Building Change Together

“It’s like y’all came up out of nowhere—I think about how crazy it is every night that you found me,” Andre* said as we sat on the cement steps in front of our construction site. Despite how it may have seemed, our venture, Roots of Renewal, hardly came out of nowhere. In fact, it took over two years to turn our idea into a reality. Just like Andre, though, every night I think about how crazy it is that we are finally here, that we bought a house, that we hired our team, and that together, we are learning how to rebuild a home from its bare bones. As I sat there, telling Andre that we were there for him no matter what challenges are facing him, I could not help but think of all the people that had told me the very same thing in the last two years.

Roots of Renewal is more than a work training program for formerly incarcerated young adults. It is a program that aims to provide young men with economic opportunity, skills training, a support network through mentors and peers, as well as wrap-around social services, by building a team of young men who, together, renovate a blighted home in the Central City neighborhood over three months. In many ways, our program holds many of the values of the Taylor Center, which has acted as our own support system, allowing us, as changemakers, to create the change we want to see in our city alongside our peers who aim to do the same. Just as I have seen our guys laugh and work together, I think about how we would not be where we are if not for the support of the Changemakers’ Institute and other Tulane ventures—Fund 17, FailUp, Trash to Treasure. Our ventures have all grown up together while we have learned how to be crusaders of change, masters of failure, leaders of perseverance, and helping hands for when, as young people faced with a big world, we do not know what to do. More than once we have had to burst into Fund 17’s office (which is conveniently connected to ours) asking what payroll company they use, or slipping them a name for a potential entrepreneur. Without FailUp’s pitch competition, Roots of Renewal would not have won the $1,000 we needed to get our nonprofit status and thus be able to raise over $150,000. Trash to Treasure donated $2,000 after their wildly successful sale this year which covered one of our participants’ paychecks for October. Behind these ventures are amazing individuals: Haley Burns, Ethan Levy, Anne Bevis and her team. These individuals serve as the perfect example of what Tulanians should strive to be—people that want to share ideas, provide support and offer inspiration. The social innovators at Tulane know that changing the world and changing ourselves is not a zero sum game. Whether it is simply sharing one another’s Facebook posts, telling someone about a good grant opportunity, or sharing with our friends and family about the great work that these other ventures are doing, our ventures are about succeeding together, because we cannot do this work alone.

Andre and I just sat for a moment. I looked at the hardworking and intelligent young man sitting next to me. I told him that he did not have to do this all alone anymore, and even if it felt hard for him to believe, that his fight was our fight. I saw something shift in him, as if the breath he let out was a little bit lighter, a little more hopeful. I cannot imagine what he would think if he were to see the army of people standing behind us, supporting us, as we stand behind him, supporting him. Perhaps then he would see that we are all far from alone.

*name has been changed

By Lilith Winkler-Schor, Program Director for Roots of Renewal