For 24 years, the Center For Community Action (CCA) has been a base for both effective and successful grassroots, multiracial community action and empowerment programs in rural Robeson County, N.C. Its mission is to organize and empower individuals, families, communities, and institutions in order to improve the quality of life and the equality of life in Robeson County, N.C. Robeson County is the most ethnically diverse, rural county in the U.S. When starting its work many years ago, CCA’s founders knew that if fundamental social change could be achieved here in Robeson County through multiracial and collaborative vision, values, and programs, its work could serve as both a model and inspiration to numerous other communities and organizations across the nation.
CCA’s work has been highly collaborative, teaming with many other organizations, associations, and leaders in Robeson County over the last 24 years to reach its goal. This collaborative work has been very successful across many sectors and systems, including court and law enforcement reform, school reform, civil rights, political reform, economic justice, and environmental justice. Robeson County now has all three major races equitably represented on the County Board of Commissioners, the Board of the Public Schools, and in the N.C. House of Representatives. In county law enforcement, the Sheriff is Native American, the Public Defender is African American, and the District Attorney is European American. Beyond racial inclusion, CCA has also contributed to the professionalization of public administrators across the sectors of the county. This effort has minimized the effects of the former system of patronage in which hiring in almost all public jobs was dependent on one’s access to internal relationships and influence. The Center’s work has successfully combined the strategies of grassroots community organization, multiracial and multi-sector collaboration, research, policy change, and development through numerous projects and programs. Over the last 10 years, its work has increasingly been the subject of more formal research among graduate researchers interested in effective and successful community action and community practice.
Just at the point in history when we achieved inclusive and equitable representation in governance and were ready to turn more attention to economic and cultural change, the economic base of the county is ripped out from under it. The manufacturing and tobacco industries had been the backbone of the county’s private sector for the past 50 years. Suddenly, with the passage of federal trade policies that not only allow, but also encourage overseas investments and the closing of U.S. factories and farms, the county’s economy is de-constructed. It is as if, just when we get everyone to a common table, the legs of that table are cut out from under us. Thus, we have the context for the Jobs For the Future Project.
After watching over 8,000 jobs leave over 8 years, the social destruction that it caused to families and children, and the pressures that it placed on the service delivery system in our county, many of us began discussing what we could do in a proactive way to counter this trend. We knew that we had to research the impact of the job loss on the county’s economy and its people. We knew that we had to address economic development policy at all levels, particularly at the federal and state levels. We also knew that we needed to have creative and positive solutions that would not only solve our problems, but also offer creative solutions to the problems of job loss throughout Rural America. We knew that we had to develop policy recommendations that could actually be realistically considered and supported by both major political parties once the will and skill of the people across the nation was organized. We knew that these proposals had to be tied to major development and reconstruction of the economies of rural America based on the principles of sustainable development economies that are:
We are developing numerous policy recommendations with a focus on a major grant program for rural development. Our Federal Government is presently using grants as an economic and infrastructure development strategy for rebuilding nations devastated by war. We believe that this strategy of employing grants, in addition to more conventional loans, both diversifies and strengthens the federal approach to economic and social reconstruction. This federal strategy of utilizing a combination of grants and loans for economic and social development provides a model for a more comprehensive approach to rebuilding the economies of Robeson County and other rural counties in North Carolina and throughout the nation that have been devastated by the loss of wages and jobs. Thus, we have the content of the Jobs For the Future Project: a combination of solid research on the impact of the job loss on our county, solid policy recommendations for remediation and reconstruction, and solid plans for small business, sustainable development.
- locally owned and operated
- provide wages and benefits that support individual and family security
- protect and promote the environment
No other county in the U.S. has developed a comprehensive strategy to address massive job loss that includes major policy leverage on the state and national level and major development initiatives on the local level. We hope that, not only with the Jobs For the Future become a national model, but also that our county will host both state and national meetings in order to contribute more to the national discussion among states with large rural populations that have been devastated by job loss. A rise in the number of meetings and conferences will also generate needed revenues for local businesses and services. We also hope to invite and recruit businesses with sustainable development principles and practices to become partners in rural re-development and consider long-term investments in our county.
Written by: Rev. Mac Legerton, Executive Director, Center For Community Action
For more information, contact:
Center For Community Action
P.O. Box 723, Lumberton, N.C. 28359