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Community Advocacy Organization

Learning to Accept the Journey

Brent Forsberg

Have you ever jumped into something with pure excitement for what the future will hold? If you haven’t, you are missing one of the greatest feelings that life has to offer outside of pure love. I’m in one of those moments with beginning my Ph.D. at the University of Denver. In one sense, I want it to be over. I want to see the results of having published work. I want to show new risk models in financing to create more opportunities in our under-financed neighborhoods. To be at the outcomes of all the ideas I am attempting to set up meaningful research within. I am a person who has always been driven to reach a result. It was never in me to “enjoy the journey.” I have been trained to build a plan, execute, adapt when needed, and complete, then move on to the next goal without any fanfare or resting on a win.

Image courtesy of University of Denver I haven’t always been successful, but even in failure, a door has usually opened. At the very least, a lesson was learned that allowed me to make a better decision when a similar circumstance presented itself later in life. Getting to the terminal goal becomes a relentless pursuit. In the case of my Ph.D., this drive is to create research that offers new models of financing for areas that have been underserved for generations in the United States. ESG and social equity are some of the current vernaculars used to explain this idea. Yet, our finance industry and governing rules from the Federal level down to the local municipal level have done very little to foster real change for the communities intentionally destroyed by redlining and the 1950s and 60s new urbanism policies. Throwing one-time money and just enough grant and public dollars to keep the problem at crisis level instead of an all-out catastrophe aren’t going be bring the meaningful policies needed. Nor will it attract the international financial machine that is the source of most development funds to the table, especially in the regions between 500K and 2 million people. This is my pursuit, a relentless press to take my 25 years of development experience, paired with a Ph.D. to bring the research into building local capacity that creates opportunity, stability, and resiliency for all neighborhoods in our local communities. Looking at the four forms of capital, Natural, Financial, Social, and Built, to create new models of what growth will be as we move into the middle of the 21st century. It is frustrating because I can’t move as fast as I want. I may not be happy the journey will take years, but I have to find a way to accept it. Whether I am successful in helping to foster a new model of growth that offers, more opportunities will be left up for the future to show. What I know is that success will be built on meaningful connections between people. The strength of the relationship is built on trust. Trust is a combination of reciprocity (shared resources and functions of specialization for a better experience) and Empathy (being defined as, while not necessarily agreeing with the other person, the ability to see their point of view and accept them). Adrienne Maree Brown, a complex systems thinker from Detroit, uses the idea that civilization will evolve at the speed of trust in her book Emergent Strategy. Brown discusses Nick Oblesnsky’s definition of Emergence: “Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” A beautifully simple way to explain something so complicated. Our societal structure is the product of all the simple interactions of people with each other and the ecosystems they function within. It is simple at that level, two people helping each other, making the social network and trust stronger, two people fighting and seeing a degradation of trust leading to more disconnect. These interactions become complex as more and more occur, and confidence or doubt grows throughout the social networks. The human ability to connect or the selfish tendencies to take advantage will decide the fate of what the next 50 years of interactions will look like in the United States. It’s going to be a combination of both. The hope is that the good in humanity can shine forward and create the experiences each individual wants, a sense of belonging and fulfillment. To feel hope for a better tomorrow, to know there is a chance for success no matter what the circumstances are today. When communities don’t have access to the tools, especially financing with the same terms many other markets can utilize, it hinders a community’s chance to grow. The combination of restrictive uses, higher interest rates, short loan terms, and lack of investment over decades has created the outcomes of what our communities are today. Finding ways to align the values of financial systems and create a policy that allows for growth to occur needs to become the priority of community leadership. My hope is the research I work on and the projects my team implements these ideas into will show there is an opportunity for the current financial market to receive a benefit that is not perceived as high risk. I believe it is possible. I believe Lansing, Mi, will be a region that leads the country in the new generation of smart regenerative growth. I believe history will look back on this period as one of significant change. A period where technology and innovation created a more thoughtful way to use resources. It will be a period of growth that generates wealth and stability for more families than what occurred from post-WWII to the 1990s. My little contribution to it begins with getting the research right, a tedious journey through time that feels it is taking too long, yet, when put into the scale of the evolution of growth in human social structures, it will barely register as a moment in time. So as I work through my courses, I accept this is a journey. I may not make a world-shattering discovery, but I know the work is meaningful. If I can leave my region better for the next generations, that is a win. If others can look at the work and build better from it, that would bring enjoyment for me, and I could accept the amount of time and expense it took on the journey to get there.

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