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MOSES Safe Zone

MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) began in 1995 with their Safe Zone program, training neighborhood residents to work with police and each other to identify crime hot spots. Over time, it has become an organization that brings together city and suburban groups in our divided region to make change. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
MOSES Executive Director Ponsella Hardaway: I think it is remarkable because it provides a space for people in the community who feel they have no power or are apathetic to things that are impacting them – it’s taking them through a journey that transforms them. When they complete our training they are leaders and can make a difference in their community. We’re finding that community engagement and are weaving the social fabric of the community through Safe Zone. We try to set people up to win, and to create a community so they do not work in isolation -- we don’t like ‘lone rangers.’ I don’t know that we’re innovative -- I think most people inherently know what is the right thing to do, they just don’t want to spend time to do it.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Safe Zone is a very proscribed process. When it’s done, it can work and can build leaders. We have worked through congregations, but they are going through their own stuff, such as pastoral changes. We had not been more strategic about training and developing the residents in the neighborhoods and now we have the opportunity to build momentum and help congregations to build hope.
We really understand the power of listening to people in different ways and talking to them to get them understanding what it means to build power.

We have residents (outside MOSES’s church-based organizing strategy) who want to connect, and with them we can really do some organization. We started creating that and figuring out how to train people and residents the same way we train our congregational people -- to really understand their power and how they can be more effective, how they can build power. We have had to make it a conscious thing to train and develop. We think we have a successful formula and we think we’re spreading it. We’ve learned through the resizing of the city that there is disregard for peoples’ voices in the community. Safe Zone is about engagement, and as we figure out how we connect neighborhoods and organizations, I think council districts will be used as a way to organize with connectivity and demonstrate more power with resident’s voices.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
It was more of an acceptance, which is also a challenge. Sometimes I wonder if I am the person to carry out the vision. Am I the one, can I push enough people to buy in and gather? I don’t know whether I have the capacity to do it, but I have to still believe it and push it within the limitations of my own ability. It also made me that much more determined that somebody has to push; someone has to keep sounding the alarm. Through our neighborhood work, I had a meeting a few weeks ago with block club presidents and neighborhood residents. The residents were a lot more angry, very vocal and lively. We really understand the power of listening to people in different ways and talking to them to get them understanding what it means to build power. It takes patience and you can’t move things too quickly. We have to get them to understand a power analysis, to understand the concept of organizing, and being patient in order to include residents in a more meaningful way.
Because of issues we’re working on, we don’t align with any political party, but because of the issues we work on we’re targeted by certain people because of the word ‘progressive.’ That has been our biggest challenge in this election year -- all those things are raised. People don’t like what we are pushing so they tag you as some person against pro-life or all these other things. It’s crazy and painful; sad and hurtful. How do we preserve who we are without these small groups of people painting a picture of individuals being a target in the political climate because people don’t like community organizing? If we stayed in our shell in the neighborhood we would not have that problem.
What really differentiates this program?
I think our training. Training leaders is so important to us. Anyone can go and do the work of changing their neighborhoods,
...we also train leaders to think about the systemic impact of the issues we are working on locally. We take local issues and push for them to be much larger...
but what makes our training different is the institutional support anchored in some of these communities, and training the leaders about their own power and what it means to build community. The other piece is that we also train leaders to think about the systemic impact of the issues we are working on locally. We take local issues and push for them to be much larger, such as ‘what policy is pushing those abandoned houses in your neighborhood?’ We want people to grow as leaders and think about ‘what does it mean to shift the balance of power?’ We wrestle with that.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Really investing in the one-on-one relationships and understanding the self-interest of the people doing this work. We create a space where they can determine who they are, why they are here, and how to look at the best solutions for them based on their self-interest. Having space to wrestle this out helps people get clarity, invest, and helps us to identify how we can develop people as leaders. We’re creating a space for the transformation of leadership if people understand who they are in the process. Sometimes we win, sometimes we won’t, but if we can sustain people as they grow as leaders and understand what it means, I think we’ve won.
How do race or diversity affect the work of your program?
That is why we went from local neighborhood work into region-wide work. We have done a couple of projects that have used the current political climate, when people use the race card to marginalize people. We partnered a pastor in a wealthy suburb with a Detroit pastor. We pair different kinds of congregations for one-on-one conversations to help us understand who we are as a people. We have different programs talking out the diversity and history of Detroit. The racial divide is based on inequities, and we bring in speakers to educate people about why they have to look at policies and structural racism.
In order for us to win at any polices we need to work as a region at having that race conversation in a way that creates safe space for people. We talked about racial steering, cross burnings, and the clergy got into a very robust dialogue around race. We have had a relationship among pastors for a long time, which helps with these things. We paid a lot of attention to relationship building even before that, and then we can enter into robust relationships – it’s not volatile. 
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