The role of civic engagement in neighborhood revitalization, particularly in low income African American communities, has gained increased awareness and in recent years. Community, nonprofit, and government leaders now view civic engagement as a critical component of effective solutions as they seek to address crime, unemployment, low graduation rates and numerous other neighborhood challenges. Several successful initiatives have come to fruition and provide strong evidence of the benefits that increased civic engagement provides.
Experts commonly define civic engagement as individual and group actions that collectively address general issues of concern that are public in nature. Civic engagement takes many forms such volunteerism, community organizing, and involvement in public policy and political issues. Individuals and community residents can express civic engagement through a variety of activities including participating in neighborhood associations, communicating with elected officials, and volunteering for local nonprofits.
Golod (2008) analyzed the Southside Family Charter School located in Minneapolis, MN which serves as a prime example of early civic engagement. Students enrolled in the school reside in a low income community that is close to 50% African American. To improve civic engagement of students and parents, school administrators have developed lesson plans with a focus on civil rights. As a result, the community is preparing a new generation of residents focused on improving their community who follow in the footsteps of parents serving in volunteer capacities and as strong neighborhood activists.
The McCormick Foundation recently demonstrated a commitment to civic engagement here in Chicago by announcing plans to deploy $1.5 million in grants to increase civic coursework in the classroom to put youth on a path of civic engagement that will last long into adulthood.
Such efforts are by no means new as neighborhood revitalization through the civic engagement of residents in low income communities has long been a funding priority of the philanthropic community. The African American community in particular, hard hit by social and economic challenges, presents many opportunities for the increased civic engagement on the part of residents to promote changes in approaches and strategies. Community foundations have the resources and commitment to community revitalization to make significant inroads into solving the problems in low income communities.
Tester, Ruel, Anderson, Reitzes, and Oakley (2011) describe issues such as urban renewal as directly responsible for the decline and destruction of low-income African American communities. They argue that strategies such as relocating residents of public housing and high crime areas for example are not solutions to the root cause of the problem – lack of support, inadequate resources, and isolation. Further, relocating residents of these communities does not...