RISE nurtures leaders among urban communities

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San Diego – When politicians and industry fought over Barrio Logan zoning in 2014, Dwayne Crenshaw and Tony Young noticed a key group was pushed aside: the residents themselves.

We were “talking over coffee about what was happening in our city at the time,” RISE San Diego CEO Crenshaw said. “What we found was that there were powerful interests — whether you were for them or against them — on both sides that were really having the debate about what should be happening in the community at that time.”

Crenshaw, a long-time social justice activist, and Young, a former San Diego City Council president, co-founded RISE that year to foster innovative leadership and decision-making among urban residents.

To empower communities, Crenshaw and Young created the Urban Leadership Fellows program and a monthly Urban Breakfast Club.

The one-year Fellows program is a collaboration with the Leadership Institute at the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

Fellows learn to develop innovative solutions and think critically about problems that affect San Diego communities.

“We look at leadership … in a way that’s different from a lot of other leadership programs,” Crenshaw said. “It’s really a lot about who you are as a leader: self-reflection, personal introspection … to take on what we call ‘intractable challenges.’ They’re not the easy issues.”

The first class of 24 fellows graduated in April.

“One fellow led a project that resulted in $500,000 being awarded by the City Council for a new senior community center in Paradise Hills, and that’s been a 25-year struggle,” Crenshaw said about the future project.

The Urban Breakfast Club sparks frequent public discussions in its targeted areas.

“Once a month we invite folks to come out to talk about issues that are often discussed downtown, behind closed doors, at levels that don’t engage (the people they affect),” Crenshaw said.

The San Diego native said his background as a son of a minister and a PTA president made him familiar with neighborhood issues before starting RISE.

“From age 13, I began mentoring, tutoring younger kids,” Crenshaw said. “I had a long time in community service which led me to work for several nonprofits over the years.”

While he says San Diego has made strides to address poverty, education, and other concerns in urban areas, Crenshaw wants to see major changes he believes are needed to advance families.

“We think that this interruption to those systemic problems is a model that can be RISE Los Angeles, RISE Chicago,” he said, “a model that’s worthwhile across the nation.”


Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune

By Ryan Robson 01:34 p.m. July 16, 2016

Ryan Robson is a member of the U-T Community Journalism Scholars Program.