, it’s like, okay, what is the work like? We have a very flat organization, you know, and so, sociocracy is our model. And so what is the workplace that we want to have? You know what I mean? So how are we co-creating our work environment together, you know what I mean?
[01:23:39] So we have a lot of flex time and people can make their own schedules and what can we do to allow work to fit in with our multitude of lifestyles and other responsibilities and just this, that, and the other — how to build that that in? But then at the grocery store level it’s a whole different thing because there’s different scale and we’re definitely babies still. Trying to figure it out.
Steve Dubb: [01:24:16] Great. Thanks. I’ll try to sneak in one more audience question and hopefully a little bit of time for close. So not a lot of time for this, but, there’s a question about conflict. How do you navigate the different and sometimes conflicting needs of different stakeholders? I’m sure some of you have stories about this, so any anything you want to share on that?
Amaha Sellassie: [01:24:38] Yeah, I mean, again, I think we’re learning. But the more that we can have a process to hear everybody’s concerns — what they’re experiencing, as a way to, move forward and having spaces for honest dialogue, I think is key. You know, I mean, but we’re still learning it. And sometimes, you know, we’ve even partnered with another organization that has their strong skill set is like conflict transformation, and so we’ll partner with them to come and talk with the team to help us so we can all be engaged in the actual dialogue.
Steve Dubb: [01:25:26] Great. Thanks.
Steve Dubb: [01:25:27] So let me wrap it up with one last question. Also, I’ll just say, the panelists, I encourage you to put your email information in the chat so people can reach out to us if they want to. But, so any closing comments or you could talk about how do you see these different efforts — community-based solidarity economic efforts, linking up and supporting each other as we build this community?
Amaha Sellassie: [01:25:57] All right, well, I guess I’ll jump in.I think I’ll probably try to do a little bit of both, right? And going back to the imaginal cells, I see ooperatives as a catalyst for community. Annd I think the power of imaginal cells is that in this moment we’re in Valley of Decision, right? We truly are in a new world that’s emerging right now. And it’s unclear what’s going to be — those underlying assumptions that’s going to dictate and govern this new reality. And so I think the more that we’re able — King talks about chaos or community. And so those that are choosing community it’s even more important that right now, we moved from this saying that, yes, we are for community, to actually like practicing it and going deeper into it, right
[01:26:54] Because right now we have to heighten the contradiction and show that something else is actually possible — that those that are looking can see it right? And then one of my friends, Natalie, we were talking about imaginal cells and she was like, yeah, the more that we’re bubbling up and we’re transforming, the more we’re connecting and seeing others that are also transforming, right? And then being able to connect in that way. And that’s why I think it’s like the importance of this hour is that, I’ve been saying that narrative is the new praxis, you know? And so it’s how we’re walking this thing out to show what is possible to then connect with others that are also practicing and figuring out what is possible, that we can be great together and co-create this new world, you know?
Steve Dubb: [01:27:34] Great. Mindy, any last remarks?
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:27:37] I think I just agree. I feel very strongly about the co-op model. It’s hard, but I think it really is one that empowers and creates ownership. And for me and for the folks that I work with, it ties us together and makes for a stronger organizational structure.
Steve Dubb: [01:28:07] Great. Minnie, do you want to close us out?
Mindy Barbakoff: [01:28:10] Yeah, I’ll close this out by saying nothing that we’re talking about here today is new. This isn’t new. So sometimes I hear, oh, innovation, cutting edge. And, yeah, we have to keep evolving. We have to keep deepening. We have to keep adapting. We have to be ourselves as individuals and in relationships and communities and systems — flexible and willing to change and to be wrong and improve and all that stuff. But we don’t have to just create new things all the time. Let’s invest in the truth, right? And so, yeah, that’s. how I’ll close. And just really appreciate Emily and Steve and Mindy and Amaha and it’s been great to think with you all together today.
Steve Dubb: [01:29:08] Yeah. And I’ll thank everybody — certainly all of you for attending. I’ll thank our panelists: Mindy Barbakoff from Child Space in Philadelphia, Mindy McMahon from the Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network and Dudley Street and Amaha Sellassie from Co-op Dayton and Gem City Market. Thanks also to our sponsors at Sharable, US Solidarity Economy Network and New Economy Coalition and Narrative Circle as well, and Resistant & Build. And also of course, to Emily Kawano, who’s curating this series. Please keep an eye out. There will be an announcement of a second webinar soon and this is meant to be a continuing series, so thanks so much. You have our contact information, so feel free to reach out if you have further questions and hope the conversations continue. Thank you.
Tom Llewellyn: [01:30:08] We hope you enjoyed this week’s conversation. You can access the video, transcript and graphic recording on shareable.net — there’s a direct link in the show notes. The Imaginal Cells of the Solidarity Economy is co-presented by the Resist and Builds Solidarity Economy Narrative Circle, The US Solidarity Economy Network, The New Economy Coalition and Shareable. We’ll be back with another installment in June. Just click the link in the show notes to register for a free ticket. If you can’t make it live, we’ll share the audio right here on the Cities@Tufts podcast.
[01:30:38] Cities@Tufts is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Bar and Shift Foundations. Most lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistant Deandra Boyle. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beets is our theme song, Roame Jasmine is our co-producerm, Robert Raymond is our audio editor, additional operations, funding and communication support are provided by Allison Huff, Bobby Jones and DeAngelis Garcia. Anke Dregnet illustrated the graphic recording and the original portrait of today’s speakers, and this series is produced and hosted by me. Tom Llewellyn.
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