Rasheeda Washington, executive director of Chicago-based Communities First Association, served as facilitator of the Sept. 6, community meeting at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller. PHOTO by Michael Romain

A prominent Austin church convened residents and activists Sept. 6 to lay the groundwork for creating a strategic plan for the community. Greater St. John BibleChurch, 1256 N. Waller, hosted the event, which drew about three-dozen people.

Pastor Ira Acree, who convened the Saturday morning meeting, said the church is looking to expand its social footprint in the area.

“I don’t think we’ve maximized the possibility of collaboration,” he said.

Facilitator Rasheeda Washington of faith-based Communities First Association was brought in as facilitator to listen to residents’ concerns and ideas, organize that feedback and help create a strategic plan for the community to execute, said Acree, who intends on hiring a point-person to guide the plan’s implementation.

He also said his church would be looking for volunteers to help in key areas of the plan once it’s completed.

Washington, executive director of the Chicago-based, national nonprofit, invited those in attendance to share their ideas on some of the assets they most appreciate about Austin.

One of Austin’s greatest strengths is its people and the aura of community and family that they’ve created, according to Jonathan Todd, 47, a third-generation Austin native.

“I know people in this room who I used to get sugar and bread from when we didn’t have any sugar,” he said. “Austin is a big-old family. It’s a village of individuals creating a bond and a structure that we can all live on.”

Austin also has some great neighborhood schools, “contrary to the misinformation put out there,” activist Dwayne Truss insisted.

Rev. Robbie Wilkerson added that Austin has strong leadership but also “strong followership,” and “bottom-up activism that is hard to match in other places.”

That bottom-up sensibility would be something that Washington and her husband, co-facilitator Darrel Washington, emphasized throughout the event. It was also something Washington stressed when Acree, anxious to cement a legacy, first approached her with the idea.

“I can be very transparent with you guys; it’s my 25th year of pasturing,” he said.
“Most of my years are behind me. I only have a short window to be effective, so I want to maximize my strengths, and I interviewed a few people, but Rasheeda was the one who connected with my spirit. I began telling her what I wanted to do. ‘I want to do this and I want to do this and I want to do this.’

“I told her she has to help me make this happen. She said, ‘It is really for the Austin community. We can’t just sit in a room with you and your leadership team and say we’re going to do it. You’re going to have to talk with the stakeholders in your community. Some of the stuff you want to do, they may not want to do. And you have to own that and move forward. It can’t be about Ira J. Acree; it must be about the community.'”

Before her current position at Communities First Association, Washington was a project leader for Covenant Kids Congo, a missionary operation of World Vision, a religious nonprofit for the EvangelicalCovenantChurch.

Raised in Austin until age 13, Washington is the founding principal of Plato Learning Academy/Elementary, 5545 W. Harrison.

“We’re not here to fix anything,” Washington told the crowd Saturday. “We’re not here to do it. You will get a strategic plan. We’ll recommend you select someone to run point on that plan and that you appoint an advisory board, but mobilization of the plan has to come from within the community in order for the plan to be sustainable.”

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Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org