Neighborhoods Without Borders

By: Robert Brown, Associate Director at the CCED

For the past 10 years, Neighborhoods Without Borders (NWB) has consistently advocated and worked to dismantle systemic and institutional racism. Formed in 2012, the genesis of NWB was an unsuccessful community effort to secure a Promise Neighborhood grant. 

In 2010 the US Department of Education released the Promise Neighborhood Grant Program base on the highly successful Harlem Children’s Zone model. It called for improving educational outcomes for children in the country’s most distressed neighborhoods by building strong systems of family and community support that would lead to successful transition from K-12 to college and a career.  A broad coalition of Flint educational and human service partners sought to secure this highly competitive grant opportunity in 2010 and 2011. Hundreds of coalitions across the country sought the grant, but only a handful were awarded. The Flint coalition was unsuccessful both years.  

Not giving up on the core premise of Promise Neighborhoods, Bob Brown (CCED Associate Director) and Tendaji Ganges (UM Flint), along with four colleagues, formed Neighborhoods Without Borders (NWB) in 2012 as an unfunded open network designed to align, link, and leverage action across multiple grassroots networks. The NWB core team understood this was new territory. Traditionally and still today, funding drives most community collaboration efforts, yet NWB was attempting to move forward without funding. At the last meeting of the Flint Promise Neighborhood coalition Ganges noted that the group really didn’t need funding to continue work together. Thirty-five of the coalition entities however did not share that sentiment and left the table.  Additionally, NWB sought to bring together mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, businesspeople and pastors, educators and students, agency professionals and clients, administrators and workers in a grassroots and community effort to significantly improve the over-all quality of life in Flint neighborhoods.  The Core Team knew a different method of collaboration was needed. The initial call to action stated: 

Neighborhoods Without Borders is a network of networks coming together in a grassroots and community effort to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in our most distressed neighborhoods.  Born from our Promise Neighborhood grant efforts, we are continuing to work together guided by the following promises:  

  1. Although we did not receive a Promise Neighborhood planning grant, we will continue to pursue the over-arching goal of the initiative:  To significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and youth in our most distressed neighborhoods by decreasing inequities and disparities. 

  2. To address this over-arching goal by creating and sustaining neighborhood/community and family supports and improving systems, we will interweave the different but essential capabilities of neighborhood residents, local government, faith-based groups, charitable foundations, nonprofit providers, and grassroots organizations to address a spectrum of inter-connected needs through a new, more holistic approach to community and neighborhood development. 

  3. We will facilitate a process that creates action based on available resources and assets. 

  4. Ultimately to create/sustain community and family supports and to improve systems we will target systems change by integrating and improving existing systems for transition from early childhood to youth to young adulthood. We must work to form a seamless web of supports at key points in development focusing on all levels of community systems that support development – that is, families, neighborhoods, organizations, and community systems. Optimally, this web of support: 

  • Blends human, community, and economic development 

  • Focuses on providing the supports needed for healthy transitions from birth to adulthood 

  • Is grounded in research 

  • Acknowledges the natural challenges to healthy development from birth to adulthood but recognizes that these challenges are more difficult for those without the proper supports 

  • Offers guidelines for realigning investments in our collective well-being 

With these promises in mind, we need you to join with us on April 19, 2012 from 9:00 to 11:30 to create and take strategic action in a holistic approached that addresses a spectrum of inter-connected needs to improve the developmental and educational outcomes of neighborhood children and youth. Using a process known as Strategic Ding, we will be creating action based on available resources.  Your participation is crucial. 

Over the years, NWB has move from working on thematic issues to addresses root causes.  Currently, NWB focuses on: 

The Tendaji Talks, which honors the life and work of Tendaji W. Ganges (1948 – 2015), is a monthly exploration that transforms individual and collective understanding of the oppression caused by white power and privilege and it’s resulting racism. Recent explorations include: 

  • Racism and Owning Our Local Economy 

  • The Deep Sting of Slavery 

  • Racism and Our Education Systems 

  • Racism and Our Health Systems 

  • Racism and Our Criminal Justice Systems 

  • Racism and Youth 

  • Racism and Critical Race Theory 

  • Racism and the Big Lie 

Ask an American is a series of positive and authentic conversations creating greater understanding across cultures and groups in Flint.  According to Brown, overcoming our misconceptions allows us to work together more effectively and productively to build the Flint where all children and families prosper.  

Hugs for Unity is a simple public action helping to change the narrative of separateness in Flint by giving out hugs. Once again Brown states, over the years we have given out hundreds of hugs on street corners, at Flint festivals and at even at Flint Firebirds hockey games. 

Ultimately, Neighborhoods Without Borders seeks build the Beloved Community: a community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate. Much like Martin Luther King Jr., NWB is fueled by our faith that such a community is, in fact, possible. 


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