Everything about the planning for Urban Project happens for a reason. All the content, schedule, format, even down to food we eat is intentional and meant to help us grasp the community development concepts of Relocation, Reconciliation, and Redistribution (the three R’s) outlined in Dr. John Perkins’ book With Justice for All. We also cover the 5 principles of integrating faith and sport that Athletes in Action specializes in. We hold this in LA because of the many partnerships in the community through the 20 year legacy that Dee and Michael Sylvester have built here hosting the Urban Project and leading Athletes in Action at USC. The opportunity and the challenge for us attending is to learn what the 3 R’s look like under the direction of local leaders and heros, and to apply them wherever God may call us geographically, socially, and career-wise. It can be easy to be cynical or simplistic in thinking about poverty and under-resourced areas and to treat the people there without dignity, even while trying to help. One major conceptual shift that we’ve been diving into is how poverty is not just a lack of wealth, but a lack of options, and that poverty is not just caused by injustice, it is injustice.
After our 3 weeks here, we will have seen and experienced more about these concepts and principles than we probably would have in a whole year. Los Angeles is our learning laboratory where we’ve learned about race, culture, justice, privilege, and many similar themes (and what the gospel of Jesus has to say about them). It is a city with a lot of history and stark contrast that is mind-boggling to see first-hand. One of the days we went to a church called Central City and is located in the nation’s largest community of homeless people, a section of downtown called “Skid Row,” where LA authorities have relocated what is now about 40-60 thousand homeless people, many who suffer addictions and mental illnesses. Later that day in a photo scavenger hunt tour of LA, it was strange to find ourselves on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, probably the most wealthy and privileged spot in LA. We also took a tour one night to see and pray over places that represent the struggles of LA, such as the Macarthur Park district (a highly dense hispanic/Latino and immigrant area); the Marathon Clothing store of recently deceased rapper and community developer Nipsey Hussle (who embodied the 3 R’s well); Homeboy Industries which gives jobs, training, and community to former gang members; and city hall which represents the powerful policy makers and enforcers of LA.
We also have thought leaders come in to speak on each of the 3 R’s and discuss films and articles about racial justice issues. This week we brought in an expert in community development who spoke on Relocation, which really means being in proximity enough to feel the needs and to partner with and empower those in the community to make decisions for change. She shared about the problems with the typical needs-based approach in social work in which it is usually controlled by those outside the community or those in a top-down position, creating dependency, disempowering the constituents, and failing to address the root cause. She explained how a different approach, a strengths-based approach, creates long-term results and sustainability, and engages and empowers constituents by building on existing assets. You can’t actually be the expert or savior from outside, you need relationships with people who live in the community who know why the problems exist and what’s needed to fix them.
University of California- Berkeley