Community Change: Capable and Complicit Church(es)

[in open draft]

A late-night note on underexamined places for change thanks to a conversation with a warrior monk friend, I’m writing my reflection here with new/naive changemaker-type people in mind, especially for those unfamiliar with the paradigm who are looking:

There’s a different way to think about churches when considering them as institutions for measureable community development.

It’s one thing to think of social impact in terms of social, economic (bottom line, localization/etc.), and environmental/health for new/existing businesses. In Detroit, it’s also one thing to hear/read/mention/think “faith-based institutions are important players for facilitating social change” and dismiss them as a means for mobilizing volunteers, and offering basic services for community stabilization to varying degrees of efficacy.

But if you’re working in fragmented communities with million dollar mega-churches and a plethora of dilapidated or abandoned buildings nearby, someone–likely you before anyone starts engaging the churches–may need to adjust how social impact, inclusive wealth co-creation and distribution tends to happen in a city (or suburb, or rural area for that matter).
“I invite you to drive down 7 mile and count how many million-dollar churches there are with dilapidated buildings right next to them in the neighborhood!” – the warrior monk friend of Detroit
The nuances behind land ownership, employment, and real estate might lead us to hold the above statement suspect as a straw-man argument, but when we consider how some megachurches operate and what they claim to provide, a similar degree of scrutiny for impact is merited that most “social innovators” tend not to expose themselves to beyond typical corporate, government, and non-profit contexts.
Religious institutions–even considering those with traditions for tithing a percentage and charitable acts–are often complicit in if not susceptible to perpetuating the kind of business models that become a detriment to the long-term success of a place, its people and other inhabitants.
This is akin to examining businesses with long records of philanthropy and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) service days. Just because they donate money, build a library (i.e. Carnegie Libraries in Pittsburgh), or claim to serve a community, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their actions and operations are exempt from scrutiny over verifiable (perhaps ideally replicable) outcomes and legacy impacts.
It’s the point of fallacy behind Effective Altruism’s flagship cost/benefit assessment: getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at a law firm and then donating thousands to a charity to prevent malaria doesn’t matter if the law firm you happen to work for protects clients who price gauge medicines for malaria treatment, are responsible for destroying clean drinking water sources, or usurp and sabotage public infrastructure for unscrupulous privatized interests. And note that on that caliber of operation, it’s very easy and sensible for a company to get tax write-off for supporting an “astroturf” shell-charity (i.e. Make America Beautiful, known best for the Crying Indian litter ad was created by the aluminum company, Alcoa) or shell-lobbying firm masquerading as an educational 501c3 (i.e. ALEC, AKA American Legislative Exchange Council) at the same time. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it’s part of what many call the Non-profit Industrial Complex.

So what does meaningful change look like among faith based institutions?
I imagine it’s applying many of the same metrics for impact that we often consider for benefit corporations or other purpose-driven organizations. Imagine the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative, basically an index for reporting good/bad social, economic, and environmental impacts for companies) for faith-based institutions, and/or Charity Navigator (discloses salaries and budgets among charities).

Granted, intra-congregational and interfaith collaboration are not to be dismissed. Interfaith initiatives represent a lot of potential for action in Southeast Michigan, and it’s likely a necessary early step for a lot of folks to engage these institutions. That said, as you progress through the later stages of collaboration and organizational development/institution/community building, having the mind to use the kind of tools we see in for-profit and non-profit impact assessment that verifies and encourages replicable impact seems very important. So far, I’m not familiar with–or unaware–of anyone who’s really focused on doing it beyond some interfaith groups with very specific causes like energy efficiency, or broader coalition-driven priorities (important in its own right).

Of course, plenty of churches and other faith-based institutions are also doing noteworthy positive work. While certainly not to the same scale as a nearly-mega-million-dollar church, it’s important to remember that mutually beneficial relationships do form between many faith-based institutions and their immediate communities that can (or already do) create visceral economic impact and advance community development.

Perhaps with leadership coming from community-oriented organizations, one of the most memorable examples I’ve seen firsthand comes from an initiative via Foodlab Detroit, where the dynamic Devita Davison showed visitors how to make use of the commercial-grade kitchens often found in neighborhood churches so that they also become business incubators for emerging food entrepreneurs.

[Pictured above: Devita Davison in red leads a tour through a community church and commercial kitchen in Detroit’s neighborhoods which serves as an incubator for new food businesses during the summer of 2014]

. . .

On paradigms for charity and caveats on language concerning support and saviors:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Words used by Lilla Watson

Charity is a concept loaded with transactional bias. Transactional language often leads to extractive and exploitative relationships when not checked. Charity has an important role, but one we must make conscientious decisions that speak to the roots of general human behavior: Hidden within “help” is a power dynamic that assumes the people being helped lack any agency in themselves, or that by offering help they are obliged to validate the provider in ways bound to expectations that turns an offer for support into a transaction in one’s agency. Conveniently, this notion ties neatly into what many advocates describe as “the savior complex”–how people, organizations, and even governments, often rush to a community with the expectation they will “save” a place, sans any commitment to letting the people already leading change or capable of doing it to do their work.

Featured image:
Church and State, photographed by Ian D. Tran (C) 2015 all rights reserved
Photos from a summer FoodLab Detroit tour, photographed by Ian D. Tran (C) 2014 all rights reserved

The Crying Indian, Astroturf Non-Profits and Alcoa
ALEC, United States of Alec serves as a shell 501c3 for closed-door lobbying and legislative production in service to major Multinational Corporations
Benefit Corporation:
The Global Reporting Initiative:
Charity Navigator:
FoodLab Detroit:
Effective Altruism’s flagship essay:



Poverty, Politics, and Pointed Language

[Inquiring post, from a professional support discussion thread]
Struggling with writer’s block and thought maybe someone would have some ideas for me! In writing up something about my organization’s work, we’re struggling with using the term “poverty-ridden” to describe a neighborhood we work with. The community is underserved for sure, and some pockets do struggle with poverty, but the “poverty-ridden” doesn’t sit right as a way to describe it. Another colleague feels that “underserved community” feels a little “lefty-speak”.

Curious if anyone has any magical language they might share? Thanks for your thoughts!


[responder #1]
How about
Opportunity Area
About to thrive
Culturally rich but financially under resourced
[Responder #2]
Great question! I don’t have any magic answers, but your question reminded me of this blog post I read a while ago. I think both the blog post and the comments are very thought provoking and along the lines of what you and your team are struggling with. Many good points and no clear answer – poverty is indeed ugly and wrenching and something we shouldn’t feel comfortable and happy trying to describe.

Hi [inquiring+responding folks],I think it depends on the context and history of that community and how you present the context in your writing, as much as it does on what you intend to convey. To me, the truth with proper context is always good.

For major cities operating under the legacy of institutionalized racism–redlining, historically discriminatory zoning, etc. (almost every major city in the U.S.), a term like “economically oppressed” might be apt if you’re able to explain how the community got to where it is today.

Terms like “Opportunity Area” and “Culturally rich but financially under resourced” often signal exploitation and transactional work rather than ongoing co-creative/long-term development, and some communities are very wary about it at least where I tend to work.Low-income/under/unemployed might work for a population.
“Poor” can sometimes touch a nerve too because it imbues assumptions about people whose reality doesn’t match with the label. Be sure to discern between impoverished (zero social/economic capital) and what people might label as poor (people who make ends meet through relationships, alternative economics, etc.).

Working in Detroit, I’ve used “underinvested”–with context that neighborhoods are already doing innovative and important work out of necessity, but are being outright ignored while media and financial attention continues to stay in the downtown/business corridors.

A friend and I used “priority engagement youth” which could apply to communities, etc. too rather than impoverished or at risk. This maintains the agency of the people in focus, without casting them under a lens of victim status and gets delivered through an active but politically neutral phrase.

In other contexts, if I’m articulating a case for broader systemic intervention to specific private funders, “economically oppressed” can make sense given the history and ongoing momentum of the city’s development patterns. Of course, anything about oppression is likely to stray into the “left”, but again I think what matters is who you’re communicating to, what your intentions are, and the context of the place/people that you can bring to light.

For the present, there’s “economically afflicted”, perhaps to articulate a current problem or challenge.

Building on [responder #2]’s comment and links, I think of a quote from the introduction in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

During our discussion, [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s friend remarked, “Donaldo, you are right. We are using euphemisms such as Economically marginal’ and avoid more pointed terms like ‘oppression'”

Of course that might carry leftist implications by bringing out the term oppression, but again it can depend on context. If the necessary changes are genuine and you can communicate it well, it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum the language comes from, people should come to conclude the right thing to do.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Friere

A “Poor vs. Low-Income etc.” blog post via oxfam:
Essentially asks: why not describe a situation for what it is using the word “poor’? The bias that’s not noted by the writer is the label for poverty/poor (at least in the English language) rests in the language–it implies that the people have zero resources/ability and completely need help as victims.This ties into what many justice advocates call “savior complex” and valid critiques about how charity gets things wrong–it assumes a power dynamic where one will receive help, the other issues/awards “help” even if the people at attention are already working and capable but really just need supplemental support to what they’re already doing.

it sets the reader and workers up with a way of thinking that the people they work with are completely powerless and reliant on support from a privileged agency/non-profit that can rescue them.

I mention transaction/relational economic development here recently:

Choices: life on dignity or terror

Choices: Dignity in Life, Choices over Terror and Death

There’s duality in fear for living and embracing death. For samurai, choosing a worthy cause to die for is a means of embracing the presence of life and inevitable reality of death. The result: life is fleeting, live in the present as if you will die today.

Choice is fundamental for human dignity, yes. Terror happens when one’s in a situation that makes severe irreparable harm or death seem imminent and you’re unable to find or create any other choices for living.

-A fragmented note to myself from 11/3/14 found in my draft box

Back to the present:

Approaching life from grasping death first can be a very severe, spiritually violent, and overall dark approach.

Even for me today, the opening sentence was a little unclear. I think I was also touching on moments when someone is genuinely afraid of stepping into living their life fully — because with all the joys it can bring, you’re also choosing to accept and embrace the consequences of failures too.

A caveat on foolhardy failure: In my experience, the slogan “fail faster” that gets hyped in silicon valley/startup circles glorifies the downside and understates the resources necessary for recovery. Failing faster also requires proportionate tools and support to respond or rebound quickly. For people living in severe situations where balancing life and death, genuine poverty, etc. are at stake it’s a naive and misleading attitude.

We need to set parameters for failure. It doesn’t need to intrude on the sum of your existence, find ways to contain, govern, or facilitate it. Failure isn’t always bad, if you learn and grow from it. But what we’re really supposed to focus on are controlled or informed risks that we can successfully navigate. Where possible, fail forward — choose to fail in a direction of your preference so you can learn from it and still know how to stay on track. Immersing yourself in failures that go beyond your capacity to move on or focus on what’s worth failing for however, becomes a detriment one’s existence.

But this idea, really deciding to commit to living your moments fully, genuinely overwhelmed me into nihilism at times. The most overwhelming moments looked like shutting down, or believing it was important to stay with any accessible pain because that seemed like an essential part of living fully.

When some aspect of the idea made less sense to use as guidance for life, it also manifested into isolating myself in existential angst and numbness for months at a time. Of course, I still sought to show up online in minor ways and at work to keep me up to date with the rest of reality on topics I knew were important, but bridging the gap between what you think and what you believe can be quite the challenge.

The connection to choice: Life, Death; Dignity, Terror

Understanding the link between choice and dignity matters as much or even more than understanding how terror works. Terror is designed to happen when it deprives people from their sense of choice. Choice is fundamental to dignity. It requires a degree of consciousness to discern and make a genuine choice. Paraphrasing my mom: “Even into death, you have choices.” The trick is to see what they are, choose from the best, or create better ones.

Dignity and terror reflect life and death in their simplest forms. They hinge on your ability to discern, and choose with some sense whether active or intuitive.

The best practical tools for overcoming the designs of terrorism I know of boils down to three things: Joy, Truth, and Love.

It sounds unrealistically naive and Utopian at first — especially when considering that I came across them listed in a song written by my friend, Markita Moore. But the more I thought about those three around the time the Orlando shootings took place, the more I realized each element has clear, practical components that allow most of the public to deal with reality in a way that doesn’t make them beholden to reactions spurred by fear from terrorist acts.

Of course, counter-terrorism work still has an important place in the world, but for the general public in the long-term, I think this goes a long way to prevent or overcome terror:

Joy can be shared, draws people together, and builds cohesion. It inspires curiosity and deeper understanding on a voluntary basis. People are often drawn to humorous and positive moments. It can soften entry to challenging dialogues and conversations through assurance that comes from sharing a common experience — so long as it’s not used divisively at someone’s expense. It’s a significant topic in research for effective education.

Truth, upholding it and understanding it, shows us that we have more choices than what terror wants us to believe. It reminds you that a supremacist ideology is flawed putting your beliefs into proper scope with additional realities. Presenting or facilitating the truth also holds people accountable.

Love revolves around manifesting the best in and with people, which includes celebrating them as they are and the effort, history, and legacy that surrounds them in its most humane light. You can look at it in subtle forms like the discipline it takes to prepare meals for your kids even when you’re dead tired, care for the state of society, or consider the camaraderie and solidarity earned from common hardship and purpose.

Love is one of the most powerful motives used for framing purpose. Military boot camps in part are designed to cultivate an iteration of love — in terms of camaraderie — among service members and for the country. Simon Sinek, an anthropologist focused on leadership, cites similar examples in several of his talks. If you spend time speaking with service members, veterans, or yourself served you probably hear this too.

Coincidentally, scientists notice love and hate share many neurological pathways in common. What distinguishes a lively hate group from a healthy successful organization is the way they force dependent relationships and control information. But they start out and often frame their cause in terms of loving an identity, or protecting who they are. The rest of the hallmarks of their process actually mirror characteristics you’d see in healthy organizations that would appear in a Zappos/Delivering Happiness case study.

As a nation, the same applies: beyond taking care of the basics, don’t react to terrorism out of fear — else you play into someone else’s game by doing so. Focus on the things people would do in the first place when combat isn’t imminent: joy, truth, and love. It draws people to the righteous reality from their own volition, or asserts the truth without necessarily escalating violence.

But I keep returning to the general concept that making choices for death and life presents us. Major turning points basically revolved around thinking: “what’s something worthy of dying for/living for?” there’s more to say about the question itself, but that was a big starting point for my life in 2012.

Last year I met a wonderful woman who demonstrated the same idea but with an opposite (in my opinion, much healthier) approach — I’m still working on going about it from a joyous angle but it’s the same goal as far as living fully is concerned.


On “fail faster”
Example of common narratives around “fail faster” — I may or may not have a tendency to attempt living ideas to straw-man proportions, if you must try in that fashion too, don’t do it the way I did. Resilience comes from the ability to rebound instead:

What would have been nice to hear more often with “fail fast” 

I especially wish this was something I read in 2014 to affirm some of my own questions about the slogan, but it’s nice to see today now that I’m reading up on how other people looked at it. Also note that someone created an entire company/consulting practice around “fail forward” — focused on dissecting failures. I guess it was bound to happen:

Three Chords: Joy, Truth, and Love (song excerpt by Markita Moore)
[side note for those following our band’s progress: we’ve finalized the recording, moving to fundraise for filming a video with the students who sang in the song and coordinate its release with the video, ideally around October]

Humor in education (need to follow embedded links within this article for the research):

Humor in Education via the APA, learning — it seems mostly focused on higher education, I’ve yet to read in-depth for source articles, etc.:

Other iterations of love, many Latin rather than Greek, a good framework, I think Ubuntu should be considered too though it’s of African origin:

Military — trust, co-operation as interpreted by Simon Sinek in his research referenced multiple times in his talks:

Simon Sinek speaking on “Why Leaders Eat Last”:

First-hand story on service leadership from Lt. Col. Drowley (the A-10 pilot mentioned in Simon Sinek’s book and talk, “Why Leaders Eat Last”):

Recovering from hate: how hate groups function and the neurological wiring behind love/hate 

Delivering Happiness, p. 173 Happiness Framework 1: 

On choosing worthy reason(s) to die. Also contains practical instruction for one-strike swordsmanship (iaido) in addition to the philosophical context that informed/s the martial art: Flashing Steel, Second Edition: Mastering Eishin-Ryu Swordsmanship by Masayuki Shimabukuro (Author), Leonard Pellman (Author)
[seek out the second edition, supposedly a worthy improvement from an already excellent first edition]

This post originally appeared at:

Privileges in planning; relational and transactional economies

Planning is often a habit of privilege, and hard-earned for many in ways that others can hardly fathom.

I’ve been mulling over the strategies we tend to see in relational economies versus those in traditional transacitonal ones.
i.e. the economy most people know about is transactional and runs solely on money.
Relational economies however, display patterns in the Solidarity Economy/New Economics or as the writer for Bloomberg calls it, “Detroit’s Survival Economy” are all premised on trust and relationships created/earned between people.

There’s truth to calling it the survival economy–though I take issue with calling the people who use it poor. Poor people often don’t have the wealth of access to many of the workarounds, organizations, and networks that are meant to meet their needs. However, some have a wealth of relationships in their families, friendships, and community who do help make living doable.

And personally, it saddens me to realize the depth of how much these approaches are necessary for many people, and a source of baseless excitement over what will likely be “discovered” as “innovation” by a select few who don’t understand and will not experience poverty. The distinction between innovation from genuine necessity or survival and innovation as an exercise for self-congratulation comes from the assumptions behind them and the luxuries for rebounding to failure.

Reading an article from 2015 by Jessi Streib in the Atlantic hammers in the paradigm

“Isabelle, for example, is the daughter of a farmer and a bartender. (All the survey participants have been given pseudonyms.) Her family did not know how much money each year’s crops or tips would bring in. They did not know when a debt collector would call. Thinking about money could not change the fact that it came in unpredictably and that sometimes there wasn’t enough. With little she could do to change the situation, Isabelle learned to go with the flow. She would not think too much about money, but spend as she needed to get by.

People who grew up with parents who had more money, job security, and power grow up with more stable lives. In these conditions, they learn that managing their resources makes sense—both because their lives are predictable enough that they can plan and because their resources are plentiful enough that they can make meaningful choices. Spouses with middle-class backgrounds wanted to manage their resources by planning.

This difference—taking a hands-off approach or a hands-on one—followed individuals from their pasts and into their marriages.

It shaped nearly every aspect of their adult lives. In regards to money, work, housework, leisure, time, parenting, and emotions, people with working-class roots wanted to go with the flow and see what happened, while their spouses with middle-class backgrounds wanted to manage their resources by planning, monitoring, and organizing.”

I’ll need to read the actual study(ies?). It’s reasonable to suspect the study already draws from a strong bias in the groups it reports–if the couple is already made it as a couple, the study will draw from a sample of participants who were already thinned out. That said, nice to see reports of a happy ending at the end of the article.

And of course, never let the words of another person condemn your own future.

Healthy Anger in Action (HAA!!!)

What’s the healthiest expression of anger you’ve ever seen?

Bonus points if it didn’t devolve into petty tit for tat/bickering.
Also for anyone interested in diving further:
How did it allow you/the people involved to take care of their needs?
Did it allow both parties to do so or only one? Why?
Was forgiveness involved in resolving, reconciling, or embracing the underlying causes for anger?

Context: I think a lot of us lack good examples. People are often afraid to talk about it, and by the time we’re close to it, it’s definitely challenging to navigate. Most of the time people are even afraid to walk the line between acknowledging and declaring their own boundaries and proceeding to do something with the experience(s). Even Bruce Lee acknowledges that “Ultimately martial arts means, honestly expressing yourself. Now, it is very difficult to do.” And yet, it’s being done.
At this point, I ponder the line between trolling and anger. Not too long ago, this protest sign, quoting Edgar D. Mitchell crossed the news:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.” ― Edgar D. Mitchell

The more I think about it, some of my favorite examples of righteous mischief or frustration might be an example of that. The quote I opened with from astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell came to mind because part of it was used by a group that created the first protest (protesting the current president) from outer space (see article from the Hill).

Thinking of a similar statement that always stood out to me:
“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing…You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.” – The Honorable State Senator Roy McDonald (speaking on his decision to vote for legalizing gay marriage. It takes a certain degree of gravitas for a statement of plain and profane words like that to work.)

A woman chooses to show up to work dressed up in Cosplay every day since her boss thinks her headscarf and any cultural cloths covering her hair are “unprofessional” even though the company had zero dress code. I know a few cosplayers and I think this is quality trolling.

The California man who drove in the high occupancy vehicle lane with papers for a business is another example. He was protesting the Citizens United supreme court ruling by carrying a filing cabinet of business papers in his car, and using the “corporations are people” argument to demonstrate how he legally is permitted to drive in the carpool lane (requires more than one “person”).

Huh, wow–so there we have it.



Some tools I’ve used, created, or adopted for anger–including a framework that’s normally used for intervening with bias (mostly racism/sexism) developed by Cook-Ross:

Creating parameters for signaling anger in ways that people might better understand what’s going on:

For anyone wondering what happened to the legal case concerning the man using a traffic ticket to challenge Citizen’s United this was the latest I could find from a very brief search:




Country Music across (1/5th of) the Country

If you drive, you can learn a lot about the U.S. as you travel through it by listening to its radio stations from state to state, and a bit about yourself if you’re honest about how you’re looking at an experience too.

Note, I’m making up the following percentages as rough estimates, and I certainly don’t feel like I know enough about country music in whatever its many iterations may exist to give an accurate summary about it so consider with grains of salt:

A good 40-70% of the stations are various Christian religion stations or country music depending on where you are. Maybe about 3-12% are public radio depending on where you are.

8-13% rock
10-30% pop
3-5% contain rap or actual hip hop

A few (extrapolated) observations: there are some interesting parallels between (again, I suspect it’s only a representation of today’s popular commercialized) country music and a lot of the rap.

The “boom clap” pattern has been adopted into [pop?] country music. The stereotypical subject matter—the stuff you tend to hear singers singing about or people complaining—can be similar too: in commercial radio-station country music trucks, women, guns, alcohol, maybe smoking a cigarette too. Similarly with rap: cars, women, guns, alcohol and smoking cannabis.

Yes, I know there are good country musicians and rap writers today too. Many–in fact, I like to believe most–listeners appreciate the genre often for the wisdom that’s communicated through the storytelling. A friend literally sent me a song by the rapper Nas to teach about loyalty and friendship for example. You’ll certainly find eras, good songwriting goes in and out, and performances often reflect upon the times too.

So it’s here, dear reader, where we’ll enter the domain of country music that I can find plenty to appreciate.

I’m learning some songs requested by a student which in my opinion points to some of the not too-distant roots of today’s [mostly commercial] country music.

For example, this one–Yes Ma’am, He Found Me in a Honky Tonk sung by Leona Williams

If you think about it, it’s a sad song—a woman is getting judged by another woman and…
(concedes/relegates/regards, relegates, remiss, acquiesce, resorts, ? [super edit: I’ve been missing the word I wanted to use–it’s *resigns*! thanks, Adam!])
…resigns herself to accept and agree with what the woman judging her says.

You can imagine that the admonisher says she’s not really worthy of the man she loves, and that he deserves someone better than her.

If you know the mechanisms to verbal abuse, it takes a lot of exposure for sense of self-worth to wear down to that point. Critical violence, even in one’s attitude toward their self like what we hear, is more often than not a learned behavior.

This means that the woman in the story, and whoever wrote the song, had to have seen and heard a lot of disparagement, or at least enough to write a song about it and in order to write from that point of view.

Signs+symptoms of verbal abuse


Amazon Eats Whole Foods

A few people wonder: “what do you think it will mean now that Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods?”

Here are my “arm[less]chair thoughts” about the Whole Foods Acquisition by Amazon touching on a bit of local economics, and company culture. Of course, it’s perspective from an attentive layperson’s point of view informed by how Whole Foods established its location in Detroit ever since their announcement to the Detroit Economic Club (I once-upon-a-time was a member of the American Economic Association and University’s Economics Club).

I’m probably missing some nuances that other people might know as someone who worked within the company so please do chime in especially if I’m off-base:

Whole Foods already had little issue about crowding out local markets–in some ways, it functioned a bit like Walmart. Amazon absolutely has no qualms about putting local brick and mortar businesses out of business, even if we give leniency in saying some companies like Borders Booksellers were slow to adjust to online reading. “Customer Obsession” aside, it’s competitive aims are a specific part of the company culture and part of its corporate DNA (AKA Company Values).

It’s amassing a lot of monopolistic capacity in ways people don’t really pay attention to unless it’s already affecting them, and the way they operate financially, it gives them even more buffer for underhanded monopoly strong-arming than a company like Walmart or Lowe’s has. Picking between Amazon and Walmart, Walmart turns into the less-bad of two choices because they will still have a physical presence in a city or some community. Like Walmart or Lowes, Amazon will likely eagerly exploit Dark Store tax loopholes every time they can expand with another Whole Foods location. I also think we’ll start seeing some changes in supplier choices over (a long) time if/when the big data infrastructures of Amazon are able to merge with Whole Foods (assuming a case can be made that justifies the cost of trying to revamp the systems).

That said, there will always be a need for smooth transactional convenience, that’s not something I’d fault a business like Walmart/WF/Amazon with–it’s specifically one of their strengths in the market. Acknowledging that, things go downhill when you consider how they’re willing and able to strong-arm local businesses (and small cities, maybe even state governments) into the ground with unfair strategies like dark store tax loopholes and price slashing or rewrite laws in their own favor that reduces consumer protection and genuine market choices.
Considering how inaccessible Whole Foods can be for a lot of the general population (myself included) though, it also means a VERY steep opportunity (as in, very challenging to get started/maintain and/or coordinate whether your company is a start-up or a been-up [been-ups=business that’s been around operating even if the media doesn’t pay attention to it for decades as described by Crain’s Detroit and Blac Detroit]) exists for local/organic/whatever businesses that will thrive on a relationships-first, I like this place because I-know-and-trust-the-owner/employees/farmer basis.

Maybe we’ll also see echoes of the book industry happen within an online version of Whole Foods. IKEA, the Swedish Walmart of Furniture and meatballs, is pondering if not testing what would happen if their business went on Amazon too (see this aptly named INC. article: “And Then Suddenly Ikea was like, ‘Wait. What if We Just Sell All Our Stuff on Amazon?”.

What it means for the rest of people who really care about localized/organic/co-operative/whatever food is that the smaller businesses and local suppliers will need to organize so that they’re able to coordinate and keep a place at the policy table when decisions are being made municipally, state-wide, and nationally because a major monopoly-scale industry will likely write the legislation.
I’m less familiar with Bezos’s acquisition patterns, so grains of salt with the following as it’s a bunch of thoughtful speculation: What matters for Whole Foods in the shorter-term will be whether they can preserve the positives of their existing employee culture (including benefits) now that they’ll be part of a company that doesn’t value employee wellbeing across the heirarchy (i.e. working conditions at Amazon distribution centers were terrible, and a reputation for employees in middle management burning out into dismissal is something I’ve heard from a few candidates) in the same way. I think this might eventually depend on how clearly WF demonstrates LEAN value in its HR practices.

Amazon related

Amazon & IKEA

Amazon vs. Brick and Mortar

Amazon vs. Brick and Mortar community impacts

Amazon Labor Practices
We should note that a lot can change in a few years, especially in a company with high employee turnover. The following articles may point to trends from the past instead of current practice so in some modicum of fairness, I also included their INDEED reviews.

Amazon & Sears Under Investigation for Labor Violations, 2016:

Workers expected to strike in Germany:

Amazon’s Expansion & how it affects jobs–note, we run into the quality of work/quantity and efficiency of labor spectrum debate in some of the ILSR’s arguments:

Overview of reports/studies on localization by the ILSR:

A view on how both mom & pop + big box retailers might co-exist (depending on conditions)


The “Dark Store” economic/legal taxation tactic: exploit old property for unfair tax advantages that benefit major big box companies regardless of impact on the local community. As seen in places like Sault St. Marie, MI:

Other “Dark Store” coverage in Michigan:

On what’s not working with Michigan’s municipal financial system:

Update: a similar case is going to the MI Supreme Court

Some folks think big box businesses don’t hurt small businesses, I’ll disagree to an extent but see where they’re coming from.



Featured photo of an organic pesto pizza–not from Whole Foods, but it looks like something you might buy from them. It’s from family-owned Silvio’s Organic Pizza in Ann Arbor. Disclosure: I occasionally play gigs at this restaurant but was not sponsored to promote them in this post.

Raw notes: inc NSF success meta-analysis

With my students, reflection and next steps is a big thing.

Summary of the article:
1) Cultivate/develop sense of belonging
2) Growth mindset
3) Have goals and values you can articulate

One “remarkable finding” according to the study, was the degree to which “brief writing exercises [improved] these intra- and interpersonal competencies.”

For example, students who were required to “write about the relevance of course topics to their own life or to the life of a family member or close friend” saw positive development. Another remedy involved what sounds like a bit of benevolent manipulation–making students feel more at home on campus by having them write stories and reflections that “fram[ed] social adversity as common and transient.”

Spiral Staircases Everywhere in France

France has spiral staircases everywhere. Even some of their fire escapes are spiral staircases. I think French architects must be very proud of them, maybe they even claim it’s a French innovation. Yesterday I waited in front of a community services group to pick up one of my bags and got to visit a castle (Chateaux Vincenne) with them. The castle had spiral staircases everywhere too. You could get dizzy just from climbing the steps!
By far however, the most memorable staircase of all so far is this one from the hostel I stayed at during the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne with C.L. & Efe Bes at La Maison Rouge – Backpacker Hostel. It’s as if Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss became architects just to create this stairway in Saint-Etienne. #CityofDesign

We are the Griots

[4 minute read]
Photo from the beginning of today’s workshop on participatory design at the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne Festival in front of the ONE MILE Detroit Mothership.The Mothership opens as up a DJ booth and is used to convene intentional gatherings that uplift the community’s stories and efforts. It’s called the Mothership as a nod to the birthplace of Funk in the Oakland-North End neighborhoods (ergo the name ONE MILE) of Detroit. We represent an [re-]emerging paradigm for educational design and culture by intentional design that links music, storytelling, and timely or timeless commentary together with places and people.
We see this as the role of a griot, the French derivation of a kind of troubadour to the word djeli from the Malinke language. We find urgency in being able to convene people from different walks of life to guide curiosity and inquiry toward advancing one another with conscientious shared purpose as a broader community. We also believe all of us–audience participants included–are the griots. We are the people and leaders we have been looking for who can and will create and/or facilitate the futures we seek.

In the Malinke empire, griots also served as storytelling bards for peacekeeping purposes–warning tribes and nations with historical performances and storytelling, and recounting the toll of destruction from previous conflicts in moments before decisions for war were made.

As the French election cycle ramps up, it’s interesting to note that the city and campus we perform in was home to one of the finest weapon factories in France. Now, the city of Saint-Etienne strives to shift from its former industries toward celebrating and cultivating its creative design, architecture, and art as industries in co-development with Detroit–which for a time held a reputation as the “arsenal of Democracy” during World War II.

This workshop is intended to guide participants through various kinds of structures for governance (exploring through elections and traditional corporate hierarchies), the strengths, and pressures associated with them. We also established consent as a premise for genuine collaboration and co-operation. While lessons learned from language barriers and other nuances to leading this kind of workshop provide plenty to refine, I’m grateful for the opportunity and experience.
It’s an honor to convene so many people from around the world here in Saint-Etienne as part of the Detroit delegation and I look forward to doing so again at our next workshop and upcoming performances.
Many thanks to Bryce Detroit, D.J. Los – The Original, Efe Bes, Duminie Deporres, and Emily Rogers and the bold French participants who took part in the workshop. We got to explore what it feels like to experience emergent behaviors when organizations begin to scale up, and play a few tunes too. Thanks also to Anya Sirota, Jean Louis Farges, Inge Eller and the rest of the Saint-Etienne Biennale team for their support and presence too.
Edited for clarity and accuracy on 26 Mar. 2017–it’s unclear which part of the Biennale’s site was a weapons factory. I also walked by a building that is a known workshop for some kind of weapon smithing (I assume gunsmiths) in the downtown area near Rue de Republic. I also added Inge Eller’s full name as she did so much to support us–she even helped me find the location for my workshop and helped me get pencils and papers so that participants could write their reflections from the workshop. The sound crew, P.H. Martin, Etienne Simoneou, and Julien ___ also did outstanding work to ensure we were properly prepared with microphones, good audio engineering, and good performance space accomodations.