Shifting perspective with time: reflections from a beloved partner

By Frankie Blackburn
February 14, 2024

Frankie Blackburn headshot
Frankie Blackburn

I have learned so much, and shifted my perspective, in this past decade of working with NIMC, far beyond what I imagined possible at my age and career stage. Some of these shifts were not a surprise, given the number of hunches I had based on previous work as an affordable housing developer/manager and then a full-time community network builder.

The shift I was not expecting was a full circle return to where I started my intense community building work in 1999 in Maryland. When we first started out in Silver Springs, we devoted six years to designing and running nine month learning communities for a small (20 people) and diverse cross section of the community. As a white middle class “do-gooder” in the middle of my own personal awareness and capacity building journey, I knew that people like me needed a lot of help in shifting their benevolent mindsets and dominating behaviors. I also knew, through my long work in affordable housing complexes, that people who have been marginalized since birth need safe spaces to find their voice and learn the practice of sparking community change. This long-term strategy built an essential base of skilled community builders from our targeted neighborhoods, each with a wide range of lived experiences. Their commitment and skill helped spark and sustain many successful community change campaigns over the next decade.

Fast forward to 2017, and I find myself helping lead one of the best teams of community organizers that I have known, all brought together by NIMC, in response to an innovative and dedicated government official in DC. Angie Rodgers, who worked for Mayor Bowser, needed help in transforming four older public housing communities into thriving mixed income housing, all within the context of rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Angie believed in our team, gave us lots of cover and freedom and showed up in the intentional spaces we created for engagement and mixing folks together. After three years of a well-funded community building campaign, across deep lines of divide, several of us sat down to reflect on our limited progress and to issue a shared manifesto of sorts called “Conquerors, Settlers, and the Need for a Liberation Strategy in the Context of Mixed Income Housing”. As you can tell from the title, we placed most of the responsibility for limited progress on the vast array of institutional resistance we encountered in every step. We named ten connected ingredients that we think are essential to moving forward in contexts like the one in DC.

The ingredient most present in my mind as NIMC embarks on the next ten years is the need for Touchstone Change Makers to co-lead mixed income community building efforts: individuals who are highly grounded and skilled, undergirded by authentic lived experience......and not your typical community organizer at the start of their careers. These are special people who relate well to a wide range of community members (one-on-one and in small groups and in large mixing spaces) and who bring a keen strategic sense as they navigate many action learning moments. We had two such people on our team, Yerodin Avent and LaToya Thomas. Both Yerodin and LaToya had grown up and worked in neighborhoods like the one we were working in. And both had the ability to effectively engage people door to door in places where many folks don’t feel safe door knocking, as well as speak honestly to our institutional partners offering concrete shifts in behavior and policy.

The question I am holding and pose to you, the NIMC audience, is where can we find these Touchstone Change Makers and how do we attract them to join forces with us? I have hunches but welcome your ideas. Please reach out to either Debbie Wilber at NIMC or myself at