ABCD and Racial Equity -- 2 examples

By Robert Francis, 2021-03-14

Reducing Racial Disparity and what ABCD has to contribute…

March 14, 2021


In an effort to discover the power of utilizing ABCD principles and tools to reduce racial and ethnic disparity as well as polarization, I had two very informative conversations with George Terrell and Ron Dwyer-Voss, two of my fellow ABCDI stewards, about what they have done and are doing to address the issue through their ABCD work. George who lives in Valparaiso, Indiana where he lives and Ron in Rancho Cordova, California where he was asked to help. I hope their stories will spark conversations and action among ABCD practitioners in the cause of reducing polarization and racial and ethnic disparity in our communities and eventually much broader.

 Valparaiso, Indiana, is a small city of 30,000 people 85% White and 9% African American. In 1968 there were no Black people living in Valparaiso and when surveyed as to whether people would sell their home to a Black person, the answer was universally no! Valparaiso is a very conservative Republican city in one of the most Republican states in the country.

 A few years ago, George, who was concerned about the separation between the races and the underbelly of bias spoken and unspoken, started having get togethers in his home with the initial goal of raising community awareness of the effects of bias on their community. They read books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, The Groundwater Approach by Bayard Love and Deena Hayes-Greene and How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and held discussed groups. The readings led to organizing and conducting community forums with over 200 people in attendance. As part of “Valparaiso Next,” a group concerned about the future of the city, they formed an Inclusion and Division Subcommittee; they did public relations and Black Lives Matter signs, posters and materials; they wrote editorials and spoke at public meetings; they monitored city council meetings and they formed a Police and Schools Work Group. Some of the more financially secure group members took out second mortgages and donated money to Black groups for them to more effectively do their work.

 They started their work with students and educated them about the effects of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and separate but not so equal policies, Civil Rights legislation, the power and culture of the “N word” and how city and state policies impacted negatively on people of color. The students published articles and presented papers on the effects of racism and then took their new knowledge and grievances to the school board and the city’s leaders. Their work resulted in a ban on police chokeholds and new city policies on the duty to intervene and the duty to report acts of bias and violence in Valparaiso. They educated teachers and fostered curriculum changes to include the history and the effects that formal government policies had on Black people in America. In effect, they raised the community’s awareness about the effects of racism and bias on their community.

 The overriding theme of their work in the city was based on the principles of ABCD – inclusion building on the gifts of the young people and adults in their community; the power of diversity and how it makes everyone’s lives better, not just Black people; starting small and place based in a single neighborhood and collaboration between the citizens in the community and the powers at be to foster real change.

 In Rancho Cordova, a diverse suburb of Sacramento, California with 73,000 people, 55% white, 13% Black, 12% Asian and 20% Hispanic, Ron was asked by a by the city to support their staff working with the community to apply ABCD principles to identify the community’s gifts and apply those gifts to addressing the neighborhood’s concerns. This neighborhood was racially diverse with a large number of monolingual Spanish speaking residents affected by the highest crime rate in Rancho Cordova.

 All of the relationships that existed seem to be associated with the schools where students, parents, teachers and community leaders had relationships. Ron talked with students to identify their assets. Parents who wouldn’t go outside the home except for school or church were also invited to participate and to listen to their children. When the children were asked what they wanted to see in their community they said they wanted a soccer league where everyone could play. The adults in the community thought that the city should make it happen. City leaders having an overall thought that the quality of education was tied to the quality of the community asked what they could do. So the city provided balls, jerseys, other equipment and a place to play. The community on the other hand had to provide the coaches and other volunteers to organize the opportunities for the young people to play.

 Parents were then asked what they could do to promote community building and they suggested a festival drawing on the assets of the people who lived in the neighborhood. The city once again supplied 20 booths with materials for residents to set up the events. In return they required each booth to be staffed by two community residents, which involved 40 people from the neighborhood. The amazing thing about this was prior to this time, other agencies had trouble getting more than a handful of residents to work on anything at the school or in the community for its improvement. Even more amazing is that over 400 children and adults from the neighborhood showed up for the festival.

 The festival acted as a catalyst for greater community involvement and has a new sense of power for the residents. Some outcomes of the newfound power of the residents were a 75% reduction in crime in the neighborhood; increased home ownership, and a greater sense of the power of community control to have a positive impact on the quality of life in their neighborhood.

 These are only two examples of reduced polarization through the power of community and working from the assets of the people who live in the community working closely with city leaders. In Canada and Australia, they are approaching the issue of polarization between Anglo populations and indigenous peoples by forming national commissions which may even lead to reparations for past discrimination and subjugation.

 These examples provide proof of the power of community and the utilization of ABCD principles and practices to mobilize the assets of citizens to strengthen community. In addition, if you have a good story of utilizing ABCD to address polarization and racial inequity, please share it in response to this posting.

I will write soon about my example of working on juvenile justice reform efforts in Connecticut and how we used the ABCD principles of inclusion and community engagement to reduce mass incarceration and over-representation of youth of color in the criminal justice system.

 If you want to know more, you can reach George at, Ron at  and myself at



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Race, Equity, John Lewis and the ABCD Institute

By Robert Francis, 2020-11-23

Race, Equity, John Lewis and the ABCD Institute

In the spring of 2019 after retiring from nonprofit work, I decided to take a trip to Montgomery, Alabama to reflect on my lifetime of work and see if I could devise a plan to continue advocating for equal justice. My pilgrimage to the heart of the pro-slavery South promised to do that. You see, Montgomery the Alabama state capital, is no longer the bastion of Southern slavery. It has become a city of hope for racial and ethnic equity.  It is the home of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Institute that created two incredible museums; The Legacy Museum that traces the history of slavery, reconstruction and Jim Crow and the Memorial for Peace and Justice that documents (using eerie metal coffins) over 4,000 Black Americans who were lynched for crimes as dastardly as trying to register to vote or flirting with a white woman. It is the home of the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy College, The Freedom Riders Museum and the Dexter Street Church in the shadow of the state capital where Martin Luther King preached and strategized peaceful nonviolent marches and sit ins. One wonderful surprise is the Alabama State Museum that sits next door to Jefferson Davis’ Confederate White House and is one of the best exhibits of the civil rights movement beginning before the Civil War to the present day.

In my lifetime, one of the great and often unsung civil rights leaders was John Lewis. He put his body on the line every day of his life marching, sitting in and preaching to undo segregation, Jim Crow laws, separate and not so equal practices, lynchings and prejudicial treatment by police and other authorities toward people of color. On my journey to Alabama, I got to retrace his footsteps across the Norman Pettus Bridge in Selma. As I made this trek my knees buckled thinking about the horrific beatings inflicted by the Alabama State Police that Mr. Lewis and his fellow marchers suffered on the other side of the bridge. I also reflected that had it not been for him and his supporters persevering in the struggle for civil rights, we may not have been able to dismantle many of the racist practices of our country.  I reflected on the evil defenders of segregation and the belief that Black people were less than human – George Wallace, Orville Faubus, Bull Connor, James Jackson, James Eastland, Strom Thurmond and many others who either directly ordered violence against the protesters or turned their heads as Black churches were bombed, Blacks were beaten and lynched, their homes bombed or burnt to the ground and leaders such as Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and the young Emmet Till were murdered.

Jon Meacham in his masterful biography of John Lewis “His Truth Is Marching On” calls Mr. Lewis a saint and places him in the company of Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lewis discovered at an early age his calling to be a peaceful nonviolent protester against segregation and Jim Crow laws from his early roots in Pike County Georgia and throughout his life. Arrested over 40 times, severely beaten by police and hospitalized often simply for peacefully protesting, Lewis soldiered on never losing faith and even after being challenged by Blacks who were fed up with peaceful protest, he never gave up his principles of nonviolent protest. 

Later, motivated by what he saw as progress with the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and housing legislation, he moved his fight to Congress where he was eventually elected to the House of Representatives from his home district in rural Georgia where he served up until his death over 40 years later in 2020.

Two weeks ago, we voted to end 4 years of the most chaotic national leadership in my lifetime by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I wish John Lewis were here to witness this historic  moment of having a multi-racial woman serving as Vice President of the United States! I pray for this administration for there is so much to be undone and still so much to do; leading us forward to an era of renewed global respect and a breaking down of barriers that foment racial, economic, educational and criminal justice inequality for so many Americans of color. There are still many race and equity issues to be confronted.

 The ABCD Institute worked this past year to incorporate anti-racism thinking into all of its work starting with a statement of guiding principles approved by the board of directors ( The Institute’s work builds on the organizing work of Black Lives Matter following the senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. It also reflects a long history of working in neighborhoods throughout the world helping build community based on the gifts of the people who live there.  John Lewis was a beacon for us to emulate especially as ABCD practitioners.  In our work, there is much we can do to influence others. Race and equity should be a major element of our message of inclusion every time we speak of asset-based community development.  What a wonderful way to honor his work and his life.

 So where do we go from here? I just listened to an inspiring speech by Bakari Sellers, a young South Carolina attorney, activist and author of “My Vanishing Country” talking about where we and I might start. One of his thoughts really touched me: “As a country we suffer from an empathy deficit. Our opponents are not our enemies. It is through listening to people’s pain; we might reach their hearts.”

 And so, especially during this time of Thanksgiving, let us listen to each other with kindness in our hearts. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Robert Francis

November 23, 2020


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Reflections on John Lewis

By Robert Francis, 2020-08-04

Reflections On John Lewis

On John Lewis

 These past several days have been very moving for me with the passing of John Lewis. When American democracy seems to be falling apart, he had hope -- hope embedded in the young people of America who he urged to get into "good trouble" in defense of democracy. Democracy -- the right to assemble to attempt to right what is wrong about racism in our country and about how suppressing the right to vote is an existential threat to democracy.

 John Lewis wrote these words just a few days before he died. tps://] The words reminded me of the last speech ever given by Martin Luther King in 1968 over 50 years ago just two days before he was assassinated. King was urging his followers to never give up in the struggle for freedom for all people. His speech was in support of the sanitation workers of Memphis who, mostly Black and on strike, were being treated unfairly by the city. King finished his speech with these words, words prophetic just as the words of John Lewis before his death.

 "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

 As you read or better yet, listen to John Lewis' last words, use them to inspire you to get involved in whatever way suits you [voting, urging others to vote, demonstrating, working to remove inequities in your community, writing, changing racist laws that do not treat all people equally, reading more American history of slavery, Jim Crow, reconstruction and how racism still permeates our society, donating to organizations that are making a difference, etc.]..

 Lewis marched with Martin Luther King, Jr, but he also followed his own path putting himself in great danger all for the cause of Black people gaining true freedom from oppression. John Lewis was the conscience of the US House of Representatives. He will be greatly missed. In his final words, he never mentioned Republicans or Democrats; he never mentioned Donald Trump; he never mentioned white supremicists. All he did was do what he always did -- plead for fairness and urge us to get up off our behinds and get into "good trouble!"

 I know most of you looking at this blog posting are already doing a lot to overcome the inequities in our society. It has been my privilege to have worked alongside you for many years. For others on this email, I may not know you as well but I know you are good and fair people. As we reflect on what we can do, Let's us  figure out what small and maybe not so small contributions we can make in the cause of democracy for everyone, not just the people who look like us.

You may also want to check in on the eulogy by President Barack Obama for John Lewis -- an incredibly moving tribute and call to action. Maybe, with this eulogy, Obama along with all o fun will speak out more often and carry the mantel forward to reduce racial inequity. Time to start lobbying for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.



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Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Anti-Racist

Most of us in the ABCD world might consider ourselves pretty advanced in the world of anti-racism but I came away from reading How to be an Anti-Racist with my eyes open to new ways of thinking about racism This  is one of the most important books I’ve ever read for it attacks one of the most prevailing problems the United States faces, and it addresses that problem with vison, personal humility on Kendi’s part, and practicality on how difficult it will be to move from being racist to anti-racist. Fortunately, his path and therefore our paths are hopeful.

Kendi goes far beyond Black/White and White Privilege and White Supremacy and explores several forms of racism including Black on Black and Black on White.  I thought often of my own history of thinking in an assimilationist manner – thinking that certain traits were unique to different races and they could be fixed through education and behavioral change. Assimilationist means that problems are rooted in groups of people, not in individuals. For example, Blacks are; Jews are; White people are; Native Americans are; Women are; gay people are; etc.

 What is racism? Kendi posits that anytime you make a negative comment about another racial or ethnic group that makes that group inferior, that is racist. He defines anti-racism as focusing on power rather than people; on changing policies rather than groups of people. Being anti-racist is learned behavior. It takes education, it takes research, it takes personal soul searching; it takes an understanding of white privilege and how deeply you believe in the superiority of one race over another. It takes work!

 Kendi talks about several forms of racism:

  • Biological – assigning various biological traits to different racial groups. By the way, no matter what your racial or ethnic group we are all 98.6% biologically the same;
  • Ethnicity – collection of racist policies that lead to inequity between racial groups;
  • Bodily – perceiving one racial group as more violent, more deviant than others. The Black body is a crime in America;
  • Cultural – imposing a cultural hierarchy between people of various cultures;
  • Behaviorally – assigning the actions of one person to an entire group;
  • Color – policies based on color – light/dark among Blacks with one another – lighter is better; same distinction among whites – Black is bad; white good!
  • White – classifying white or European as inferior;
  • Black – the illusory thought that Black people can’t be racist because they don’t have the power. In fact, some Blacks have power and there are also white people with very little power;
  • Class – categorizing people by class as superior/inferior; a very common phenomena in America;
  • Space – Because a certain action is predominant in a particular neighborhood, that neighborhood gets classified in terms of safety and other forms of dysfunction;
  • Gender – bias both within and across races; and
  • Sexuality – bias toward whites and Blacks regarding sexual orientation both within and across races.

A true anti-racist is to be anti-racist in all of these areas. When we look at healthcare, housing, employment, education, the environment, law enforcement, etc., to be anti-racist, all policies must be of equal benefit for all, not just a particular race or group. Policies that benefit one group over another are racist. Healthcare policy in the United states is a racist policy. The only healthcare policy that is not racist is universal healthcare. Housing policy is racist since it does not give people an equal opportunity to live where they want. Clean water and clean air are not available for everyone. Do you think the people in Grosse Point, Michigan have the same amount of lead in their water as the people of Grand Rapids? Do you think the children who attend many urban schools in America have the same resources as children in suburban schools? A racist policy is any policy that does not apply universally in equal doses for all regardless of race, gender, neighborhood, class, culture or sexual orientation. To be anti-racist is to work for policies that benefit everyone in all of these areas.

 What will success look like. Kendi talks about racist polices moving to the margins and anti-racist policies moving front and center. People will stop blaming other people for their misfortune and instead, blame policies for societal problems. America would become a place where anti-racist ideas are common sense, just like racist ideas are today. What will America look like with anti-racist policies?

 White people do not benefit equally from racist policies. Rich whites not only oppress Blacks, they oppress white people as well. Most economic policies such as tax shelters, capital gains, exclusive housing, education policies that benefit private schools, bankruptcy laws, and crime policies that punish rich people for embezzling millions much more leniently than poor people selling two ounces of marijuana. Benefits fall very unequally to the rich to the exclusion of poorer people.

 We must remember that the source of racist policies does not come from ignorance and hate, but from self interest and then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume these ideas which spark ignorance and hate. It started with slavery. Slavery was a policy that paid great economic benefits to Southern slaveowners but also Northern bankers and wealthy people who sold their cotton and agricultural goods to Europe at reduced prices. If you don’t have to pay your workers, you gain a great economic benefit. 

 Kendi ends with what can we do to become more anti-racist?

  • First, we have to admit racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people. Each policy needs to have an anti-racist lens placed on it and it needs to be changed to apply equally for all;
  • We can join an anti-racist organization and protest current policies;
  • We can donate time and money to anti-racist organizations;
  • We can examine the intersections of where racism is mixed with other bigotries or ism’s and seek to change our ideas;
  • We can join the struggle by tracking where we personally stand on racist polices from which we benefit and develop anti-racist approaches to these policies;
  • We can monitor ourselves about anytime we make a comment about another racial group that is negative and makes people feel inferior. This one is hard because it assumes assimilationist thinking that assigns problems to groups and doesn’t separate the majority of people in that group that do not have that problem;
  • Stop using terms like colorblind. To be colorblind is blind and is racist;
  • Stop inviting Black people, women, gay, immigrants to your meetings and ask them to represent their race, gender, sexual preference, etc.;
  • Invent or find anti-racist policy that can eliminate racial inequity;
  • Figure out which groups have the power to institute anti-racist policy and focus your efforts there;
  • Disseminate information about the uncovered racist policies in your community as well as the anti-racist correctives;
  • Work with anti-racist power groups to drive from authority the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to effect anti-racist policy;
  • Monitor the new policies closely to assure the anti-racist policies actually eliminate racial inequity;
  • When policies fail, do not blame people. Start over and tweak your policies so they work; and
  • Monitor very closely to ensure new racist policies from being instituted.

 We lost a great champion of that philosophy this past week in John Lewis. I believe he said it best – “You must be bold, brave and courageous. You must find a way to get in the way!” We must all stand together to keep John’s flame for justice burning.

 Kendi and his wife Sadiqa both had metastatic cancer and he proposes that we treat racism like cancer. Saturate the body politic with chemotherapy of anti-racist policies that shrink the tumors of racial inequity. Remove any remaining active cells the way surgeons do with cancer patients. Check out and treat the margins to make sure you got all of it. Always remember that racism is the fastest spreading and most fatal cancer humanity has ever known. Believe in the power that the cancer will not return just as the racist policies do not return. We can never lose hope.

 Today we stand at a crossroads. With the senseless murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, America’s Blacks and Whites for the first time appear to be joining together. It is not a time to rest but to capitalize on the national unrest and turn over every racist rock in America and begin to institute anti-racist polices in their place.


Robert Francis



An Occasional Book Review -- Michael Mather, Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: finding abundant communities in unexpected places


My friend and fellow ABCD faculty member Michael Mather has written and inspired me to take my ABCD work to another level and to revise my training to include more discussion of what people do when they try to help others. He also told the story of his colleague, De’Amon Harges’ (the “roving listener”) of how he helped him through his ”learning journeys” through the neighborhoods to identify and rise up resident’s gifts and turn them into learning opportunities for many others. This book is loaded with lessons for me but two stand out more than others:

 First is the theory of “Iatrogenesis.” The origin of iatrogenesis comes from the Greek for brought forth from the healer. The dictionary defines iatrogenesis as referring to any effect on a person resulting from an activity from one or more other persons acting as healthcare professionals or promoting products or services as beneficial to health, which does not support a goal of the person. In other words, there are unintended consequences that the cure might be worse than the original problem. For example, in human services we may recommend that a couple having difficulty should go to therapy, which may result in divorce, loss of your children, severely reduced income to support yourself, alienation from many of your friends, loneliness, depression and anxiety attacks. In the criminal justice system, we often punish offenses by jailing people, which in turn gives them a record, alienation from everyone who could care and help them, separation from and in many cases loss of family; and limitations in pursuing meaningful future employment,

 The second lesson that stood out for me was what should we do when someone comes to you for help. Our instantaneous response is to make suggestions as to how they might get themselves out of the mess they are presenting. Mike Mather suggests another way. He gives a great example of Amos who comes to him for help about a problem. The first thing Mike does is ask him who loves him? He then asks Amos to gather those people who love him in his office and have them talk about what they love about Amos. My suspicion is that Amos will now have a list of traits or assets that may show him he has the wherewithal to solve his own problems and he has a support system available  to be there for him to provide support and caring, to love him and will be there the next time he feels weak or will stray again!

 Both of these examples spell out where systems or institutional responses often fail to solve the problems they are set up to solve. Institutions are not capable of caring. Only people can provide true caring. Good institutions are those who get out of the way and give their staffs who can provide care the room and support to do so. We are seeing so much more of that now during the Covid 19 pandemic from hospitals and healthcare systems that are providing creative avenues for their staffs to truly provide care.

 As Mike and his friend and colleague De’Amon Hargis tell their stories of the Broadway Church in Indianapolis they highlight all of the other traits of ABCD that make for true caring and raising up the gifts of the people most affected by the issues they are trying to repair.

  1. Never do for others what they can do for themselves;
  2. Ask what are you good enough at that you could teach others?
  3. Start with gift assessments; not needs assessments;
  4. Always build on what is present and not on what is not;
  5. Ask yourself, are we more interested in helping others than achieving equality?
  6. Look for root causes and not just symptoms – for example, the single most important factor keeping young people from high school graduation is economic status. Maybe if we really want to have an impact, let’s start there.
  7. Practice hospitality and welcome the stranger! We must welcome every person in need as gifted people. True hospitality doesn’t refer people to others. It welcomes people into your community;
  8. When we travel, let’s go on learning journeys where we take the learnings and apply them as they fit into our communities when we return home.
  9. Challenged youth need teachers who can help them make sense of the world and their place in it. The teachers must work from the young people’s gifts; not their challenges. Yes, the challenges are real; but as John McKnight is so fond of saying “no need or challenge ever solved a problem. Only your gifts or assets can address the problems you are facing.”
  10. There is great strength in storytelling! A person’s and a community’s stories are essential to what makes communities strong.
  11. Institutions have instituted practices, rules and regulations that can act as barriers to seeing the gifts of the people we were put here to serve.
  12. When you look at the world as a place of abundance; you begin to see it everywhere!
  13. Our job as professionals is to get out of the way sometimes – provide space, provide resources -- food, facilities, materials, facilitation to a point, provide advice when asked but remember to ask first – who loves you? (“Lead by stepping back!”)
  14. 6 Broadway Church lessons – (1) our neighbors are God’s people; act like it; (2) everything begins with and builds on people’s gifts; (3) parents and guardians are the first best teachers – respect this; (4) we invest first and foremost in the good of the people in the neighborhood: (5) money must flow to the neighborhood and (6) practice neighbor love!
  15. People with skills; not programs for every need!

 I want to thank Michael for writing this book about where the rubber hits the road with ABCD and De’Amon for his creativity and caring in supporting him.

 Robert Francis


A Book Review - David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

When I started this book, I did not expect David Brooks, noted author, NY Times op-ed writer and PBS pundit to be an advocate for community building based on mobilizing citizen’s gifts. Brooks begins by writing about how we climb our first mountain by developing our skills and personality to build up our ego and define our unique self. The first mountain is about acquisition, moving up based on personal achievement, gratification and security. The second mountain in contrast is about contribution and planting ourselves amid those who need and walking arm in arm with them. He goes on to describe how striving and achieving does not necessarily bring happiness and contentment, but rather how it often leads to personal loneliness, distrust of others, lack of purpose with life, tribalism, and suffering. What stuck with me was the idea of tribalism in this age of deep polarization beginning in the early 1990’s and peaking in the present time where we have walled ourselves off into warring liberal and conservative camps where neither side is capable of hearing what the other side has to say. It has fractured families, long-standing friendships and communities.

 It is only when you climb the second mountain toward defining for yourself what it means to be a good person with empathy toward others that we attain more complete happiness. With reflection and consideration about the consequences of our actions we begin to understand what really matters is the depth and satisfaction we derive from our relationships with others. These relationships are both one on one but also with our community. This is where Brooks enlists those of us who are devotees of an asset-based approach to community building on the gifts of each person to build healthy environments in which to live. If you are someone who believes you have climbed the first mountain and are fully actualized and have determined the role that your religious faith or lack thereof, has helped form the person you are,  you can skip to page 253where he introduces his approach to community building. I would not however, recommend it since they are rich with great stories.

 Jane Jacobs wrote eloquently in her seminal work – The Death and Life of Great American Citiesas she describes looking out her Greenwich Village window at a scene where a 10-year-old girl is being mugged. Before she can act, she sees shopkeepers and residents exiting their buildings to help the girl and quiet the situation in the spirit of community building public safety. Brooks uses this example and quotes the work of John McKnight and Peter Block. He cites examples of very positive neighborhood efforts in Detroit, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, and New York, where people identified and took their gifts to the point of what he calls “combustion” or action, which contributes to healthier neighborhood life and renewal. Brooks composes what he sees as the “code of the neighbor.”

  1. We are enough– individual citizens discovering their own power to act,
  2. Village over self– inconveniencing self for the good of the community,
  3. Initiating the connection– inviting others to the community building party,
  4. Thirty-year eyes– being in it for the long haul,
  5. Radical hospitality– As Robert Frost said, “home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” So it is with healthy neighborhoods. The code of the neighbor is “hospitality first.”
  6. The community is the expert– The people of the neighborhood puzzling together to determine the direction,
  7. Coming in under– or in my words – “leading by stepping back,”
  8. The least are the most– communities are defined by the treatment of the least among them: the young, the poor, the aged, the disabled, etc. and
  9. The sin is partly my own– the evil and what can be changed is inside us and it is really the only thing we control. It is through transparency and truth that relationships are built and neighborhoods and the people in them thrive.

 ABCD practitioners have been toiling in neighborhoods and spreading the word of ABCD for several decades. Through prominent writers like David Brooks, ABCD thinking has entered the mainstream and may help us move through this dark period of polarization and despair for our country. 

 I’ll leave you with one personal short story. Growing up in a small industrial town in Western Pennsylvania I was a pretty good baseball player. I lived about 15 minutes away from the fields where we played. After games it would take me over an hour to get home because my neighbors would stop me to talk about the game. I often tell people when I am facilitating an ABCD workshop that I left St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania when I was 19 years old for the excitement of living and working in cities where I’ve worked all my life trying to cultivate communities and neighborhoods like the one that nurtured me as a young man.




Robert Francis
About Robert Francis

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Group facilitation, program and strategy development, community organizing, understanding implicit bias, youth development, juveniel and adult criminal justice reform

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