• DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.

    Your analysis of the Comeback Series is very accurate. However, you may be interested in knowing that although the Comeback Series did not include much information related to public policy, our approach to comprehensive community development with zero displacement and without gentrification actually became public policy on a local and state level.

    Because of our work more than $700 million in private and public investments came to the neighborhood that had been drowning in divestment for half a century. But the process was started by neighborhood residents and groups
    and was led by a neighborhood church. And it all started with the closing of an illegal strip joint, a truce between rival gangs and the removal of an outdoor, illegal drug market. All activities that are too often Ignored by those who see policy changes and public funding as the sole solutions for combating poverty.

    Our philosophy does not preclude or exclude systemic causes, historic injustices or policy flaws that perpetuate poverty. Rather it assumes that none of the efforts to correct those formidable challenges will be successful without the guidance and participation of those affected.

    What made the civil rights movement so successful is that it was a bottom up movement led by mostly grass roots people who became tired of their living conditions. That ethic and spirit is what we seek to continue.

  • Robert Woodson

    Thank you for an accurate description of our work. I would like to address the issue you raised that suggests the “Comeback” episodes do not clearly make the connection between the efforts of those represented and the importance of public policy infrastructure as a means of sustainability. Real poverty reduction begins in the hearts, minds and attitudes of those living in poverty; they must take responsibility to become agents of their social and economic uplift. Jack Kemp joined me in supporting public housing resident leaders in their efforts to clean up their own communities by driving out the drug dealers and all who were creating disorder. This self-policing resulted in dramatic reductions in crime, an increase in school attendance as they took over the PTA, and hundreds of students attending college. Small businesses were established and managed by the residents, resulting in a 60% decrease in welfare dependency.
    These changes were made possible by the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise working with the resident leadership around the country to initiate the passing of seven amendments to the Housing Act that removed barriers to resident control over their developments. This pivotal legislation gave them the right to own their dwellings. Republican Congressman Jack Kemp joined with Democratic Congressman Walter Fauntroy, Republican Senator William Armstrong, and Democratic Senator Allen Dixon to cosponsor these amendments that passed without a dissenting vote and were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, flanked by the resident leadership. Just as the sit-in by four students at Woolworth Department Store sparked the action phase of the Civil Rights Movement, we naively believed that our example would generate a similar movement to empower low-income people. What we encountered was resistance from most Democrats and indifference from most Republicans. Ironically, the most ardent opponents were the voices of those demanding social justice.
    Robert L. Woodson, Sr.