SOUTH SHORE — A sort of club has formed in South Shore that thinks the best solutions for the neighborhood’s ailments will come from within the community.
Thanks to monthly membership dues of $25, the approximately 20 members Young Leaders Alliance have bought a building at 1745 E. 71st St. and have begun renovations on the first floor while offering temporary housing upstairs for those trying to get back on their feet.
“This place was just abandoned,” Jedidiah Brown, the 27-year-old pastor and founder of the organization, said on Wednesday while standing in the still-rough interior as the group put $2,200 into new drywall, ceilings and security into the building.
“These are parents and college students affected by the violence,” Brown said of the group's membership. “We were going to all these community meetings and there were no youth engaged.”
Brown said he started the group after experiencing news crews that left too soon after a shooting, non-profits bound by the expectations of their outside funders and an older generation of leaders burdened with maintaining their reputation.
Brown said he tried to help his community and others working for political and religious leaders, but was turned off by how much time and energy was expended to nurture egos. He said it was a perennial frustration to see people do nothing because they thought huge investments of money were necessary to make a real difference.
“All these things are excuses,” he said. “You just need a little bit of money.”
Young Leaders Alliance is banking on boosting its effectiveness by cutting loose many of the elements that are at the core of many community groups.
By relying on only on the membership dues, the group is adaptable and able to change its goals as the situation changes in a way unavailable to groups funded by outside foundations with reporting requirements.
“I’m not saying grants are bad, but one of the things that’s pure about this is our money,” Brown said.
The group makes decisions through a conversational and democratic process, reducing the chances that initiatives are defined by an entrenched leader’s reputational needs. According to Brown, it also increases the devotion of the members to each initiative the group undertakes.
By keeping the goals modest, the group isn’t slowed down when people move on.
“We’ve had a lot of people leave,” Brown said. “It weeds out the people that are there for the wrong intent.”
Most recently, the group is visiting the families of victims of gun violence and the families of the suspected offender.
“There’s no love, there’s no regard, it’s a culture of us versus them,” Brown said of the attitudes toward the victims and perpetrators of violence. “People are so hurt that they are skeptical of everything.”
The members of Young Leaders Alliance are hoping to overcome that pain and bring both groups back into the larger community.
Founded in February, the group is still relatively young and its work not yet tested by time. But converts are already taking cues from the alliance.
Four chapters have already formed in Chicago and new chapters are springing up in Atlanta, Detroit, New York and other major cities.
Brown said the idea is simple and alluring: it’s the idea that residents of a community are best positioned and most capable of addressing neighborhood problems.