General CBF

Reframing Together for Hope

By Jason Coker

I heard or read somewhere that people should not judge the worst aspects of another religion based on the best aspects of their own religion. I believe this to be a good practice, but it takes intentionality and focus to refrain from such judgments. We have to reframe the practice.

How do we reframe issues? This is basically looking at the same thing in a different way. The angle we take makes a major difference in the way we understand something.

For example, I enjoy abstract art because it makes you think about beauty: what is it, how do we create it, is it in the eyes of the artist, is it in the eyes of the beholder, etc. I was in a gallery in Chelsea (an artsy neighborhood in NYC) and found to paintings that I really loved. One was called “The Red Door” and the other “Floating Heart”. I bought both of them and had the chance to dialogue with the artist about how she created them, what she was thinking in the process, and even the philosophy behind abstract art. Once I got them home, I looked up the artist online and saw one of the paintings I purchased. To my delight, it was upside-down online. I immediately  emailed her and asked about it. Did I have my painting upside-down in my house or did she have it upside-down on her website. The answer was both yes and no!

When she initially finished the painting, she felt like the viewer had to go through the “door” (it’s an abstract) to get into the painting. She didn’t like that idea. So, she turned the painting upside-down and it shifted the perspective and made the viewer have to walk through the painting to get to the door. By turning the painting upside-down, she reframed the entire work of art.

Sometimes it is good to reframe issues so that we can see them differently or even better on some occasions. For instance, Together for Hope is the name of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s rural poverty initiative, which just celebrated its 15th Anniversary this year.

Before it was called Together for Hope, it was simply referred to as the Rural Poverty Initiative, which began in 2001 as CBF’s 20 year commitment to the 20 poorest counties in the U.S. Since then, we have done transformative work with partners all across the country—some in those original 20 counties and parishes and some in other counties and parishes of persistent rural poverty. From Arizona to Appalachia and from the Dakotas to the Delta, we have 26 sites that practice asset-based community development in some of the most grinding poverty in our country.

To strategically focus on our next five years, the Together for Hope council went through a Dawnings Retreat. This process helped us concentrate on who we have been, who we want to be, and who we currently are. Through the retreat, Bo Prosser, CBF coordinator of organizational relationships, and Harry Roland, CBF director of missional congregations, helped us concentrate on our identity and position ourselves for the future.

Dawnings helped us reframe who we are as Together for Hope. For fifteen years, we have been a rural poverty initiative; now, we are a rural development coalition! Reframing our identity did not mean we had to change what we have been doing. In fact, much of the work that our practitioners and field personnel are doing will not change at all. What changes is the way we understand our work and ourselves.

We will continue to work in rural areas because these areas continue to be the most neglected communities in the country. However, the work we do is more precisely development work rather than poverty work. By reframing this simple terminology, we not only shed a positive light on what we are doing, but we remove the negative connotations the word poverty has for the people with whom we work. Development describes our work and gives dignity to our local partners. Finally, we understood ourselves as a diverse group of organizations that covenanted together for rural transformation.

We are not an initiative any longer! How long is an initiative until it grows up into something else? Well, for us, it’s about 15 years.

We are a coalition of forces at this point who all follow the assets based philosophy for community development. As a coalition, we look different in different places. Some of our practitioners are CBF field personnel and others are employees of independent 501(c)3 nonprofits. We band together because our collective story and impact is larger than our independent presences. Together for Hope is truly forming together as a rural development coalition committed to the rural United States.

Together for Hope celebrated its 15th anniversary with a party with the CBF staff and Together for Hope Council in Decatur, Ga. To learn more about Together for Hope, visit www.cbf.net/togetherforhope

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