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Ponsella Hardaway


MOSES Safe Zone

220 Bagley
Ste. 212
Detroit, Michigan 48226
MOSES Executive Director Ponsella Hardaway believes in the power of community organizing to change things for the better; not just lip service, but real, honest, open dialogue between people to find common cause. It’s sometimes difficult and uncomfortable, but she says it’s the only way to make real change. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
MOSES Executive Director Ponsella Hardaway: Someone who has a lot of courage; who is passionate, who wants to invest in creating more leaders. And this is the hard part: really having a vision, really knowing where you are going and how you need to create those visions. You also know you cannot do anything on your own. Powerful leaders cannot be without people around them. If you are powerful you have to influence people to move. A leader is only powerful inasmuch as they have built up the people around them to be powerful.
What is your dream for kids?
For them to take over our jobs! To groom them so they are talking about the things I am saying and really execute the vision.
Young people need to be connected in the community, where they are affirmed, and not be stuck in front of TV or their phones.
It takes a lot of time to develop them, and they bring creativity, energy, and their own way of thinking about things. Organizing is a journey, and it’s a good place for our kids. We want them to be a much more “heard” and stronger voice. Young people are much more sophisticated than we were when we were children. Young people need to be connected in the community, where they are affirmed, and not be stuck in front of TV or their phones. We need to create space for them to blossom, and the community has to be that village. We have to be mindful of how we create a healthy, whole environment for them to blossom, as opposed to an isolated type of narrative. I hope for them to be understanding community in a real way like we used to.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I am a firm believer that there has to be tables where we have really hard conversations about where we are and what we are doing, in order to break down some of the turf and fragmentation of nonprofit organizations -- because none of us are winning. We’re having small successes but not big wins. I’m thinking about neighborhoods. People making decisions for neighborhoods in Detroit are making no effort to engage people there and ask them what they want. There must be much more effort toward bridging those gaps so you can see respect for the residents and not total disregard by decision makers. They don’t want to engage people in making decisions, and they fear people working more closely together. If people really understand how we work together, we can make sure we do win collectively. That’s easier said than done, but I think it’s starting to happen.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I don’t. I think if there are people that are vested in talking about something, that is progress, as long as people are talking. We somehow think people are disengaged, but the more we can intentionally get people to talk more about something, or even get them taking one action towards the system like hosting a meeting, if we get those actions to react to something
People making decisions for neighborhoods in Detroit are making no effort to engage people there and ask them what they want.
rather than people being indifferent or apathetic… As far as measuring the success of projects, that’s tough, but if more people are getting engaged or people are developing some kind of hope or passion about the issue, that shows progress.
What are you most proud of? 
That we’re still here. We’re not a social service agency. We are a community organization. People don’t always understand us or know what we really do, but we are still a player and becoming more and more a player and impacting some decisions in Metro Detroit.
What perceptions, messages, historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
Patience. I think we are at a fast pace in our work, but when it comes to the patience or passion for young people that may be more difficult, and we don’t structure them into our work as carefully as we could. Some people are very gifted and talented at getting at the level young people are. It’s not that we’re not trying, it’s that they don’t think it’s genuine. To actually connect with them is very powerful. We learn so much from them. They look for realness, and see some of the hopelessness. Kids are coming from complicated situations, and to deal with that takes a lot of time and patience. How do you channel that energy so it doesn’t become destructive? 
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