Lela Klein: It’s interesting. Over the past six years we’ve engaged in a campaign that has combined deep-rooted community organizing and political consciousness raising around food justice, food apartheid with a real estate development entrepreneurship project, where we actually developed and built a supermarket—like an actual supermarket with coolers and bananas and things like that. So, sustaining that over six years, there are three key areas that I think helped us sustain over those years.
First of all, a deep investment in staff and organizing. I think we could have done this project from a more traditional kind of developer model: we get the land, develop the model, develop the plan, maybe have a few community talkbacks, a few town hall meetings, and then just do it.
We actually staffed up on organizing, that was because of our background. So, investment in staff, investment in organizing, which honestly came from our ability to fundraise, which is also part of it. We were able to get some early investment from some national funders who saw a little spark in us, and then that helped translate to some success on the ground in Dayton.
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I would also say leadership development has been really important. So, a lot of people have come up as volunteers and then we try to quickly as possible find ways to bring them on as paid staff. Or at least in some kind of role that honors their leadership and time commitment.
The other thing is like celebrating every win really publicly. None of us come out of non-profit fundraising. None of us have any kind of nonprofit background. We were given advice really early that when you’re doing a capital campaign, you don’t tell anyone you’re even doing the capital campaign until you are 80 percent done. That’s not going to work in this kind of context. We needed to celebrate every dollar raised, every member brought in, every hurdle that we leapt over. We needed to celebrate because the community was really used to seeing people talking and not producing results. And so, to build trust over time, we needed to be transparent. We also needed to admit when we had setbacks and really be transparent about that.
That’s the final thing about a six-year campaign in general is just consistency, just showing up and building that trust over time. We held pretty frequent community meetings, and our commitment was: we will stay until every question is answered. We will do a Q&A; the Q&A will be at the end of the meeting; we will stay until every question is answered and we’ll just do it. We’re going to keep showing up, we’re going to keep doing the work, and we’re going to stay in community. And we might even come to your door, and knock on it, and ask you a question. I think that’s how we sustained over six years. I also think had we gone any faster, we would not be where we are.