Leader: M. Carmen Lane

Project: ATNSC: Center for Healing & Creative Leadership (FB/Instagram: @atnsc)

Neighborhood: Buckeye

Raised on ioby: $10,880 for renovation costs to transform a vacant duplex in Buckeye into a community space


Q: How you became involved in racial justice activism and how has that journey progressed?

For me, it started in the early '90s -- that was the era of multiculturalism; the focus was more on racial harmony than racial justice. As a young person I experienced a training opportunity from what's currently called the Diversity Center in Cleveland. They had a program for young people to participate in a cross disciplinary learning experience around diversity and inclusion. It was a retreat-style learning where kids from all over the county engaged in experiential activities and dialogues around difference. That was my first introduction into not just what racial justice is, but how to shift the conversation across differences.

I've been doing anti-oppression work since I was 14 years old. Some of that shifted to using popular education methods in service of queer, labor and anti-sexual violence movement work. I needed all of those experiences to really get clear on my own work. I share that to say simply that it is important to not judge any experience you've ever had in your life. Be curious about how to integrate it all to really get clear on your purpose, and find the thing that you need to do to impact the world in the way that you're supposed to impact it.

I also am a firm believer in intersectionality. While historically doing justice work that was single issue was helpful in some ways, I no longer believe that doing straight-up racial justice work will change anything. Nobody experiences their racial identity or their racialized experience in a way that isn't embodied. There is a particular experience that Black women who are transgender have in this culture. There's a particular experience of blackness when someone has a disability. There's a particular experience that Black Muslims have. If we aren't really getting curious about how race and class and gender and sexual orientation and gender identity is a dynamic within our communities, we are replicating and maintaining the status quo.



Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the ATNSC Center and what you’re hoping to accomplish?

In essence, ATNSC is an experiment in holistic health, leadership development, and indigenous arts and culture. In many ways it was inspired by the work of Rosemarie Freeney Harding and her husband, Vincent Harding, who ran a racial justice space called the Mennonite House. But also, I was not interested in people going someplace else for a transformative experience. Instead of well-meaning people coming to my neighborhood to intervene, to do a feel-good project -- a mural, a bench, some bicycles -- the conversation and the work needs to come from the people who live in the neighborhood.

The focus of ATNSC: that learning, growth and healing is really an embodied experience. If we only work and focus on one aspect of the mind or body, there's a cost. I've experienced this cost myself, I've seen it in others. I've seen it in my community across multiple generations. So this project is about intergenerational healing.

Through work with ioby and a collaboration with the Neighborhood Housing Services, ATNSC was able to secure a grant from the Cuyahoga Land Bank and complete a fundraiser to close the gap in cost to renovate a vacant property in my neighborhood, Buckeye.


Q: Why is it important to have a physical space?

The idea is to turn a vacant home into an urban retreat space where neighbors can walk and ride their bikes to get holistic health treatments, to learn in an intimate salon style environment, and to meet with an artist in residence.

For me, having the space in a neighborhood reminds me of what my parents and grandparents talk about how their neighborhoods used to be; a place where people across multiple disciplines and generations live together and learn from and influence each other. When the opportunity to renovate a vacant space in the Buckeye neighborhood emerged, it felt aligned with ATNSC’s mission.


Q: Why is this a Buckeye project? And why is it a Cleveland project?

One of the things that I like about my neighborhood is that it is diverse, not just across race, age, and gender, but also class. That's unique to the city.  When you have roots in a place like this, then you have a responsibility and an accountability to where you're rooted. We need to understand how we got where we got, and the story of that decision to be here.

I don't know what kind of racial justice work is possible if we're not first thinking about land. My family's been in Northeast Ohio for over four generations. Before that, we traversed the Western territories of the Haudenodaunee or Iroquois for thousands of years.  For me, when I think about what my ancestors have accomplished and engaged with and struggled through and experienced on these grounds for generations, there is a responsibility to leave it better than before I came to be.


Q: What’s going to actually happen in the space?

What's exciting about the ATNSC space is that it’s a duplex. The upstairs unit will be for our artist residencies -- not just visual artists, but writers and thought leaders -- who can live and engage in the neighborhood, and share what they create. I'm very excited about the juicy conversations that will emerge because this person is living in the neighborhood with us as our guest. Then, on the first floor we'll have our programming, our retreats, and our holistic health space. They'll be rooms where practitioners can meet with clients privately, and salon style conversations that both inspire and reflect the current concerns in the neighborhood.

I'm excited about a physical space where people will experience integrating holistic health with creativity and leadership development, so that they can figure out, What's my unfinished business? Where's my learning edge? What do I need to be doing more of? What is my purpose?

There are so many spaces that get created where the conversation is stopped before it even begins, because somebody else is trying to control the outcome of the conversation. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in the leader in all of us, the potential to learn from the elder who takes care of children, and from the child themselves.



Q: What was your approach to getting community buy in and support?

Needing to fundraise for your project or to navigate some kind of policy or zoning issue, those things are secondary to really telling your story and having conversations and building relationships with like-minded people.

You have to focus on telling the story. I cannot stress how significant it has been for me in my own growth, understanding of my own project,  to slow down and connect with people, because while you may have the seed of an idea, the people you talk to are the water. Their feedback to you on what you're working on and whether or not it resonates, or maybe what's missing from your project, will be invaluable. All of that begins with telling your story. In many ways I started talking about ATNSC as if it already existed, because it does. It's here.


Q: What have been some of the most important steps you’ve taken?

If you live in a community where there are land banks and organizations that want to minimize blight in your neighborhood, they will often have grant programs for organizations or community projects to receive a vacant property at no cost or low cost. In the case for ATNSC, not only did we receive a vacant property, but we also got 70% of the renovation costs, and it was our responsibility to then fundraise the remaining cost to receive the grant. The land bank ended up being a great resource -- they walked us through the process of, "Hey, this is what's going to happen. You need to renovate this property. You'll receive the deed once those renovations are complete."

I had to apply for a zoning variance. Now, every state or every county may have different zoning laws, so the process may be different, but in our case it was the fact that a duplex or multi-family house was going to be used for more than just a residential purpose. The zoning board had to do a vote, but in order to do that, I had to get the support of my neighborhood to use the space in that way.

I took that opportunity, the fact that I needed those signatures, to meet and build relationships with my neighbors. When the time came to actually get the signatures, it happened very easily. There were 23 notices that went out and we received 21 signatures. The two that we didn't get, they just weren't home that day.

As far as navigating policies and processes in your city, I would recommend that you learn about it first, so you know what to expect. I didn’t mind learning as I went along, but being a little proactive would help the process move along.

I’ve also learned a lot about working with a contractor. It's important to get a contract manager, because you need experts in electrical and plumbing, in general contracting, in furnaces. All of those folks need to be managed so that it can be done in a timely way, and you have to get bids for certain repairs. It’s a lot of work and it helps to have a dedicated person who’s on top of it.

Once that is all complete, then the renovation can happen. I'm learning to be patient and also getting excited that in a very short amount of time, we'll be able to have our grand opening.


Q: What’s been your approach to collaboration?

If it doesn't feel right to you when you meet with someone about your idea, don't push it. They're not the person that you need to work with, or it's not the organization that you need to partner with. Unless there's a mutual interest, it's okay to let it go. One of the rules that I made as I moved forward in building relationships with others around ATNSC's mission is that I would ask twice. If nothing emerged after the second time, I would move on. I've created relationships in unexpected places because of that rule that I made for myself.

Not everybody's going to be into what you're doing. Some people may be into what you're doing for intentions that aren't in alignment for your goals and purpose, and that's okay. I share that simply to say to trust your intuition, to trust your inner knowing as you continue to grow and learn about yourself in relationship to the work that you're doing.


Q: How do you deal with burnout?

I think burnout happens because of an implosion of feelings that aren't attended to. I think it's important to slow down when you need to slow down, partner when you need to partner, have solitude when you need solitude. Ultimately, if you believe in racial justice, that means you know that racism will end. If you know that, then you don't need to worry about that part of it, and you can stay in the here and now. If you're too far into the past or too far into the future, that's when the stress emerges.

If we really want justice in the world, then we have to be gentle with ourselves in what we understand of our own stories and our own history of how this system has impacted us. I'm deeply aware of how systemic oppression has impacted my family system, not because I want to indulge in genealogy, but because I want to heal and break cycles in my own life. I don't believe I can support breaking a cycle out there, if I can't break cycles in here.


Q: What do you wish you’d known at the beginning?

Crowdsourcing for a community project is a great an opportunity to be playful and experimental with whatever your idea is, in a way that you've never done before.  Not only is the ioby platform a way to “make money” for your project, but it's a platform to tell your story in a way that you've never told it before, and get feedback from a network and a community of people. That feedback is invaluable when it comes to creating the next phase of your project. It isn't just that money piece, but it's about your organization growing as a result of doing crowdsourcing, so how do you want to grow?


More about Carmen Lane, Leader, ATNSC Center for Leadership and Community Healing

Carmen has worked as an experiential educator, facilitator, trainer and consultant for over 15 years. Her passion is working with individuals and organizations to support their development as competent and ethical agents of change. Carmen has also engaged communities as a diversity practitioner for 25 years. Carmen has developed and taught coursework in diversity at Chicago Theological Seminary.  A member of NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science, she is an Amanda Fouther Scholar and co-steward of the Personal Growth Community of Practice. Carmen holds a master's degree in organization development from American University, School of Public Affairs and is a Segal-Seashore Fellow and Hal Kellner Awardee.

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