Over the last year, all of us have gone through many stages of adapting and responding as we faced the pandemic, global economic collapse, and a renewed movement for racial justice. At the Center for Community Investment (CCI), we adapted our programs to meet changing circumstances, but we also responded to the needs of the moment by creating new materials and programs, including our short courses, now called Sprints.
Recovery is the mantra of this stage of adaptation and response. President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021—a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill that provides $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments—on March 11. On May 14, Governor Newsom of California proposed “the California Comeback Plan,” a $100 billion budget to lead the state into recovery. Op-ed writers across the country continue to make recovery shape predictions (will it be V or U or W?). Philanthropic organizations are announcing programmatic shifts to support recovery.
A recovery, by definition, is a return to a normal state. But a normal state for many people in this country—many Black and brown people in particular—has never been acceptable. And as Joanna Trotter reminds us, “Never in our country’s history have Black people been able to benefit fully from the recovery after an economic downturn.” What will it take for something different to happen? What might we do that could lead to different outcomes this time?
Last summer, amid confusion, fear, and disruption, CCI published COVID-19, Structural Racism, and Community Investment: Notes Toward a Just Recovery, which offered principles to guide our field in responding to the shattering events of the spring. This winter, we tested the guidance laid out in these notes by working with ten places across the country in two Sprints designed to help them lay the groundwork for a just recovery.
Each Sprint brought together five place-based teams of three leaders committed to learning how to leverage community investment to tackle a challenge associated with racial inequities and economic marginalization in their communities. As part of the Sprint, teams learned adaptive leadership skills to tackle challenges associated with racial inequities and economic marginalization. They also learned and used the capital absorption framework to create and execute a robust pipeline of high-impact investments.
What we found was that community leaders were rising to the moment. Not only had they shifted attention to respond to the emergency conditions, but by March of 2021, they were developing plans to ensure that they could make use of the recovery funding dominating headlines to accomplish the shared priorities of their communities.
In Richmond, CA, the team laid the groundwork to acquire sites for a mixed-use commercial-housing corridor that will build community wealth and advance climate resilience goals in an important part of the city. In Lafayette, LA, the team developed a strategy to significantly reduce the number of residents living in food deserts over the next five years. And in Los Angeles, community leaders advanced a strategy to ensure that street vendors can finance and secure needed equipment and facilities to grow their businesses while complying with public health rules.
All the teams developed pipelines of projects that will be ready for capital as recovery funding is made available. Not only that: they will be able to use these ready projects to influence recovery priorities. Most importantly, the teams incorporated guiding principles that will help lead to different outcomes for their communities: they are centering racial justice, ensuring that their strategies include community voice, preparing for the long haul, and leading with courage.
These teams’ learning and accomplishments showed that CCI’s Sprints can be a powerful impetus to action. And these leaders’ courage to take action proves once again what we know about capital absorption and want more people to learn: by focusing not only on the supply of capital, but also on organizing the demand for capital, we can facilitate the flow of resources to the things our communities want and need.