Last Monday, over 50 people gathered at the Presbyterian Church of the Cross for the Renaissance Community Coop’s public meeting. The agenda included updates on the last City Council meeting, news from the various sub-committees and a small group activity that brought folks together and helped them think as a community about a path forward. We welcomed folks from across Greensboro who are interested in seeing our effort succeed, as well as Council members Marikay Abuzuater and Nancy Vaughn, two strong supporters of the Renaissance Community Coop project!

RCC Steering Committee member Sadie Blue opened up the meeting with an energetic and inspiring welcoming that rallied every soul in the room. “This is really hard work,” Sadie told the audience, “but like my father always told me, everything worth having requires a lot of hard work.”

Casey Thomas updated folks on the developments at the previous City Council meeting. While the news that the Renaissance shopping center would be “sold” to the investor group represented by Skip Alston created some confusion and uncertainty, the crowd remained energized and eager to continue working to make their vision of a healthy, sustainable community a reality. Louis Beveredge offered a short update on the financial status of the RCC. We have more members fully paid, and more signing up at each meeting!

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Attendees then divided into small groups and participated in a group thinking and visioning activity. Each table asked different questions. People rotated between different tables, meeting and talking to new community members at each stop! As Louis Beveridge put it, “We don’t know everything alone, but together we know a lot.”

The discussions at each table were rich and fascinating! For example, in describing the essential features of owning something, the groups came up with a wide array of responses. They described how owning something allows them to “make the rules,” “make changes,” and “craft the vision.” Others said ownership will “bring the community a sense of pride and self worth” and “raise the self-esteem and empower the community.” The community-owned grocery will become a part of the neighborhood’s legacy, “giving [the next generations] something to look forward to in the future.” As one group said, “the possibilities are endless,” together, the community believes they can build a “transformative” model that others in the city, North Carolina and the rest of the country can replicate.

Folks explored how a community-owned grocery store is different than other stores like Food Lion, Kim’s Food Mart or Whole Foods. They decided their coop would be more “accessible” and “affordable” for the people in the area. It will actually “meet the community’s needs” since, after all, the people themselves have a say in how the coop is run. The profits will remain and be reinvested in the community, which is a huge difference from stores currently operating there. With a coop, surplus money could go to provide scholarships or micro loans and “spark other economic development in the area.”

People in the room felt confident that the community has the skill and knowledge to make the coop work. They cited the history of Greensboro of “taking strides and being an agent of change” and the success around the White Street landfill campaign. They spoke to the richness of the community through diversity and it’s “wealth of perspectives.” One person said, “the democratic process now lays the groundwork for successful democratic process later.”

When asked to identify things that would tell us the coop is being successful folks listed dozens of indicators. From “full parking lot” and “high profits”, to expanding services and “leading community events” to reinvesting in the community and creating “a healthier community.” The confidence and pride in people’s tones was clear, they were not thinking “if” but rather “when.” The coop will be a success “when everybody is talking about it” and “others come to us because they like our model.” The coop will be a success “when the city council admits that the people were right.”

The evening was wrapped up in a big group discussion where folks shared things they had come up with during the small groups they had not thought about before. People mentioned ideas like a kid’s corner to provide childcare while parents shop, online ordering, and home delivery for those community members unable to easily leave their homes.

While the coop effort continues to face uncertainty because of the City Council vote, the community still has their eye on the prize. Ed Whitfield said, “there is a lot that we still don’t know… we know what we want and where want to go but we can’t always see the right path of how to get there…and it’s true that sometimes we have no idea what the right path is but I think today has shown us that we are still moving forward.”

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Transcribed notes from the small group table discussions on june 17, 2013

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