In this summer of protests, marches, and rallies calling for racial justice, the members of HV Neighborhood Transformation have been at the forefront. However, HVNT, a group “established to provide services to high-hope, under-served communities through neighborhood building, motivational mentorship, community support, and the advancement of social consciousness” has been in the works for years because of a partnership forged behind bars.
William Brown, one of the co-founders, spent 22 and a half years in prison after a childhood of foster homes and living on the street. He was on the streets by age 10, had two sons by age 17, and was in prison by 19. He’s been home for 97 days. It was during his time in prison that the concept for HV Neighborhood Transformation was born. I spoke with Brown about it’s inception, and how they are hoping to create change in C-U.
Smile Politely: How did the idea for HV Neighborhood Transformation come about?
William Brown: The HV stands for “hood vote, hood voice, hood vision” and it was birthed in prison when I was locked up with Maurice Hayes. Maurice was released years before me, and he hit the ground working, doing community work, advocating in the schools, and trying to interrupt the violence that was going on. With my release, it allowed us to implement more of our plan. This actually has been in the works maybe 15 years.
SP: What is your ultimate purpose? What are you hoping to accomplish in the community?
Brown: First and foremost we want to interrupt violence; interrupt it on the front end, or try to keep it from becoming a retaliatory situation. So we go into the neighborhood where the violence is actually going on, and help the people in the neighborhood, and maybe the individuals that have been involved in the violence. Secondly, we want to try to be what we call “repairers of the breach,” which means bridge the gap between the community and the resources that are available to them.
While we are in the prison setting, we get to see most of the kids that come in over and over, and we get to see the community from the inside looking out, and see the things that the community is missing. Even in prison I created programs and ran programs, and I talked to them about what they need. Understanding that we come from those types of communities; communities that they call “high risk.” We don’t use language like “high risk” we call them “high hope” communities. They’re not aware of resources that are out there. In prison I had more reading material and access to resources and awareness of resources then out in the community. There’s a lot of organizations that are doing positive things, but the community may not be aware of it. HV Neighborhood Transformation wants to try to bridge that gap.
SP: What types of events and programming are you organizing?
Brown: We are in the midst of what we call 40 Days of Peace and 40 Days of Community Building. We had a kick off at Douglass Park...we had a memorial walk for the young lives that were lost, a balloon release, a candlelight vigil. We’re out pretty much every day except for Sunday, which is our rest day. Today we have what is called Money Talk Mondays via Zoom, which is basically financial literacy from learning how to balance a checkbook to learning how to invest. On Tuesday we have Trauma Tuesdays with Dr. Sandra Siegel where we present that some of the violence going on in the community is really trauma, and dealing with the mental health aspect of it. On Wednesdays we have what we call Woke Wednesdays with Pastor Thomas at Bethel AME Church. It’s giving us our history, and what the current climate is not only in our community but the world at large, and understanding systemic racism, structural things...it’s an education. We also have Wednesday Wellness Day where we discuss physical health like eating proper, things like that. Thursdays we have Trauma for the Youth where talk about how kids are traumatized in an environment where violence exists, whether it’s domestic violence, gun violence, violence in the community by the police, and we deal with the youth on that. On Fridays it's fun Fridays where we try to bring the kids out. We have the bowling alley at Western Bowl from 11 to 2, and we encourage families to meet up to the capacity that COVID allows us to have and enjoy the community. We also have what we call radical prayer where we go into different neighborhoods and pray in those neighborhoods. Saturday is the neighborhood block party where we go into “high hope” neighborhoods. We will be in Garden Hills this Saturday.
When we go into these “high hope” communities we invite other organizations to come down so they can have their resources. We have Susan Zinke from Land of Lincoln Legal Aid, we work with First Followers, Aaron and Carol Ammons are there for voter registration and census. It’s all about making the community feel like it matters.
SP: Your organization has been involved in a lot of the gatherings and marches over the past couple of months. What are your thoughts on the racial justice movement right now? Do you think the momentum will be sustained?
Brown: I actually have a quote, or a creed that I live by. If I could send a message to everybody I want everybody not to live for the moment, but live for the movement. We don’t expect to stop at all. The totality of the community is a complicated issue, right? So we can’t just point to or look at one issue. This climate is the perfect time to highlight all the issues we want to address. Our goal is to continue making each other aware. No matter what color you are just making each other aware of the ills that are going on. I think it’s sustainable. We know that change only comes by the people...whether it’s treating each other better or understanding the concept of love. We have ideas for programs that we continually want to introduce and bring to the community. If we continue to be the voice of helping that movement, then we want to be that.
HVNT is hoping to be a hub for the neighborhoods they serve; acting as a connection point between local organizations and the people. If you are a part of an organization that can provide information, services, or aid to these “high hope” communities, or if you are an individual wanting to get involved, you can contact them here. They are self-funded, so if you’d like to donate you can do that through Cash App at $HVNT20. You can find more information about all of their events on their website or by following them on Facebook.