Making space for change: As People’s Liberty ends, two new entities come to Cincinnati

Over the past five years, People’s Liberty — the community development arm of the Haile Foundation — has worked directly with Cincinnati residents and innovators to address challenges and uncover opportunities that accelerate the city’s positive transformation.

It was originally designed as a “five year experiment,” from 2015-2020, to engage more people in “civic doing” by removing as many barriers as possible. The philanthropic lab followed three main tenets: innovation must be disruptive, the future of a city is determined by who gets involved, and philanthropy is about more than cutting checks.

“So much of what People’s Liberty has been about is really trying to elevate, I would say, the ‘unlikely leader,’ the people that know the community the best, know the challenges that neighborhoods are facing, the people that are there — it’s the neighbors,” says Megan Trischler, program director at People’s Liberty. “They’re the experts of their own neighborhood.”

As People’s Liberty nears the end of their five years, they’re celebrating their success with a four-day Civic Symposium (Nov. 5–8) that will also introduce two new entities coming to Cincinnati that will continue along the same vein: In Our Backyards (ioby) and the Urban Consulate.

“We’ve designed this week of events, happenings, workshops, talks, etcetera, to celebrate [People’s Liberty] and invite folks that have been a part of shaping this place back, and also to introduce these two new organizations,” says Trischler.

According to Trischler, ioby — a crowdfunding platform with locations in Cleveland, Detroit, Memphis, New York City, and Pittsburgh — sent someone to here last year to do an in-depth study to see if this was a good place for them to expand. Thanks to the neighborhoods, philanthropic climate, and civic engagement, ioby will have a dedicated program officer in Cincinnati next year.

“They’re definitely trying to cultivate grassroots changemakers and give them opportunities to not just fund their projects but also learn how to lead those projects, how to build a volunteer base, and how to really make a profit and sustain it,” she says.

“I would hope that we see more of those individuals in all of the neighborhoods across the city who say, ‘You know what? I see a particular challenge, I see a particular opportunity, and I think I’m the right person to do something about it,’” she continues. “And then develop some ideas, and hopefully ioby can be a supportive platform for those ideas to happen.”

Part of the Civic Symposium’s purpose is to introduce the Urban Consulate, which started in Detroit about four years ago as a dialogue series that focuses on critical conversations about cities and works to elevate city builders and changemakers who are advocating for equitable and inclusive urban areas.

“In the other cities — Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans, etcetera — it’s definitely a platform for elevating black thought, so it’s intentionally black led,” says Trischler.

Next year, The Mercantile Library will host The Urban Consulate’s monthly talks about issues that matter to the city.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, ioby will host a reception and infosession for anyone interested in learning more. Doc Harrill, a deejay with Refresh Collective, will talk about how ioby helped him fund Fresh Camp in Cleveland, which is a free neighborhood hip-hop camp.

“That will be a good night [to hear] ioby’s mission and what their plans are for Cincinnati,” says Trischler.

“I think sometimes we get a little bit caught in this trap of that it has to be this sort of grand, innovative idea, but I think it’s so much more about leadership development than it is necessarily about 100 great, life-altering ideas,” she continues. “We want to see people see themselves as active agents in shaping the future of this city, so that’s what I hope ioby is really able to do, is just continue this spirit that we think we’ve seen People’s Liberty be a part of, which is just engaged citizens.”

On Wednesday, Mia Birdsong, a community advocate and family activist will speak about reclaiming our narratives and the importance of story, particularly when we talk about people in poverty.

“She really advocates for individuals claiming and reclaiming their narratives and becoming the changemakers of our communities, so that ties in really nicely with ioby’s mission,” Trischler continues.

The speakers for the Cross-City Exchange.
The Urban Consulate will host the Cross-City Exchange on Thursday. Ten people from outside of Cincinnati will partner with 10 local people who will dialogue every hour on the hour all day, talking about a variety of things pertinent to their work, their lives, and inclusive city building.

“It’s an incredible lineup of people,” Trischler says. “[We’re] bringing people together in dialogue to talk about the future of — not just this city — but the future of cities and equitable and inclusive city building.”

“There’s brilliant people in every community, not just Cincinnati,” she continues, “but it’s everyday people who just want to make things a little brighter, a little bit more fun, a little bit more welcoming, a little bit whatever, who are doing those things, and I do think it’s contagious.”

The event is free and open to the public, and people are welcome to come for the whole day or just a few talks. According to Trischler, they will be live-streamed on Facebook and filmed for future use.

Following the talks, Anand Giridharadas will take the stage with Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager at the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile. Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and CEO of People’s Liberty.

“He’s a provocative thought leader who has some pretty important things to say about the way we think about philanthropy and private dollars,” she says.

The two will engage in an interview-style exchange in which Giridharadas will draw from his book, Winners Take All, which exposes the fractures in well-intentioned charitable efforts, while also offering a hopeful vision to fix them based on truly democratic principles. It’s designed for anyone who wants to learn the most effective ways to ignite meaningful change.

Above all, the Civic Symposium will celebrate the success of People’s Liberty as they pass the torch on to the next generation of innovators.

“I’m excited about both of these organizations, not just because of the important work that they’ll bring to the city, but also it’s a chance for Cincinnati to be a part of a cross-city network,” says Trischler. “I think that’s really important. So it’s really about cross-city exchange. It’s bringing people here, it’s sending Cincinnatians out. It’s just trying to connect more city builders to other advocates and changemakers outside of our city, which is never a bad thing.”

Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.
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