'67 (MDiv '71) claims he's only the messenger, but his brainchild, Shreveport-Bossier
Community Renewal, just might change the world.
McCarter's gray eyes peer intently toward spacious, tree-shrouded homes
as he steers his tan Suburban slowly down a limb-draped street.
animatedly about the contributions of the people who live in this land
of privilege, but he's looking for a sign -- a handcarved, wooden one. This
is where McCarter '67 (MDiv '71) grew up. Not
on this exact street, but here in Shreveport.
smile, this 55-year-old activist doesn't look his age, nor like he spent
many years as a pastor in Texas; the collared shirt he wears with jeans
now has Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal on the right breast. McCarter
pauses mid-sentence and busts a grin.
sign?" he queries, eyes sparkling with excitement as he points to the
message amid azaleas and magnolias.
proclaims: We Care. McCarter isn't shy about saying he wants to change
from his success in Shreveport, the community renewal model he is putting
in place might do just that -- one heart at a time.
is a part of Shreveport you don't go to if you don't have to. Blighted
and worn, this historically black neighborhood has been home to generations
Rows of dilapidated
shotgun houses surround a recently cleared block. A large sign on the
land explains the heavy machinery parked on site: Coming soon, Friendship
afternoon, the small porches overlooking the lot sag with residents. Kids
scamper about and teens wander aimlessly. A car pulls up and as the driver
steps out, a young woman waves and hollers, "Hey Mr. Norm, I've got to
talk to you."
conversation ensues. The girl, not more than about 16, has just gotten
out of jail and doesn't like the way life is going. She wants to get a
GED and a job. She knows Mr. Norm, a.k.a. Norman Brown, is just the man
one of two Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal (SBCR) coordinators for
Allendale. He and his family will be permanent residents in one of the
two new Internal Care Unit (ICU) houses that will fill the now-vacant
land by year's end. His primary focus will be the teens, the other coordinator
will concentrate on the children.
been injecting themselves into this neighborhood for months. Every day
they are on site, talking to the residents, building friendships, helping
locals access city services.
is the third neighborhood where the ICU plan has been implemented. By
year's end, five troubled areas -- four in Shreveport, one in Bossier City -- will
have two new families, each committed to fulltime community renewal in
ICUs are making a difference. Coordinator Yul Taylor and his family were
the first to move into one of the target areas. Since they arrived in
the Cedar Grove neighborhood in 1998, crime in the area once known as
cocaine alley has dropped 42 percent.
Taylor and others with the renewal organization have worked has transformed
five of the six crack houses on his street into family homes. Taylor has
even made peace with those who still sell drugs from the house across
from his. What might be a problem now provides an unusual sense of safety
for the family: the remaining dealers know Taylor is there to help, not
hurt, so they act as guard dogs, watching out for the Taylor home and
the neighborhood kids who frequent it.
out. Allendale Coordinator Norman Brown helps kids who have little
a sociology professor at Louisiana State University at Shreveport, has
led focus groups in the ICU neighborhoods for the past four years. The
first group was quick to report their area was not a nice place to live.
High crime, trash, houses in need of repair and drainage problems topped
the list of complaints. Four years later the response was markedly different.
their neighborhood was a pretty nice place to live; crime is down, neighborhood
groups and individuals have cleaned up some areas and the city is more
responsive to problems. The
people feel safer.
knows the renewal teams efforts didn't make all that happen. But their
presence leavened the process. By getting the neighbors to talk, showing
them how to get better response from the police, helping even a few take
pride and realize they could affect change, the entire community was lifted.
"solution" to societal breakdown began to percolate more than 20 years
ago while he was ministering to cowboys in small Texas towns. It was then
he read society defined as a system of relationships.
a key for me," McCarter said. "Society is really marriage on a grand scale.
If we ignore these relationships, then we suffer disintegration of society."
He thought that if he could create a sense of community in the county
seats it might build a movement that would spread to the cities.
For 10 years
he tried to implement the concept through the Christian Church (Disciples
of Christ) where he pastored. It was a decade of frustration. The local
community wouldn't embrace the concept because it was connected to a certain
boyhood buddy and Shreveport businessman Milton Hamel told McCarter he
would support him for three years while he worked to implement his concepts
in Shreveport. With nothing but a vision, McCarter left the ministry and
took the challenge.
and wife Judy Keator McCarter '67 settled into a modest home not far from
his old stomping ground. Then he faced down Lawrence Street. Lined with
broken-down dwellings filled with broken-down people, this street was
one of the most depressing in the city. McCarter knew success required
finding ways to connect people. All people.
Street became his test case. Years
later, McCarter humbly admits that when he stepped from his car that first
Saturday morning in 1991, he was frankly terrified. There he was, an affluent
white man coming into a place he wasn't wanted. He had nothing to offer
but friendship, which would likely be seen as suspect. He worried he'd
be beaten or even killed.
saved him. As he stood on the curb, wondering how long he might last,
the little ones gathered. He stooped down and they climbed into his arms.
Weighed down with these smiling faces, he knocked on the first door.
Mack McCarter, and I am here to be your friend."
closed abruptly on him that day. The next week he was back. Every Saturday
at 10:30 a.m. he parked his car and knocked on doors. Eventually he noticed
people were waiting for him on their porches.
"It was an
astonishing transformation for me," he said, awe coating his words as
he related his tale. "I was set free by being a friend. And realized:
What if we can do this where we live too?"
left Shreveport as a college-bound youth, he was entrenched in the well-to-do
white world. Yet his sensibilities had been goaded while growing up. More
than once, he had been deeply disturbed by the sight of young black kids
passing his bedroom window in the dark, early hours of winter mornings.
lived in a small cluster of homes nearby that once housed the servants
for the very wealthy at the country club. Each morning they would leave
before the sun to catch a bus across town to "their" school.
remember thinking: Why am I in this warm bed and they have to walk in
the cold?" McCarter said. He later found himself sticking up for the underdogs.
He knew it was inherently wrong that the only blacks in his neighborhood
came to clean or do yard work.
returned to Shreveport 20-some years later, he inadvertently re-entered
through the black community. He claims it wasn't his doing. One of his
first tasks was to find a church to call home. One Sunday, he visited
a black congregation to hear the well-respected civil rights preacher
that led the church. Much to his chagrin, McCarter received a clear spiritual
message at the end of the meeting that he should walk to the front of
the church to join.
of the solution. Jackie Dunson, right, Queensboro community coordinator,
welcomes 21 kids into her home several days a week from her three-square-block
"community" for fun and learning.
After a short
argument with God, wherein McCarter reported he was chastised for lacking
faith, he reluctantly rose to his feet and became the first and, until
Judy joined months later, only white member of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church.
"The hand of God," McCarter calls the experience, an essential
element in his success establishing the renewal project.
Community Renewal (SBCR) is only seven years old. The grassroots non-profit
has grown from McCarter's one-man show into a city-wide effort spearheaded
by more than 20 employees who inspire and lead hundreds of volunteers.
into every neighborhood, every economic strata, every home and soon will
explode onto the national scene as a model for community revitalization.
Lauded by the Washington Post and supported by the Pew Patnership
of the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (of
Johnson & Johnson fame), the program with the $1.4 million annual budget
is based on the belief that most people care about their neighbors and
effort is so simple in concept that everyone and anyone can contribute.
The SBCR is already partnering with Centenary College and LSUS for research
and support, and a budding academic alliance with Hardin Simmons University
will potentially provide the Shreveport community with up to 1,000 social
work interns a year who will serve in the neighborhoods. Hardin Simmons
wants to replicate SBCR's program in their home city of Abilene and plans
are in the works to establish an endowed chair to lead it.
is also in talks with the U.S. Justice Department to establish the SBCR
model as the official community arm of the national Weed and Seed crime
But the biggest
news is the development of the National Center for Community Renewal.
building in downtown Shreveport has been donated, which, after a two-year,
$20 million renovation, will serve as the headquarters for the national
effort. People from across the nation will come and stay in hotel-type
accommodations while they spend up to several months learning how to replicate
the renewal model in their own communities.
says it's the capstone to his vision of building an industry of renewal.
"We are trying to affect a revolution," he said, his enthusiasm spilling
into the room. "Our methodology is to rebuild social capital by building
a relationalship base. Our formula is the belief that a simple act systemized
solves sophisticated problems."
in McCarter might say, We get people talking to each other, neighbor to
neighbor. McCarter admits that during his years as a pastor he experienced
failure, which he attributes to his own weaknesses.
returning to Shreveport, he happily explains, he has yet to be discouraged.
read that when you reach the end of yourself you are set free to serve,"
he said. "If you do that, you don't get discouraged because it's not your
baby, you just have to serve. "This cause is not my cause."
vision isn't just an inner-city program for the poor and disenfranchised.
Across town, in the sort of neighborhood Beaver Cleaver might have lived,
Don and Karen Toppett are anxious to talk about the benefits of being
a Haven House Leader on their street.
Care." Karen and Don Toppett are among hundreds of Haven House
neighborhood leaders in Shreveport and Bossier City.
folks have spent the last 20-some years raising a family in that house
and are active in their church. You would expect them to be intimately
connected to their neighborhood, but like so many, the Toppetts only knew
a handful of the people living near them.
short training session on being a Haven House Leader, Karen ventured out
and met every family on their 32-house block. She invited them all for
Donuts on the Deck in their backyard. Much to their surprise, 35 people
showed up that Saturday morning. More wanted to come but were busy.
"A few days
later, my mother fell at our house and an ambulance came to get her,"
Karen said. "We got calls from five neighbors we had just met that Saturday
asking if everything was okay, if they could help in any way. It was astonishing."
on the block who hadn't met before are now play buddies, and one elderly
woman said this was the first time in years that she had had a conversation
with any of her neighbors. She is now seen regularly in her yard, waving
and chatting with her new friends.
350 Haven House Leaders have been trained in Shreveport. Their responsibilities
are simple: Put up a We Care sign, and commit to spending one hour a week,
three weeks a month, developing friendships with the people on their block.
regular Haven House Leader meetings that bring these people together from
across the city," Mack said. "The black and white, rich and poor all come
together and discover that they have a lot in common. They all want their
city to be a better place to live."
prong of the renewal effort is even simpler -- and wider reaching: Write
down something you have done to help someone else, send it to the SBCR
and then put the We Care sticker you'll receive on your car window. And
wear your We Care collar pin around town with pride.
said he asked the police how many were in the largest "gang" in town.
He was stunned to hear: only 25. By year's end, McCarter and company plan
to have initiated 10,000 neighbors into their We Care gang.
has taught McCarter an important lesson he incorporates into every aspect
of the renewal model: When you are free from a doctrinal base you are
set free to love. This opens the doors for "intentional connectedness
through friendship and caring" where no one is excluded.
adds, though the renewal effort is community oriented and ecumenical,
the people who commit their time are quick to say their involvement is
"It's a mindset,"
he said. "The critical question is surrendering to a cause -- then you don't
create any power, you just appropriate it."
eyes flash with a contagious fire.
this incredible wonder and awe about the freshness of each day," he said.
"It is astonishing to see the people who have been brought together to
be this team. This is absolutely the greatest adventure I've been on in
"I am living
in a miracle."
information about SBCR: www.shrevecommunityrenewal.org