We know that there are no shortage of Black women who have played a significant role in history and in shaping America. Some familiar names that come to mind are Rosa Parks who is often referred to as the “mother of the freedom movement” with her role in igniting a national bus boycott and Shirley Chisholm — the “mother of politics,” as she was the first Black congresswoman elected to office in 1968. But here’s a name that may not ring a bell although her place in history is equally noteworthy – Dorothy Richardson, known by some as the “mother of community development.”
Richardson, a pioneer in the community-based development movement, was the driving force behind the establishment of Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh, the forerunner of today’s NeighborWorks network. Richardson and her neighbors banded together in the 1960s to save their declining Pittsburgh neighborhood from demolition. They recruited partners in local government and the business community. Together, they not only helped revitalize their community but also set a precedent that changed the nation’s approach to urban redevelopment and spawned the new field of community-based development. As Richardson said, “I always say that we just have ‘to keep on keeping on.’ The minute we stop the pressure, it’s bed. We just can’t afford to get tired.”
Richardson’s legacy lives on today thorough NeighborWorks America’s annual Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award. For more than 20 years the award has been given annually in recognition of outstanding contributions by dedicated community leaders.
Manfred Reid, who received the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, is a widely recognized city leader, heading the revitalization of the Russell neighborhood in Louisville, KY —once known as the “Harlem of the South”—and chair of the board of commissioners for the city’s Metro Housing Authority. On May 8, 1968, he and a few friends were roughed up by the police, about a month after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Protests erupted and he and five other men—who came to be known as “The Black 6”—were indicted for “criminal conspiracy.”
Two years later, all six were acquitted. But the ripple effects were lasting. When the foreclosed “fixer-upper” in which he found refuge was condemned, he was placed in Beecher Terrace, the largest public housing complex still left in the country. He had hit the proverbial bottom. A turning point was when a woman at Beecher Terrace insisted he come to a meeting of the resident council. Manfred went to that meeting, became a leader, and when the housing authority put out a call for a resident to serve as the first such representative on the board of commissioners, he was recommended. Manfred joined the commission in 1999 and has served as chair since 2000.
Kenneth Grubbs from Boston, MA, figured out how to change the dynamic between police and local communities. Grubbs is active in the neighborhood association where he polices and serves on planning committees to help tackle community challenges. Every year, Grubbs selects 10 “Summer Explorers” to mentor, bringing them to community meetings and putting them to work at block parties and other events.
The Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award honorees have gone on to do great things but the most important thing they do is practice the art of giving back – they don’t just succeed but help others succeed. Dorothy Richardson helped people see a vision of what the community could be without imposing her own vision. As NeighborWorks organizations around the country provide the local, on-the-ground work building and restoring communities all are proud to call home, we must remember how the “mother of community development” shaped the field.
Learn more about NeighborWorks America’s Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award here.
Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership is a Chartered Member of NeighborWorks.