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Alvin Atkinson: What now, Winston-Salem? A new answer

Alvin Atkinson: What now, Winston-Salem? A new answer

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Our community, along with others across America, is in the midst of a terrible storm brought about by the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic on our economic and health ecosystems. Longstanding problems have been roiled to a breaking point. We can see the lightning flashes, hear the thunder roaring and feel the turbulence from the fierce winds of the stress and tension created by seeking safe passages through the conflicting narratives and consequences of America’s history. In the midst of this unprecedented storm, I wish to share the good news that we, the people of Winston-Salem, have the experience needed to do what must be done for this time. We can become a model for other communities across the country.

The reason I can make this statement stems from the fact that I have lived and worked in Winston-Salem for nearly 40 years and have participated in the many programs, strategies and initiatives aimed at improving the economic, educational and health outcomes for all residents, but especially for the neighborhoods beset by challenges of poverty, unemployment and poor educational achievement. For several years, as the director of the Center for Community Safety at Winston-Salem State University, I traveled to more than 40 cities across the country to provide training and technical assistance in communities that faced similar challenges as Winston-Salem neighborhoods. Several of today’s efforts, such as the Reentry Council, Safe on Seven and Forsyth Futures, resulted in part from our work.

This knowledge and experiences gained from this work has remained with me through my current work as the associate director of WSSU’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM). The common component in all of this work has been the utilization of research and data to inform the strategies, practices and programs that yield the best outcomes for the issue being addressed. The challenge embedded in this approach is that the complexity and interdependence of the issues that contribute to poverty made and make it difficult to definitively identify on a single best strategy or program to combat it. In addition, the differing views on the contributory factors of discriminatory policies and practices make an already difficult task even more difficult as the time that’s needed for research is confronted by the reality of the lived experience of those in poverty or who have witnessed the results of discrimination.

The recognition of this dichotomy, and the fact that the pandemic has amplified the inequities in our current health, economic and educational systems, has not been lost on our philanthropic and local corporations in our community. Their efforts to provide and leverage resources to assist the many nonprofit organizations as well as collaborations to support the ongoing need within our school district are necessary and commendable. As commendable as these efforts are, I believe we all can agree that they are not designed to deliver the consistent, persistent and proactive force to encourage and equip individual and families living in poverty right now or in the future.

What’s really needed is a holistic approach that concentrates on transforming those individuals and families by giving them the tools to become the best that they can be for themselves, and to connect to power structures and break down economic barriers, spreading block by block, community by community.

This is the goal of NE3W Leadership Academy recently launched by Antwain and Andrea Goode of Tate Consulting of Winston-Salem, sponsored by CSEM and based upon local and national research that yielded key insight into the mindsets of people living in fragile, low wealth and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The academy provides state-of-the art training in three foundational domains: education, economics and emotions, which undergird individuals’ confidence and ability to achieve their goals. It combines leadership-development thinking with bedrock strategies such as handwritten thank-you notes. And, most important of all, journaling, for program participants to tap into inspiring stories from their ancestors and current mentors and map their own plans, and to leave a legacy for mentees and future generations.

The inspiring strength of legacies is universal. Conventional power structures have long used it. Low-wealth communities have passed down their stories as well, but have not had the same sway. With the NE3W Leadership Academy, Winston-Salem has the opportunity to holistically leverage and utilize resources to support the development of new leaders for the challenges of today and the days to come, by meeting the leaders as they are and where they are, as individuals, which after all, is the common denominator for all of us.

To learn more about the NE3W Leadership Academy, please go to

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