Attempt at the Vulcan Mind Meld

In much of my work these days, when I encounter resistance, I don’t spend a lot of effort trying to persuade people and institutions to adopt an anchor mission lens. I try to inspire them with stories and examples, but I pretty much stop there. I feel that my energy is better spent with institutions that are ready to dip their toe in the water and see what’s possible. I think that helping birth demonstration projects with willing partners is the best way to create the change we are working towards. Additionally, it allows reluctant anchors to see that community wealth building strategies work, and we start to build a new norm for how anchor institutions are expected to show up in the community.

There is an exception to my current decision to not bang my head on an institution’s walls, as there is one institution where the stakes are too high. If they choose to reject the community wealth building lens as they build out their new campus, the surrounding neighborhoods, primarily home to immigrants from Latin America, will be displaced due to gentrification pressures. There is a long list of atrocities and injustices this neighborhood has endured since its early days, including being one of the most polluted zip codes in the country.

The governing body for the entity that will bring this campus to life and manage the public-private partnership, as well as the facilities and programming was seated by vote of the Denver City Council in early 2018 with the CEO and a skeleton staff hired in early 2019. The project gained traction in November 2015 after Denver voters approved extension of a tourist tax to provide $856 million in public funds for the campus redevelopment efforts. In addition to constructing a 250-acre campus, there are multiple infrastructure projects occurring simultaneously that are creating significant disruptions and inconveniences for residents, while also causing property values and rents to soar.

Their public relations materials not withstanding, increasing economic opportunity for their surrounding low-income neighbors is a low priority based on their actions to date. To help them be equipped to deliver on their stated intention of wanting to lift all boats, we proposed creating and funding a high level staff position within their organization that would be dedicated to applying the community wealth building lens to their operations. The offer wasn’t rejected out right, but the CEO told us he needed more time to convince his board that this was the right move for the organization. He asked us to give him six months.

We have a January meeting with them on the calendar (this is three months past the six months he requested). Our original idea to address their staffing capacity issues didn’t get us any closer to persuading them to adopt a community wealth building lens. So I am ready to dig into this week’s prompt to see if I can imagine the story they are telling themselves. Here goes …

Change is inevitable. Displacement is the story of the U.S. The land that Denver sits on was originally occupied by the Arapahoe tribe. Many of the original residents of the neighborhoods around this campus were Eastern European immigrants who worked in the smelter and refineries located there. The north-south Interstate (I25) divided the neighborhood, with construction completed in the late 50s and the east-west Interstate (I70) further bifurcated the neighborhood in the mid 60s. Today, the population is 90% Latino. Change is inevitable. We are making so many physical improvements to this neighborhood that it will at last become an amenity rich neighborhood. This is the march of progress.

We are building a campus from scratch and are responsible for animating this campus with programs and projects, scholarly research and world class entertainment, with the vision of being a profitable venue that contributes to solving global agriculture and water challenges. This is an audacious vision that we cannot be distracted from if we are to succeed. Our mission does not include creating a new economic development paradigm focused on an economic system that works for everyone. That is a huge undertaking that we are not equipped to take on. In fact, it isn’t congruent with the Western heritage of rugged individualism that our campus celebrates. We are under incredible pressure to deliver on the vision for this campus and building community wealth doesn’t fall within our wheelhouse or our mission.

There are so many different factions in the neighborhoods that it will be impossible for us to please everyone. We will become mired in conflicts that negate the good will we have been working so hard to secure. Bad publicity is the last thing we need.

We are already partnering with WorkNow to support residents in being hired for campus construction jobs.

Since we are creating this thing from scratch, we don’t know what jobs or goods and services we are going to need to purchase. The neighborhood businesses aren’t ones that provide the types of goods and services we are going to need. Fostering the development of new businesses and worker cooperatives to meet our business needs doesn’t fall within our mandate. We would be happy to communicate our needs, once we know them, to an entity that can help grow local business capacity.

We are really afraid of being distracted from our mission and afraid that we won’t be able to meet the mandate we have been given. We must stay laser focused on our mission.

We have expended considerable time and resources on engaging the community. We have bent over backwards to solicit input from our neighbors and many of our programming priorities have been shaped by residents. This reflects our desire to be a welcoming neighbor and to make this place one that is relevant to our neighbors. Yet, our audience is also the entire city, the region, the state, the West, the globe!! This hyper-local perspective you all are touting doesn’t mesh with our global vision.

We are slightly intrigued by the idea of having a national spotlight shone on us for our successful efforts to minimize involuntary displacement by deliberately creating avenues for residents to access new economic opportunities created by our presence. However, the majority of our board members are conservative and want to let the free market dictate who benefits from our presence.

It is so much easier to work with large corporations that are well-oiled machines in terms of handling concessions, security, building and landscape maintenance, etc. Again, we just don’t have the bandwidth to nurture new businesses.

The Vulcan mind meld would sure be nice, right about now.

Another idea that comes to mind:
We discuss whether a 6-month contract with a business analyst consultant would be useful. This person would complete a business plan for their operations, which would identify future staffing needs and their projected needs for specific goods and services, including recommendation regarding out-sourcing or developing in-house capacity. Similar to our earlier proposal, we would offer to raise the funds for this hire. We would then need to build capacity within the Center for Community Wealth Building to be able to connect the community to the opportunities identified in the plan. This solution takes the burden of action away from them.

This idea still reflects holding onto my original, probably naive belief that it is their fear of being unable to deliver on their mandate that is what’s driving them. I want for this to be true! If it is, we should be able to problem solve with them about how the community wealth building work can be accomplished by others, as long as they commit to providing us with timely information about their business needs and requirements.

However, I’m afraid that what is driving them is a commitment to the status quo for how business is conducted. Fortunately, the new City Council person for this district is a Social Democrat and close friend of Yessica. There are strong resident leaders and growing momentum for developing a Community Benefits Agreement. A lot can be gained from a CBA, but it doesn’t achieve igniting their imagination for building community wealth.

NOTE: After this exercise is complete I want to remove this post since its contents are sensitive!

RS: The plot thickens … or maybe the plot thins. I’m not sure! I had a good telephone conversation with the CEOs deputy on Thursday afternoon. I called her to follow-up on a request that came in from a board committee chair. This is the first time I have spoken with her. I was surprised that she excused herself from a meeting to take my call and we had about a 30-minute conversation. And it was a real conversation.

The bad news is that it looks like they are moving in the direction of turning over facilities management to whomever is selected in response to an RFP that the City is currently drafting. It’s a bit too complicated to explain all the details, but there is a possibility that negotiating on the requirements stipulated in the RFP, could be influenced by community input, if the process for engaging the community in this effort is done well. To date, their idea of community engagement is very limited and ineffective. Yessica and others have provided input on how to effectively engage community voices, but so far it hasn’t resulted in new ways of doing business.

Traditional CBA’s are between a community and a developer. It looks like that is the direction things are going here, too. I think it will be a stronger message for a developer if there are requirements baked into the RFP that address local hiring and procurement, as well as committing to supporting the launch of worker cooperatives to fulfill some of the sub-contracting spots. Hopefully they will also include requirements for significant numbers of deeply affordably housing units. I don’t think the City has ever issued an RFP that would have these kinds of requirements, but the deputy shared with me that the RFP is emphasizing an equitable development framework for this parcel of land that is connected to the campus that I described in my post. I have no idea if this is possible, but I think it would be advantageous instead of setting up a CBA negotiation after the developer has already been selected by the City. I am not knowledgeable enough about these processes to know if my ideas have any chance of even being considered.

The deputy also shared with me that she has an upcoming 1:1 meeting with the City Councilwoman previously mentioned. They are definitely scared of her, because she has already proven a formidable opponent. Yessica will share with the City Councilwoman the intel that I picked up this week. Whether my approach can work or whether a CBA process is launched, there will be considerable pressure applied by the City Councilwoman to run an effective and legitimate community engagement process.

The deputy also shared that their board is scared of a CBA and wary of what it means to adopt an anchor mission approach. I really like Sheila’s idea to connect the board more directly with residents on residents’ turf. I am going to find out if that has happened already. I believe that staff feels like they have been going to community tables to have real conversations — but I’m skeptical about it. And I’m doubtful that the board members have been out in the community. There is one resident that sits on the board with a vote, but he is hardly representative of the community. There is also a non-voting resident that attends the board meetings and can participate, but not vote. She is an excellent participant and is providing effective leadership even without voting privileges. The board is so stacked and very clearly reflects tokenism when it comes to community engagement.

Jenai the points you raise around how our negotiating position could be stronger if we more deliberately partnered with others raises some interesting issues. Yessica is very connected in this community and has been working behind-the-scenes and overtly as an advocate lifting up voices of resident and small business owners. The City and the authority for the campus are very adept at dodging responsibility and pointing away from themselves and then presenting things as ‘done deals.’ It’s been maddening, pretty much from day one. Center for Community Wealth Building has yet to position itself as an adversary. So far, we have tried to overtly work with the authority, while still very clearly being an overt advocate for community members. Behind the scenes, Yessica helps community organizers and leaders, the councilwoman and our few allies on the board develop strategy for how to prevail. Politically, I think it is probably important for us to continue in this vein, primarily because we want anchor institutions to trust that we want to work with them.

The drama continues.

To incubate or not – that is the question

Decision: Is incubating CPA-Denver the right next move for the Center for Community Wealth Building (CCWB)?

Yessica and I decided that we would both address this decision in response to this prompt, as we want to be deliberate, realistic, and strategic as to how we spend our energy and resources over the next year. We are working towards building a fertile ecosystem to advance community wealth building in Denver. There isn’t one right sequencing for our work, but we want this decision to reflect our priorities and beliefs about what will lead us to the promised land most effectively and in a fashion that honors a sustainable workload.

Possible choices/decisions open to us:

  1. It is the next best move for CCWB. We go after it.
  2. Prioritize other efforts right now and put CPA off into the future, and re-evaluate this decision in six months and again in twelve months.
  3. Abandon the dream of a CPA-Denver for the time being.
  4. Recruit a new partner that is ready to serve as the entrepreneur and organizing backbone for CPA-Denver.
  5. Implement the minimal viable product that puts us on a path to creating a full-blown CPA-Denver, but doesn’t require as much resources.

Choices 1-3 can be boiled down to Yes – we’re going for it; we’re putting off making a decision; or No – we’re abandoning this dream. Each requires that we closely examine our theory of change to determine whether the path we are on is the optimal path for building community wealth with communities of color and decreasing the threat of involuntary displacement that residents and small businesses are facing.

CCWB’s major priorities for 2020:
Democratize ownership
Engage anchor institutions
Strengthen local POC entrepreneurship
Within each of these areas, lies a robust body of work that is underway — truly enough for 1-3 FTEs in each area. It is also true that on the face of it, each of these areas is embodied in CPA.

In addition to these three focus areas, we are also creating infrastructure to become an independent 501(c)(3), which includes orienting a founding board of directors, completing the IRS application, and putting procedures in place that our fiscal sponsor has been performing. We are also advertising for a new program director level position and recruiting interns and a VISTA volunteer. We need to build a new website, an individual donor program, and a communications strategy. We also must maintain our grant writing to be able to finance our current and growing body of work. In addition, we must continue our policy efforts and collaborating on the local scene to foster an atmosphere of support and progress.

If we were closer to attaining our goals with our 3 major priorities, it would be a no-brainer to jump into raising funds to support launching CPA-Denver or to reassign staff who are able to back-off of their original work because things are in motion and require less intense attention. However, that’s not our reality — yet.

In light of my current level of fatigue, I’m going to take some short-cuts with this exercise. I can definitely see the value of having gone even this far with this exercise and my apologies to my team for not going all out with this prompt … but here’s the recommendation I have for CCWB:

Spend some time with Option 4: Attempt to recruit an individual or organization to take on developing CPA-Denver. The synergy between CPA and CCWB goals are very clear. It would be fantastic to build and grow together. In the event we don’t find someone to take this on, I think CCWB needs to stay on its current course and re-evaluate whether we are in a better position in six-months to take this on ourselves. If we are successful in filling our current positions with incredibly talented people, and have a good flow going (I am optimistic that this will be our culture), in a year we may feel ready to birth CPA-Denver.

Another alternative is that if CPA-D.C. is able to fund a PT position to focus on launching CPA-Denver, it would fit well within our current framework for building community wealth and give CCWB the capacity to serve as the backbone.

Option 5 doesn’t feel realistic at the moment. I’m a proponent of MVP and still think that is the approach I would recommend anyone use in building a CPA. However, that level of effort is still too much for the organization to take on without additional resources.

Again, I kind of feel like I flunked this assignment, because I haven’t been able to devote the time it deserves. But, it has been a great learning lesson anyway.

Seeing is believing

Sorry to be late with my post. It in no way reflects waning enthusiasm for the potential of launching a CPA in Denver. Quite the contrary. Attending Wednesday’s workshop and Annual Meeting in D.C. added fuel to the fire. My delinquent post is a reflection of entering into a time warp and different dimension with my elderly father in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is having some major health challenges, with a setback last week. It’s not clear whether he will be able to recover and if you have been in similar circumstances with a loved one, then you may understand that it is a consuming and difficult reality to navigate. I flew from D.C. to Knoxville on Thursday and will be here until next Saturday.

I am very grateful to have been able to make the trip to D.C. It was great to participate in an in-person workshop for a couple of hours and actually be together in the same room. And a real treat to attend CPA’s Annual Meeting. It was very powerful to experience the room full of people that are CPA members, vendors, staff and potential new members. And fun to imagine a similar room in Denver, hopefully in the not too distant future. Kudos to Felipe and the CPA staff for orchestrating a powerful evening that celebrated a very successful year and also showcased CPAs expansion plans. Very powerful to have members of the incubator share their enthusiasm and gratitude for CPA … something that I think was probably an unexpected outcome of CPAs success for many of CPAs members. It created a real sense of movement building and being a part of something even larger than they had imagined. Coming together as a buying co-op in D.C. was a huge step and now to see that it is parlaying into an even bigger movement across the country is really an impressive orchestration, Felipe. Hats off to you!

Each of my conversations reflected the celebratory mood of the evening. I met two facility managers from two different schools. Neither of their schools were members yet. One had purchased services from CPA and was very pleased with the price and service and seemed to be in the process of figuring out whether membership made financial sense. The other person was new to CPA but attended the evening at the recommendation of a friend. She identified that her school had major difficulties with their HVAC and they were also anticipating needing to replace their drinking water fountains and are areas where CPA could support them. (Are drinking water fountains an area that CPA is looking into?)

I also had the pleasure of talking to the church leaders from the church featured in the video. Interesting to find out that they too aren’t members of CPA. It was fun to witness Nick Giannotti, president of New Columbia Solar, the company responsible for the church’s new roof and solar installation, met the church leaders for the first time. Nick explained that he attended Georgetown University and started his business after graduating. He was grateful to be in a position to give back to the community where he has built a successful business. In a follow-up conversation I learned that Nick was able to recover his investment in the roof and solar system in about seven years due to local and federal tax credits. He offered to be a resource as we explore whether this is a scenario that can be repeated in Colorado.

We will be sharing this success story with our friends at Namaste Solar, a worker cooperative solar installation company, founded in Boulder, Colorado. We told Nick about the Green Energy Credit Union that launched in May 2018. It was started by Blake Jones, who is also the founder of Namaste Solar. Blake also launched Kachuwa Impact Fund, an investment cooperative and public benefit corporation that invests in impact real estate and privately held companies that deliver a profit and a social return. They are accepting new investors in the Fund through November 2019. If anyone is interested, you can reach Blake through their website to request a prospectus and membership information.

I also had the pleasure of a quick conversation while going through the food line, with the founder of Securemedy. He expressed being very pleased with his relationship with CPA and feels that he is compensated very fairly for his services. He undoubtedly characterizes his involvement as a mutually beneficial relationship. This, of course, was also made clear in his presentation from the podium.

I also had a good conversation with the founder of Cureate, a company that connects anchor institutions to local food entrepreneurs. She isn’t currently connected to CPA, but was invited by Felipe to attend the event to learn more about CPA. She represents local food entrepreneurs and connects them to anchor institutions. She also offers workshops to help prepare food entrepreneurs to be successful working with anchors. It was nice to hear that she is paid strictly by the anchors. The vendors pay her nothing. She has a staff of 4-5 and seems to have a successful company. I wonder how her business model works — is it possible to have the anchors provide the bulk of the revenue to CPA, rather than the vendors? Has CPA looked at this approach already?

Additional Questions that arose for me:

  1. I didn’t realize that organizations could utilize services of CPA without being a member of the co-op. Do members and non-members of the co-op pay different prices for products/services? What is it that leads people to becoming a member vs just using the service? What does it mean to CPAs bottom line to have members vs organizations using its services?

2. I understand that CPA earns revenue for each sale. My understanding is that the vendor pays CPA a percentage of the contract price. Is that correct? Does the percentage stay constant or decrease at some point for larger contracts?

3. I missed Wednesday morning’s session, but I am interested to learn more about the issues that arose in Durham that have made it more difficult than expected to launch CPA-Durham.

4. I still think it would be helpful to have a primer on some of the key facility services that CPA is providing – e.g. HVAC and copiers. Just some bullet points about the key issues relevant for that particular service to shorten our learning curve. As we each gain expertise in a specific service we can prepare a short document (less than 1-page) with info on the key issues and jargon of that industry and share it amongst the CPA family. Just a thought.

Thank you, Felipe for creating such an amazing model and for allowing us to get a better see, taste, and feel for the energy and reality of CPA. It is awesome to be on this ride. I am excited and hopeful that Denver will be amongst the second generation of cities with a CPA.

Stepping into unknown territory

Yessica, Paul and I spoke on the phone on yesterday to create a prioritized list for our initial relational meetings. I have not set up my meetings yet, but intend to send out emails for that purpose tomorrow. The three entities I hope to connect to: Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Science and Cultural Facilities District, and Mile High Early Learning. A staff member at the Museum is already involved with the Denver Anchor Network and we have a good working relationship. Having a conversation with her about the CPA model will be fun and will hopefully open up avenues to connect with other leaders at the museum. I will be cold calling to SCFD and Mile High Early Learning. If that isn’t successful, Paul and Yessica have people they can contact to help me get the attention of those entities.

First some background on these entities:

Denver Museum of Nature and Science: one of Denver’s largest most successful museums in terms of resident and tourist visitation. I am starting to get to know them better. My contact is the Director of Early Education and Learning. She is keenly attuned to issues of racial equity and plays a leadership role in guiding the institution to change its ways and inch along towards dismantling the predominant white male perspective that pervades traditional museum culture. Anchor mission and community wealth building were new terms to her when we first met, but she quickly grasped the concepts and understood its relevance to the changes she wants to see at the museum, as well as more broadly in the community.

The Science and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is a tax, voted on by residents of the seven metro Denver counties, with the proceeds being distributed to arts and culture organizations in the seven counties. It was created in the late 1980s when the area’s arts organizations were struggling. It has led to very healthy balance sheets for our large arts institutions, who receive the majority of the funding. Medium and small arts organizations split a much smaller pool of funds. The tax is voted on every ten years, with the most recent re-authorization vote in 2018. It passed again, but there was considerable push back from smaller, more grassroots arts organizations, many of whom are led by and serve people of color. Consequently, the SCFD and the large institutions that receive the bulk of the tax proceeds are feeling the pressure of needing to become more relevant to communities of color, instead of primarily focusing their offerings to wealthier, white audiences. We want to explore the CPA concept with the SCFD thinking they could help us connect to the organizations that receive SCFD funds. We believe that CPA offers an avenue for them to demonstrate a greater commitment to creating a healthier community for all.

Mile High Early Learning (MHEL) is Denver’s oldest and largest provider of quality early childhood care and education. Their curriculum is based on the Montessori method. They operate seven early learning centers and two drop-in centers. Ninety-four percent of the families they serve live at or below the federal poverty level. They have an annual budget of $10 million. We know nothing about their procurement practices, but are excited to see if the CPA model will intrigue them.

What information or stories from your background do you plan to share with the person you’re meeting with so your meeting feels relational, rather than transactional?

With SCFD and MHEL I will share an explanation of the Center for Community Wealth Building and the Denver Anchor Network and our goals to change the current economic development paradigm in Denver, building an economy designed to serve people and strengthen local communities, with an emphasis on greater economic opportunity for people of color. The racial wealth gap is a reality that MHEL is very well aware of, so it will be interesting to see whether leveraging their purchasing to build community wealth is something that resonates with them.

I’m stumped right now to think of what information or stories from my background I will share. Most meetings I have feel more relational than transactional to me, yet I am learning through this CPA experience that I could bring more intentionality to my interactions. At the same time, I also feel my resistance to being more strategic about how I relate to people. It feels more natural for me to just be myself and speak from the heart about the work we are doing.

I genuinely care about people and am interested in people and it seems that is how most people experience me. It is also important to me that I have fun doing what I’m doing. I love to explore ideas with people and see how we can advance a common agenda — in this case it is about creating win-win situations for organizations and businesses, ultimately leading to a more just and healthy community. It’s fun to imagine the possibilities. Going to that happy place is what helps me have meetings that are relational.

Where will you take a risk? How you will you model vulnerability in a way that invites a deeper more meaningful sharing from the other person?

I think that going in without all the answers and without a solid case-making proposition is perhaps modeling vulnerability. I will let people know up front that we are exploring an idea and are looking for early adopters who are willing to create this with us. I don’t try to make things appear more sure or certain than they are. I don’t sugar coat. My favorite zone is trying to figure out how to get something done and I believe that the quickest way to do that is to be as forthcoming as possible with both the upsides and the downsides.
With SCFD and MHEL, I will let them know that they are my first “cold calls” for this project and that it’s exciting to share this idea with them and also scary.

People like to talk about themselves. What questions about their background do you plan to ask? What are you genuinely curious to know? How will you move on if they’re talking too long?

I am curious about their appetite for leveraging their institution’s purchasing power. I wonder about how they feel about the gentrification that’s going on in Denver? How it is affecting them personally and their organization? I’m wondering whether their organization has started having conversations or is taking any action related to the impacts of gentrification.

With SCFD, I would like to get a better feel for how committed the organization is to becoming more relevant to the entire community and how they are looking at the issue of equity. They are a tax-funded entity, with the bulk of the resources going to the largest cultural organizations (e.g. The Colorado Symphony, Denver Art Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado Ballet) that have a predominantly affluent white audience. They are taking some actions, but it isn’t clear how deep a commitment they have to address the inequities of their system. I am curious how their relatively new E.D. feels about all of this. We aren’t interested in helping them put a good public face on the organization (something CPA involvement could provide) if it really doesn’t reflect a deep commitment. So, I’d like to learn where she is coming from with respect to the larger controversy they are wrestling with.

From MHEL’s annual report, it appears they have noticeably strong business and corporate relationships. MHEL is a beloved organization amongst a lot of local movers and shakers. The relationships have been built over time (the organization was founded in 1970 by an icon in the early learning field who retired several years ago) and I’m curious how they nurture those relationships. It’s pretty phenomenal, as the organization serves about 1,000 children from very low-income families each year. I’m curious whether the concentration of business leaders on her board impacts the business aspects of the organization.

I’m obviously more curious at the outset about the organizations, and less curious about the individual I will be meeting with. I need to work on that! Each individual that I meet with is passionate about their work and so talking about their organization is deeply personal to them and I think there will be opportunities to connect on a personal level.

If the person is talking too long, I might let it go on if it feels like it is leading us to fertile, but unexpected territory, but most likely I would probably interject with an apology that I took the conversation off-track and out of the desire to respect the time allotted for our meeting, I’d like to tell them a bit more about the CPA model so I can get their feedback on it.

How do you balance the relational versus transactional nature of your work today? When are you good at this? When do you struggle with it? What would you like to get better at?

Because my work is so mission oriented, the lines between relational and transactional are often very blurry. I try to be very respectful of people’s time and recognize that for the most part I am clueless about all the demands on their time. I like to be as generous as I can with timelines and expectations as I don’t want to add stress for people.
I definitely understand that relationships are key to the success of any venture. An important component of my work is connecting people in the community to institutions, helping bring them into relationship. I find it very satisfying to be able to help build bridges that connect people in the community to people in institutions — bringing together people whose paths don’t cross naturally. When this happens, people feel good. It’s wonderful to witness and it’s wonderful to play a role in helping that happen.
Feeling pressed for time is something that feels like an epidemic these days. My personal relationships suffer because I am so focused on my work. I would definitely like to get better at carving more time to nurture my personal relationships.
With rare exception, I feel very good about the many people that I get to work with and so even though most of our time together is focused on accomplishing the work at hand, I feel a connection that is personal. Perhaps this is my own delusion, but I am grateful that this is how it feels! As an introvert, I also relish my down time and spending time by myself and so while I know there is value in building and nurturing new relationships, I am in a period of my life where I indulge my enjoyment of time to myself.


Once again, thanks to all who commented on my post and asked such thoughtful questions to help me go deeper. It is a treat to experience such a wonderfully generous and supportive community. For my reflection, I’m going to spend some time noodling over the encouragement to be able to articulate the story of self, to get more in touch with why I show up for this work. It feels akin to if you asked me why I put sunscreen on when I go outside. My skin is fair and I burn easily and I need to protect it. The answer to why I do what I do feels similar to me — it is a condition of who I am on this planet. Honestly, I’m baffled that everyone isn’t called to address the inequities and atrocities that we all live and breathe. How our species is able to see suffering and injustices on a continual feed is the question that I have. I am baffled that the words of all the various religions that many people listen to on a weekly basis don’t sink in and translate to how we live our lives. I am inspired by the words and speeches that describe democracy and don’t understand why those words don’t reflect reality. I guess I have always taken things literally. I believe with all my heart that we all deserve to be free and that justice and opportunity are fundamental and there is no explanation for why it is only supposed to be applied to privileged white people. To see so many people and communities that can’t achieve their potential because of deliberate choices made by our economic and political systems is criminal in my view. I will keep digging and see if I can describe an ‘ah ha’ moment for myself when this became my worldview. I know that from a young age (5 or 6) I was disturbed by inequality. I noticed that garbage men were treated differently from other people. I didn’t understand why. My first job aspiration was to be a garbage man, because I thought if people who looked like me were garbage men, then people would start treating them differently. I wanted to live in a world where people were loved regardless of what they looked like or what work they did and instead were loved because of the quality of their character and that we didn’t judge a person’s character by what they were wearing or their skin color or what kind of house they lived in or what gender or religion they were.

I’m still just that little girl that wants so much for everyone to belong and for everyone to look out for each other and to practice the Golden Rule. Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, something to the effect of, ‘we all do better when we all do better’ just seems so basic and obvious to me.

Another trait of mine is that once I know something, I think that everyone knows it too. Maybe that comes from being the youngest in my family and always being the last one to figure something out! By the time I knew something, I was just catching up to the rest of the household. I am slowly coming to realize that just because I know or understand something doesn’t mean that everyone else does, too. Yes … seems pretty basic, I realize. I’m just figuring that out!

It’s also true that I’m just not that interested in talking about myself. I already know how I see the world and I have heard myself plenty of times. I’d rather hear other people’s stories. I haven’t heard those. I had a boss once who was an eloquent speaker and when I went to work at this organization many people said, ‘oh you are so lucky to get to work with X.’ However, I soon learned that X’s oratory also translated to our regular check-ins. I heard those same speeches, those same ideas over and over. I was ready to move on … what’s next? My point here, i’m not interested in my story because I’m too familiar with it. And since many people would rather talk about themselves anyway, it’s usually ok to skip telling my story. So making this shift to telling my story, with the intention of being able to help bring about change that is so desperately needed is the edge I need to work towards.

As I’m free-style writing here, what I’m trying to do is to see if I can start to look at things differently, start to see that sharing my story has the potential of helping me make more meaningful connections with people and ultimately be more effective at helping bring about the changes we want to see. Honestly, my story isn’t very compelling. (I think my vision for what the world could be is compelling … but I haven’t yet been able to come up with a compelling personal story.) I grew up comfortable and privileged, with two very sane and principled parents and two older siblings that were really good to me. We played neighborhood kickball games in the street in front of my house til it got dark on summer nights. I liked watching my brother, six years older than me, go at it with the other older neighborhood boys playing basketball in our driveway. My sister and our two best friends made “forts” in the woods behind their house, where we loved to hang out. My dad had a children’s clothing store and as early as eight years old, I started working in the store. I didn’t really like it that much, but I didn’t have much choice about that. We were expected to work there on weekends and holidays and summers. Of course, I learned a lot and was lucky to have the opportunity to earn money at a young age. I knew that retail wasn’t something I wanted to do long term.

Of course I had challenges, too, but my life’s work … to address in one way or another the systems and wrongs that define our society — are not because I have had to overcome any significant adversity. I feel issues of social and racial justice down to my core because I believe we are all one. We are all worthy, we are all connected, we all have the right to be able to go after our dreams … but we don’t have the right to pursue our own interests at the expense of others. I am a very sensitive person … I am impacted by the pain that I see around me. I think that’s just my chemical composition. It’s who I am. I have fair skin. I burn in the sun. I am sensitive to others’ pain and can’t pretend that it has nothing to do with me. Pain is a part of the human experience. But the pain that is inflicted by choice and design is something we can collectively do something about. We can make different choices than we’ve made. We can live up to the values and ideals of our religions and democracies. I really believe deep down in these lofty expressions of the human capacity to love and to give and to soar. It’s a pretty simple story of self. I have always looked around me and not understood why things are the way they are. They don’t have to be this way.

Well, I’m past the deadline and I’m way ready for bed. I recognize that I’m still just scratching the surface on this one, but baby steps are still steps. I really feel lucky to be in the company of everyone in this CPA incubator. Thank you to all for sharing your wisdom, grace, compassion, and warmth.

Fueled by coffee and finding printing businesses

I am choosing two micro-goals that will serve our partners whether or not we move forward with a CPA cooperative.

Goal One: Get to know 3-5 local print shops owned by people of color or women. Learn about their services, capacity and reputation.

Goal Two: Find a source of ethically grown and produced coffee, ideally available through a locally owned business, preferably owned by people of color or women.

1. Printer Goal: Being able to respond to an anchor partner request for recommendations of local printers that embody community wealth building principles. In addition, we recently learned that printing services are a common expenditure that staff at one of our higher education anchors charge on their employer-issued credit card. The bulk of their business is currently going to corporate printers. The on-campus corporate print shop closed recently, so staff are receptive to recommendations right now.

In addition to meeting an anchor partner request, accomplishing this goal will allow us to address another low-hanging fruit when it comes to shifting the buying practices of our institutional partners, plus we will drive new business to locally-owned shops.

[Aside: Sadly, P&L Printing, Denver’s only worker-owned, union print shop went out of business a few years ago. It had been our number one choice of print shops for a number of years. If P&L were still in existence today, it is very likely that through the Center for Community Wealth Building and the Colorado Solidarity Fund, they could have accessed the support they needed to keep their business viable. Their closure was a big blow to the very nascent community wealth building movement in Denver, not to mention the young worker owners of the company.]

2. Coffee Goal: The Colorado Episcopal Church has started gathering data on common purchases across parishes and has been promoting the idea of aligning church purchases with their social and economic justice values. It turns out that most of their 104 parishes host regular Coffee Hours, consuming a considerable amount of coffee while enjoying time for fellowship. Starting with a well-established and fun Church tradition seems like an ideal way to connect a lot of parishioners to what this effort is about.

1. Competing demands on my time
2. My distaste for getting in my car and dealing with traffic
3. My lack of knowledge about either of these industries
4. Getting solid information on quality of printing companies’ services
5. Needing to get data from the Church on pounds of coffee required, price point, number of shipping locations, etc.

1. Research skills
2. Knowledge about the coffee industry
3. Knowledge about current coffee demand and requirements of parishes (identify # of parishes)
4. Cold calling skills

1. Metropolitan State University – get info on printing businesses frequented by staff.
2. Good Business Colorado, Small Business Majority, Colorado Minority Business Office, Black Chamber, Hispanic Chamber, Women’s Chamber, B Lab – identifying printers or coffee roasters
3. Episcopal Church of Colorado, Paul Alexander – specifics on current coffee purchasing practices
4. Center for Community Wealth Building interns or VISTA volunteer – maybe some help with the research
5. Colleagues in the nonprofit sector – printer recommendations


1. During 10/10/19 Denver Anchor Network procurement check-in call, ask participants where they take their printing business
2. Develop matrix to collect information on printers
3. Follow-up on three leads that Yessica provided
4. Contact Chambers of Commerce and small business partner organizations for referrals
5. Investigate specific print shops (prioritizing based on community wealth building priorities) to learn about the services they provide; price points; and reputation.
6. Visit shops of interest and meet the owners
7. Develop list of “preferred” printers
Note: If appropriate, we will continue to build a relationship with these printers to explore their engagement as a preferred co-op vendor.


  1. See if Paul thinks it is a good idea to see if any parishioners are interested in joining this fun project to align the Church’s coffee supplier with Church values. If that seems like a good idea, get the word out over the next couple of months through Church communication channels. Plan to meet with interested individuals in mid-January. If this isn’t a good approach, then I will start working on my own in December. I like the idea of engaging volunteers to ignite their imaginations and to potentially build a core group that is interested in helping advance this agenda.
    2. Learn about the different factors important to consider in terms of aligning coffee purchases with values of racial equity, social and economic justice, environmental sustainability
    3. Learn about Church’s coffee consumption and current purchasing practices
    4. Research local bulk coffee providers
    5. Identify 1-4 to visit, based on community wealth building priorities
    6. If there are good local options, discuss bulk purchasing options/requirements
    7. If local options don’t exist, research Equal Exchange, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, Just Coffee Co-op, etc.

Printing business identification: end of January 2020
Coffee vendor identification: end of February 2020, if working alone. April 1, 2020 if working with a volunteer committee.