- Jay Guben
Community Change Initiative: 1 Man's Journey Through Group Relations
Since the I960s, based upon my experience at the Crozier Institute, I thought that a melding of Saul Alinsky’s and Group Relations’ theories could drive social change. While in Cincinnati in the late 1960s, working on a Model Cities application, I first encountered the reality of group work. The government, the neighborhood, the other people involved in the project all held different visions of what was needed. We did our best to bring these visions together and our declaration that there were root causes of poverty for the Over the Rhine community was fundamentally sound, an idea that had not been embraced programmatically as people worked to make social change. The visual of our manual interlacing the root causes was a dramatic presentation of what was needed.
We were going to present our vision to the public at a conference set for April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King was assassinated that evening. Our conference erupted and Cincinnati became a city in siege: fires, protests, the national guard driving tanks through the streets demonstrated that a solution was necessary. It was a devastating time for me personally. People I had worked with and called friends were on the opposite side of the placards, guarded by the government. I left Cincinnati confused and hurt with certain truths etched clearly in my mind. After that experience, I tried without success to engage with institutions and organizations small and large to explore how a large group could bring about social change.
So, I chose to do smaller scale projects that I could startup and drive forward without going through the process of a group buy-in. For three such projects - The Restaurant School, the O&O Investment Fund, and Freire Charter School - I initiated the use of group relations with a beginning organization. In each case, the work provided a stronger foundation for what was ahead.
At the beginning of 2020 I was in the hospital with a rare blood disease. In my eighties, ill and contemplating the totality of my life I pledged to make a different effort if I survived the crisis. At that point I had been working to develop Fresh Start Foods, www.freshstartfoods.org, re-evaluating its course after the death of co-founder Tom Burns. I had a clearer picture of what the organization needed to go forward and produced a new mission statement and new project concepts.
Again, needing a partner, I tried to reach out in different ways. I knew two board members positioned well in a Group Relations organization which I thought could produce a partnership and I decided a first step would be to try and engage them. Lack of success engaging them again left me in a familiar place but without a strategy. In April of 2021 after many failed attempts, I contacted Group Relations International and this journey began.
The work moves forward supported by the mission of GRI and its members. A notice in the newsletter, a public meeting, a survey of interest prompting us to seek funding to see if there is outside support. Whatever happens, the idea has gotten a hearing. If there is success it's because others joined.
For more information about Fresh Start Foods or to join this work, please reach out to Jay directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org.