Community Identity - This is Who We Are

Brightly colored images of folk art on a collection of doors lined up along a fence

Excerpt from my podcast interview with De'Amon Harges.

Yeah, I’ve got a little story. So, I'm just telling you about my neighbor WildStyle. So, WildStyle would realize he'd go to meetings and hear something here, and none of the people in the city would know me. So anyway, he went there. He was like, hey, man. They were talking about artists. Didn't you say you had a list of artists? And we start pulling lists. He dragged me to a meeting. We ended up capturing about $100,000. And so, we found some doors in the alley, about 25 of them. WildStyle said let's pull some artists together. He and my friend Gary and a couple of artists and said, what do we do that lets people tell their stories using these doors? And he came up with this project called Perception. He came up with a little maquette of 54 doors - stories on the front and back of these doors. And so we paid each person $150 bucks to tell their story. Artists, non-artists, families, moms, and dads. All of a sudden, we noticed these doors will be on their porches. And if you come to our neighborhood, and you talk about us there'll be consistent things. It's interesting because that's not what we intended. That was an I/O we didn’t intend. We didn't intend for that, but we're known as the community that tells the stories on doors because the doors were all on everybody's porch. 75 doors, spread throughout the community. So, people thought some movement was going on. It was, actually, but we didn't plan that. But when you come here now, in about a four-block radius, people are going to say, well, this is who we are. And they're going to talk different ways than another four-block radius would talk about themselves.  
The role of culture is that it's the form through which we as a society reflect on who we are, where we've been, where we hope to be. — Wendell Pierce

So, what are our takeaways?

Communities Are Abundant Places

One of the things that I loved about my discussion with De’Amon Harges and about this story is his commitment to thinking in terms of asset-based and how to build from what is at hand, leveraging the talents and gifts naturally found in abundance throughout a community. In his community, they have done small and large projects, but they have always built from a foundation of the gifts, talents, and relationships that existed in their community. 

Identity Emerges. It is not Designed.

The story of the doors highlights that community culture and community identity don’t always come from an explicit strategy. Often, the most powerful elements of culture and identity emerge when you are not necessarily thinking about creating a culture at all but simply acting together as a community. 

Creating Community Culture is a Shared Journey

Community culture is not something we create on our own, or even just with those we know. We cannot create community culture by committee. It is not a one-time task. It is not an advertising slogan. Community culture emerges from how we collectively act, what we collectively build, and what we all contribute over time. This is true, even when all of the contributions are not equally recognized. 

This story also holds some type of warning for us. Sometimes, our community identity is not defined by us but by how others see us. Community culture and identity are precious things to be nurtured, continuously cultivated, and protected. 

What are the things that define your community culture? How did they emerge? Who has named them? 

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