Fair Haven is a Diverse Community with a Rich History and a Beautiful Waterfront
As I discovered, old-school New Haven civil society is alive and well in our city, thanks to the work of community organizers. Recently I got to sit down with three of New Haven’s finest, Kevin Ewing DIV ’07 of West River and the Hill, Ken Janke of Fair Haven and Lee Cruz of Chatham Square. They’re a diverse bunch — Ewing is a pastor, Janke is from Dallas and Cruz is former director of the New Haven/León Sister City project, a binational non-profit — yet they speak the same language, one of RFK-style idealism coupled with seasoned intellectual authority.
What is community organizing? A buzzword, for one. Some associate it with “change” and its post-election offspring, Organizing for America, others with an effort to leverage the power of the powerless against that of the powerful.
In New Haven, community organizing is neither Marxist nor Democrat. Here, community organizing is about community. Cruz, Ewing and Janke define what they do as building “relational culture,”
How do you get relational culture to happen? You in-source. You identify local possibilities and leaders and you build neighborhood collaboration around them. The key is that the parts are already in place. The Feeding of the 5000, as Ewing has it, was a miracle not of alimentary alchemy but of getting people to share.
The goal of community organizing is to get the community to take back the community. It’s a triumph of voice over exit, and it’s just what Jane Jacobs ordered: “unslumming" requires a self-determination whereby the “successful people” are inclined to lead rather than leave.