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South Bend Heritage – Soul Food Luncheon

Sid. L. Mohn, Impacto Consulting, Chicago, IL

August 10, 2017

Speech: Getting Ready for the Jubilee

43 years, 43 years since the founding of South Bend Heritage…half a lifetime under your belt 43 years – the prime of life;  the time to be hitting your stride – a legacy of experience to make you wise with lots of energy coursing through your being.  This is the time, now is the time, to prepare for your jubilee, that golden anniversary of 50 years of work and witness;  this is the time, now is the time to articulate the signposts you want to create for your 50 year golden jubilee. The concept of Jubilee is rooted in Hebrew Scriptures and in Jewish and Christian practice – a celebrative anniversary that is accompanied by a proclamation of liberty, a freeing of those enslaved, and an embracing of all as brothers and sisters. 

43 years ago you were birthed to be a part of the transformation of this neighborhood, of this city – and you joined with countless other points of transformation across this country.  The 1970s – a time to dismantle segregation, a time to build fairness and justice, a time to invest in people, families and communities.  They were dismal days – the wounds of our nation were still raw and unhealed.  Our grief over murdered leaders remained uncomforted, legislative victories were still-to-be experienced in everyday life, divisions within movements threatened the arc of justice. But they were hopeful, energizing days – there was a sense that we could turn things around,  that the future could be better,  that civil and human rights could and would prevail, that cities and towns and rural lands could be places of belonging and vitality and opportunity.

We’re in a new era now- the soil not quite as fertile as it was 43 years ago.  Our days again are dismal …but dreams don’t die, the vision can’t be dimmed.  When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We need to be a part of the forefront of building hopeful, energizing days. 

Yes, times are tough.  Efforts are underway to dismantle the infrastructure of decency  in this country – an infrastructure of decency that I define as respectful treatment of each other, a priority of concern for those who are at vulnerable places in their life, access to equal education, health care when you’re sick or  when you don’t want to get sick, an affordable place to call home,  a job that pays the bills with money left over for enjoyment and a rainy day, a community that provides delight and support and safety.  These are all part of the infrastructure of decency – and all of these are under threat.

We are in tough times:  a HUD leader who believes that poverty is a state of mind, an Administration and a Congressional majority that have focused on those who have and not on those who have not,  policies that tear apart our safety net and policies that now permit, and at times even seem to encourage, discrimination and exclusion.  Social minorities are again fair game or more accurately unfair game.   And, as a clergyman, this hurts me to say, but there are folks who in the supposed guise of religion advance religious freedom to hate, to exclude, to discriminate.  Now that indeed is fake news.

So what do the tough do in these tough times — how does South Bend Heritage continue to be a transformative hope in neighborhoods, in this city and in this country? How does South Bend Heritage recommit to the dream of creating opportunities for people to live in affordable homes, improve their lives and strengthen their communities? How do we build a 21st century city on a hill? The Holy Writings that are most familiar to me, in the words of the Proverbs, assert that without a vision the people will perish.  South Bend Heritage, we need your vision so that we can live and grow and thrive – and not perish.

I do some work with health care organizations, some of whom are looking at artificial intelligence as a way to predict health risks and propose health care interventions.  This artificial intelligence is based on computer-cogitated algorithms that combine research and data from a wide array of sources.

South Bend Heritage does not need artificial intelligence; it has natural intelligence built from 43 years of feet on the ground.  My experience with South Bend Heritage is that its visionary algorithm is as follows: values of inclusion and opportunity demonstrated through strong housing contribute to strong people who contribute to strong neighborhoods – a double helix in which strength and opportunity are inextricably bound together in the relationship between people, housing and community.

This algorithm resonates with me from my 35 years of doing housing — mostly in metropolitan Chicago and Milwaukee, but also in Rwanda and in Guatemala.   The algorithm was often summarized this way: ….developing people by developing housing by developing community – but one can  re-arrange the parts in any sequence and still have an accurate algorithm:  developing housing by developing people by developing community;  OR developing community by developing housing by developing people.  There is no wrong order.

WHAT ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS of this field-tested model?

Let’s start with what I believe should be the bedrock, and that is the VALUES which drive our work, which fuel our vision, which sustain us when the odds seem to be stacked against us. 

These values are somewhat counter-cultural in our current political era; but you’ve been counter-cultural before; it’s baked into your genetic code.  Being counter cultural should not discourage you, rather it should invigorate you to be on the right side of history.

The primary bedrock value for our work, I believe, is the value of inclusion – of embracing our common humanity and investing in the common good of all.

Martin Luther King Jr’s World House speech powerfully asserts this value, for me – and let me quote: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together…a great “world house” — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.

… But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood, and sisterhood.  Together we must learn to live as brothers and sisters or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”

I am professed in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, a spiritual community based on the teachings of St. Francis who understood God thru the lens of the excluded, the poor and the outcast.  St. Francis is not totally unique……most all holy writings of major faith traditions advance our accountability to include, and embrace, those who are hungry or homeless or strangers or left out. 

Another manifestation of this value of inclusion is the Sanctuary Church movement of the 1980s and the contemporary Sanctuary City movement both which counter unjust treatment, both which counter immoral scapegoating and the politics of exclusion.

St. Paul, one of the first Christian theologians, was initially a virulent exclusionist, persecuting non-Jews.  On the road to Damascus to attend a rally against non-Jews, he saw a light – a blinding, but illuminating, light — and that light was the brilliant beam of inclusion which stopped him in his tracks and changed his life.   That brilliant beam of inclusion led him to declare a faith in which there was neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, man nor woman – but all holy people embraced by the Divine.

Earlier this summer the Southern Baptists declared that white supremacy is not only unjust but is also sinful, in direct opposition to Holy Will, yet another testament to the value of inclusion. 

This value of inclusion is bedrock for our algorithm.  It suggests that everything we do must be filtered through the following test:

Does our work promote diversity and inclusion?

Does our work advance justice and the common good?

Does our work serve those who are excluded or left out?


The first level we are challenged to build is that of developing HOMES FOR ALL, embracing a continuum of homes that serves us in our continuum of life.  At times that may be emergency shelter during a time of crisis, at times a transitional home until we move from an unsafe or unstable place to a place of safety and stability, at times supportive housing where extra services are needed to deal with life challenges, at times multi-family housing, at times single family housing, at times multi-generational housing, at times shared housing.

We need to affirm that we are a delightful diverse array of humanity – with differing needs at differing times during differing circumstances.  One size does NOT fit all; one housing archetype does not serve our values of inclusion and common good.

I applaud South Bend Heritage for its permanent supportive housing initiative. It is evident of the best of the Housing First approach which serves individuals facing many challenges in their lives. It’s a form of assisted living to those who are not elderly.

Permanent supportive housing is not without controversy.  I can show you my scars — from developing permanent supportive housing for people with HIV in the late 80s, to family housing for formerly homeless women, to housing for persons with serious mental illness, to housing for low income LGBT seniors – each faced “Not in My Backyard” resistance.  But with a values bedrock, one stays the course, to build homes for all.


Without a roof over one’s head, people struggle to survive, much less thrive.

With a roof over their head and no longer having to worry about the basics, people can invest in journeys to economic and social security.

My professional background is in the field of human rights, anchored in international commitments to the basic rights which all human beings should enjoy quite simply on the basis of their humanity – such as the right to housing, or the right to health care, or the right to a sustainable livelihood.  I’ve done some work in the field of employment, particularly with long term unemployed individuals,  and know that the first step to finding and keeping a job is having a stable place to call home.  In the field of poverty health, we know that unstable housing is one of the key predictors of declining health and un-necessary hospitalization.  Educational research informs us that children who are raised in secure home environments, develop stronger academic, social and employment skills.

Strong people emerge from strong homes.

Our third level is that of STRONG NEIGHBORHOODS:

As someone schooled in human rights methodology, strong neighborhoods are best formed through the inclusion and participation of people living in those neighborhoods.  Human rights practice requires that impacted persons be involved as leaders in securing their rights and their futures.

Strong neighborhoods are places where diverse people can live, work and play…..where streets are safe, where community institutions are encouraged and supported, where public servants are held to accountability.

Strong neighborhoods don’t magically appear nor are they magically sustained.  They require hard work – but its good work.  It’s the work of learning to live together – to live together, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his world house speech “where brothers and sisters learn to live as one.”

South Bend Heritage has been a trusted partner over the years in serving as a catalyst, a convener for the dynamic, ever-ongoing, work of community building.  This is work that is as critical now, as ever before. 

South Bend Heritage, you’re on the eve of a golden jubilee.  Now’ the time to move into 5th gear to celebrate that jubilee, to seize the moment, to declare your vision, to hit your stride.

Here’s my 5 point challenge to you:

  1. Proudly proclaim the values that will serve as the bedrock for all that you do.  In our current environment, we need the values of diversity and inclusion more than ever.  Be a beacon, a blinding but illuminating light. Be an unwavering champion of housing and vibrant neighborhoods as a right for all.
  2.  Move to greater scale; you’ve proven yourself.  The yeast has been tested in the warming rooms of your first half of your century.  Let the yeast rise, and rise, and rise.  Be bold – set an ambitious vision, a vision that is the aggregation of the hopes and dreams and fears of people who live in and want to live in shared neighborhoods.
  3. Be willing to be controversial; that’s how change occurs.   As a community development organization, you are all about change — you are in the business of moving from what is to what can be.  And that means there will always be some who opposes you.  But your work is grounded in partnering for vital, vibrant and inclusive communities – not in being universally popular.
  4.  Declare a strategic plan that lists metrics that contribute to ending poverty and ending exclusion. Bit by bit, year by year, project by project – chip away at the devastation of poverty and exclusion.
  5.  Develop your own Neighborhood Impact Tool, built on the well tested models of Environmental and Social Impact Tools, and use that tool as a guide in all of your project analyses.  Use the guide as a template to evaluate public or private initiatives based on how well they do or don’t positively impact neighborhood life, how they do or don’t reduce exclusion, and how they do or don’t build diverse community. 

You have your own field tested algorithm to serve as your innate, non-artificial intelligence for your leadership work and your inspiring vision for the future.

With bedrock values, you will be able to continue to build strong housing for strong people in strong communities.  This city needs you to continue the work however controversial or counter cultural it may be; our country needs your model of community development – it is a hope, a dream, a vision – on which our collective future depends.  In our great world house, we survive and thrive by learning to live together.  In tough times, the tough get going. 

Here’s to your jubilee, my tough brothers and sisters… here is to the vision that will help this city to survive and thrive. Here’s to doing it.