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Rodney Sumler Day 2019 Q&A

posted Mar 15, 2019, 7:26 AM by Rahni Sumler   [ updated Mar 15, 2019, 7:30 AM ]
An evening in budding Spring, lights bloom to life in an opened storefront space. Afrocentric portraits of buildings towered over the reception desk and greeted the people as they entered. The buildings curiously wore warm, dark masks of the people that they housed and were similarly adorned in fantastically textured regalia of Harlem. Rich, bright, and royal sculptures dotted the space, seeming to sway to the smooth beats of quintessential Black, American music.
Attracted passer-byers frequently entered the storefront-turned-community-art-space, inquiring if the party was RSVP only. It was but, as part of the community, they were invited too.

Last week, there was an article over viewing the presentation given at the event by the late honoree's daughter, Rahni Sumler. Of course, at the live event, audience participation always unearths more perspectives! The audience received index cards at the event to jot down questions while the presentation were given. Here were the questions asked.

Celebrating the AC Phoenix Newspaper: Origins of the AC Pharos

front cover of the hand drawn issue of the AC Phoenix Newspaper from January 1994. Egyptian theme inspired the AC Pharos.
The newspaper explored a number of fronts. This issue inspired the name for the foundation’s blog, “AC Pharos.”
Pharos is the name of an Egyptian lighthouse outside of the great city of Alexandria: One of the most famous cultural, scientific, and economic hubs in antiquity.  Rodney Sumler was a casual artist. This header might have been drawn while serving his 5 year sentence after indictment.

"How would a community grant management training program work?"

Background: The Advisory Board allows Social Entrepreneurs to pitch Community Development Projects

In the presentation, Ms. Sumler pitched the Rodney Sumler Research Foundation's Advisory Board to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and researchers interested in community development.  This board would advise the Governing Board in how the foundation should run. The Advisory Board was also described as an opportunity for social entrepreneur. Through Research Expeditions, social entrepreneurs could sustainably develop community development projects that they want to see. The Advisory Board an open forum of similarly minded individuals that could provide the support to help social entrepreneurs reach their goals. 

Community Grant Management Training: Community Development and a Medium for Self-Sustaining Community Service

Ms. Sumler is the Chairwoman of the Governing Board. She is also an entrepreneur with her own business. As such, she meets some of her financial obligations through listing her business as a sponsor of the Rodney Sumler Research Foundation.  Using herself as a serving example of opportunities for entrepreneurs serving on the advisory board, Ms. Sumler shared her vision of an eventual Community Writing Center. This Community Writing Center would offer grant writing and grant management trainings for members of the community. Continuing  the functioning example of how the advisory board would work, she asked permission to share her ideas with the audience, to which they eagerly agreed. 

She went on to explain her observations of how community boards work to develop the community. Community Boards are formed to develop the community. However, Community Boards often do not have the power or the resources to bring developments to fruition. Through seeking grants and using the grant funding apparatus, Community Boards can build relationships with funders and politicians to achieve power. They can also get the resources they need in a sustainable, and manageable way.

Further, having members of the community as the grant managers is a vehicle for self-sustaining community service. This sort of community service will be self-sustaining because these grant managers will be gainfully employed. Community based grant managers are better equipped to their insights as members of the community to obtain these resources. 

The Community Writing Center would teach these skills to interested people in the community. The foundation would assist with this through Research Expeditions that could investigate, for example, the best ways to make community grant writing courses more culturally applicable and impactful to the target community. Culturally approachable and applicable writing courses have greater potential to generate better outcomes. 

"With Rodney Sumler's AC Consultants, AC Phoenix Newspaper and then eventually AC Pharos, why did he use 'AC'?"

Background: Rodney Sumler's Branding

During the presentation, Ms. Sumler described the different projects her father took part in. He started "AC Consulting", where he went on to help employ members of the community to put up billboards and advertise services within the community. Seeing many successes in the community for billboards, he naturally traversed to another vector of marketing. This became the free, monthly newspaper called "AC Phoenix Newspaper" in 1983. The newspaper served the community for over 30 years, helping many community businesses and institutions grow. He also employed journalists and other writers from the community, collecting their insights. 

At his passing, Ms. Sumler explained that the newspaper inspired the starting of the AC Pharos. Starting in 2016, the mission and challenges of the blog lead to the formation of the Rodney Sumler Research Foundation that next year. The AC Pharos would eventually become the online publishing arm and blog for the Rodney Sumler Research Foundation. 

Search Engine Optimization 1.0

Ms. Sumler did not know why her father chose to brand his projects with "AC". She proposed that her mother might know, but then gave some colorful explanation to what her father's reasoning might be. Her father was an avid reader and had a library of books in his office. Ms. Sumler frequently would sneak into his office and peel through some of his books. She recalled an old business book that gave suggestions on naming your business. In the days before the apex of the internet, Ms. Sumler spoke of distant memories of businesses printed in databases called the "Yellow Pages." Members of the audience laughed in agreement.

The business book suggested naming businesses starting with the letter "A," as an indexing hack. Businesses are often listed by name and those starting with A appear at the top of the list. This could be seen as a form of SEO 1.0 hacks. 

Later on in the evening, audience members participated in a electronic scavenger hunt. They were asked to go to Digital NC and navigate to their list of newspapers. Rodney Sumler may have gotten the last laugh as "AC Phoenix Newspaper" was listed near the top of the first page on Digital NC's database of community newspapers.

"What is Environmental Justice?"

Background: Rodney Sumler Day Celebrates Economic, Environmental Justice and Organizing Action

During Ms. Sumler's presentation she outlined the objectives of the evening, one of which was to celebrate environmental justice. One of the realizations since Rodney Sumler's final project and the creation of the foundation was that economic opportunity and environmental justice are intrinsically linked. The "Rodney Sumler Research Foundation for Economic Empowerment and Environmental Protection" was found to focus on the different aspects of this relationship and ways to improve outcomes in the community. This relationship is especially apparent in poorer communities. 
Poorer communities do not have the resources, influence or power to affect policy that impacts many of the environmental conditions of their communities. The AC Phoenix Newspaper was a solution to this problem by being a bastion for civic duties such as voting. Albeit, the paper was most importantly a vehicle for civic engagement.  Audience members got to see parts of the archives, which featured many profiles of local politicians and ways of taking action: contacting decision makers to talk about community issues. This addressed gaps in power. 

Lead in Flint: Environmental Crises stem from Environmental Injustice

Ms. Sumler proposed the example of Flint, Michigan for the audience's consideration. Flint is a high profile environmental crisis that many people know about. However, outside of environmental activist communities, not many are familiar with how the crisis came to be and how to describe it. 

Ms. Sumler gave a brief overview of how environmentalists and environmental activists talk about the events leading up to the crisis. Some corporations wanted to cut corners and make more money, neglecting safety standards. The local government, inundated by contributions to from said corporation, relaxed safety standards in-kind. Further, the local government in Flint in particular wanted to further reduce costs by not maintaining the water system. This lead to the lead contamination and the continuing crisis. Flint is a poorer community and, therefore, had little access to the people who made these sorts of decisions. "Environmental Injustice" encapsulates the political and industry scenarios that lead up to this crisis.

Call to Action: Connect with us to Continue the Conversation

The main way to connect to the Rodney Sumler Research Foundation is to subscribe to the AC Pharos e-letter!  We update weekly on Fridays at 12pm. We also will continue to take questions and continue the discussion on Facebook @RodneySumlerResearchFoundation and our Company Page on LinkedIn
We plan to continue to have small Guided Talks for Economic Empowerment and Environmental Justice throughout the year. You can learn more and actively discuss the intrinsic connections between environmental justice and economic empowerment at these events. You can also discuss what members of the advisory board are up to and their projects. Connecting with us will help you reserve your seat at these events!