02 Sep ECC 2019 Catch-Up: Macon & Miami
Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city. ECC is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit emergingcitychampions.org for more.
We just launched ECC 2020, and now we’re spending this week catching up with the ECC 2019 cohort to learn about what they accomplished during their 2019-2020 fellowship amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and mass movements for racial justice.
Nancy Cleveland earned her B.S. in Advertising from Syracuse University. Although raised in New York, she was born in Macon, and re-located there in 2014. She is an active volunteer in her neighborhood and a graduate of Historic Macon Foundation’s Leadership Institute and the 2018 Leadership Macon Class.
Nancy’s ECC project, called Macon Head Space, was conceived as a mental health pop-up gym that would allow passers-by to try mental health resources the way they might do a trial membership at a physical gym. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from hosting in-person events in the spring, but she launched the project online instead, at maconheadspace.com. The website has a directory of local parks and mental health resources, as well as an interactive version of Park Rx America’s innovative “park prescription” program, and Nancy has been filming meditation and fitness videos to add. In July, Nancy collaborated with local mental health clinic the Southern Center for Choice Theory and tech company Hamtech Solutions to launch the first Elevate Macon Retreat, an online mental health symposium that featured online and in-person mental wellness activities, speakers and more. She is now working alongside community partners to coordinate a mental health pop-up gym that will offer free, physically distanced mini-therapy sessions in October, in line with her original ECC project goals.
Also in July, Nancy founded an entirely different nonprofit called Freedom For All, which organized a 4K solidarity run & walk on July 4th to highlight racial injustice and senseless acts of gun violence. The event, which came together in just a month with support from a great team, began at Rosa Parks Square and led participants through historic Black landmarks and markers, with the route length paying tribute to Ahmaud Arbery. She credits her ECC experience for giving her the inspiration and grounding to do this work.
Steven DeGeorge is a social worker, a dad, a husband, and “just a pretty normal guy” who happened to get called an Emerging City Champion. He lives down the street from his ECC project, The Field of Hope, a transformational community park that is coming together on an abandoned piece of land that has an ugly story of racism attached to it. Over the past year, Steven and his team of friends have been burning brush, weed-eating kudzu, asking kids for help, and writing grants. They have leveraged his $5,000 ECC microgrant into almost $100,000 in just this year alone.
The park is now becoming a place of dreams, and a unifying focal point for Macon’s Pleasant Hill community. Kids from the nearby community center researched ways to use technology to make it a high-tech park, and won an award for their research project. A neighbor hosted an idea-gathering event where the team showed a movie and heard ideas about what park could be. In the last few months, the community has been channeling their frustrations with the current state of things into something beautiful.
Steven says that the ECC fellowship transformed him: “Of all of the lessons that I’ve learned this year, maybe the biggest is this: there is power in what you call things. When you call a kid a research scientist, sometimes they become that. When you call a cursed place sacred, sometimes it becomes that. When you call a normal guy a Champion… I think you get the point.” He is now working on setting up social media platforms for his project.
Kyle Maharlika was born and raised in Miami, and works for Venture Cafe Miami (VCM) as an Associate. It is his personal goal to build loving communities where all individuals can thrive and prosper. Before VCM, Kyle worked for a mental health tech startup called TAO Connect for 4 years as technical project manager and lead software developer, where he was committed to reducing mental health disparities. Kyle is an alumnus of the Maven Leadership Collective inaugural cohort, a 12 month leadership program developing the leadership of queer & trans people of color and allies.
Kyle’s project, Parks Connect @ Overtown (PCO) started in Williams Park in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami, where PCO will install solar/wind powered public Wi-Fi to parks in Overtown in order to improve digital access and encourage people to connect outdoors. At the same time, they will partner with local organizations to provide programming to close gaps in digital competencies. Their intended impacts are to #closethegap, i.e. the technological inequality gap in skills and access, and have people connect via the digital (online) as well as the analog (in person). To date, the team has purchased a wind/solar powered pole, chosen a location to install the pole near the pool, secured a sponsorship with a local internet service provider to provide free wireless access, and begun the permitting process for construction of the pole and wireless network. Progress on the project has stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the team plans to launch in 2021, when members of the public can hopefully gather again.
At the in-person ECC Studio in 2019, Kyle was struck by the grit he saw modeled by local changemakers in Toronto who were creating more equitable cities. Their tenacity still inspires him to this day. He also learned from ECC that, in making PCO happen, the most important thing is to lead with community members in mind first and the impact that PCO will have, rather than getting caught in “ego-driven traps.” The challenges aren’t over, but neither is the project! Kyle’s next steps are 1) creating virtual feedback loops for local community members, 2) finishing the permitting process, 3) installing the pole & wifi network in Williams Park with his local partners, 4) holding a PCO launch party for neighbors and community members, and 5) continuing to offer digital competency programming.
Kat Regnier is a graduate from the Florida State University with a Master of Public Health & Master of Science in Planning. She has held roles as an urban planning program coordinator in Miami and as a community outreach coordinator in Tallahassee, serving a socioeconomically disadvantaged community to increase their access, awareness, and knowledge surrounding healthy eating. With her ECC project, Flagler Trail Little Haiti Initiative, Kat hoped to improve health outcomes and the built environment in Little Haiti by better connecting Little Haiti to the Flagler trail to support increased mobility and active transportation options. Kat’s project is currently on hold amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial injustice. She hopes to refocus on implementation in the fall, depending on how communities are experiencing and interacting with public spaces at that time.