VOICES: Community voice vital component of healthy, thriving communities

Editor’s Note: Throughout this week, Learn to Earn Dayton’s local, state and national partners will highlight the successes of their collective action approach, and the power of aligning with a shared vision across the cradle-to-career continuum to ensure that all learners have equal opportunity to achieve.

Community voice is an essential aspect of building and sustaining healthy, vibrant communities.

It is a means by which residents can express their needs, concerns, and ideas, and have them heard and acted upon by those in positions of authority. The importance of community voice lies in its ability to promote transparency, inclusivity, and accountability, ultimately leading to greater outcomes by means of community engagement and participation. At its core, community voice promotes communal autonomy to express their opinions, share their personal experiences, and offer feedback or expertise on issues that impact them and their neighborhood directly or indirectly.

The City of Dayton has a fundamental flaw in our “citizen participation” system from its inability — and possibly unwillingness — to authentically engage, value, and implement community voice. This as a result has created a communal culture of disenfranchisement that has over time become self-perpetual. This compounded with neighborhood blight and statistics related to poverty (ranked 4th), homicides (ranked 5th), segregation (ranked 15th), and the lack of affordable housing and educational opportunities for youth, have all further lessened communal fortitude and discouraged engagement.

The NorthWest Dayton Partnership (NWDP) headed by Learn to Earn Dayton, was launched in August of 2021 and actively works to lessen communal disenfranchisement and produce better outcomes for NorthWest Dayton and its residents. NWDP is a cross-sector effort to engage residents, parents, children, government, schools, colleges, nonprofits, neighborhood groups, and faith-based organizations to work on solutions together. NWDPs communal orientation and belief that the people living, working, and going to school in the neighborhoods need to be the center of this effort, is what makes it unique.

The NWDP Steering Committee operates as an advisory board to Learn to Earn Dayton and the Northwest Dayton Partnership collective impact backbone. I have been blessed to be a steering committee member since its inception and even more blessed to work with an amazing group of intelligent and equally community-driven steering members under the impeccable guidance of Nina Carter, whose expertise and creativity have laid the groundwork for this important work.

Throughout my committee work with NWDP, I first experienced the community reluctance to engage. In fact, it was explicitly stressed by community members that NWDP would be no different than previous organizations that have maliciously used community participation as a “check in the box” or community engagement for funding purposes rather than for implementation purposes. However, these criticisms have lessened with each meeting, listening session or event, while resident attendance and participation have increased. A pivotal point that sparked this transition was having community members review the applications of small businesses and organizations that were applying for funding and determining how these services align with community needs.

Community voice is a vital component of healthy, thriving communities. By promoting transparency, inclusivity, and accountability, it can help to build stronger social bonds, increase civic engagement, and ultimately improve the well-being of communities. However, it is essential that residents stay engaged and furthermore, hold Learn to Earn, NWDP, and its partners accountable to their obligatory and fiduciary duties.

Dr. Chad J. Sloss is a Northwest Dayton Partnership Steering Committee Member.

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