Kim Harris’s cousin was among the New Haveners who overdosed on a fentanyl-laced batch of street drugs two summers ago. After he died, she made a determination: “We’ve got to turn this around.”
Harris, the second-generation owner of Newhallville’s Harris & Tucker pre-school, decided to help do that by becoming the chair of her neighborhood’s management team.
Since then, she has revolutionized how Newhallville, and neighborhoods throughout the city, approach turning the city around. New Haven hasn’t seen an organizing dynamo like this swing into action for quite some time, especially one with such a grassroots-nurtured vision that sees all neighborhoods’ fates linked together.
In short order she has brought together leaders of all 12 neighborhood management teams, New Haven’s engines of grassroots democracy. They’ve formed a coalition called “One CIty.” They’re planning up to 60 family-friendly events each in their neighborhoods over 60 days this summer, aimed at inviting people to cross New Haven’s sometimes-Balkanized borders.
They’re not just planning concerts and community fairs and special events like weekly ice cream-and-reading sessions for kids and families (“Read a book and make a sundae on a Monday”) — although plenty of those are in the works.
They’re also reorienting the way grassroots community leaders think about making New Haven a safer, stronger, more caring place, with an eye toward long-term change. (Click here and here for recent Independent stories on the organizing effort.)
Harris and Kurtis Kearney, chair of the Quinnipiac East Community Management Team, talked about that broader vision during an appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
Diane Ecton called into the program to report that this is the first time in her 20 years chairing Fair Haven’s management team that she has seen her counterparts from across the city working together like this. Team chairs used to hold some citywide meetings, then stopped. “Kim reconnected all of us,” Ecton said. Now she’s looking to organize sports events for boys and girls as part of Fair Haven’s 60-days contribution, with the idea of having kids from different neighborhoods playing on the same team.
A member of Newhallville’s Mt. Zion 7th Day Adventist Church called to report that it will hold a walking challenge as well as a vegan food event as part of the summer schedule. Its members will also serve as street-assigned campaigners to get the word out through the neighborhood about upcoming events.
In the WNHH interview, Harris detailed ways the One City effort will connect neighbors across the city and strengthen local business in the process:
• Each neighborhood team has agreed to line up at least five local businesses and service providers to offer discounts to neighbors who get a “club card” through the One City group. That will introduce people to locally owned businesses throughout town, and get those businesses more customers.
• Through the website and the city’s website, organizers will help people figure out what’s happening in different neighborhoods during the 60-day event, focusing on getting them out and about not just on familiar streets but on new terrain.
• The group is creating a “passport” booklet identifying stops throughout town where parents and kids can stop throughout the summer to learn more about New Haven. At each stop they’ll get their passport “stamped” as part of a quest to see as much of the city as possible. Stops include checking out trains at Union Station or attending weekly fire safety events to be held in each of the city’s firehouses.
• With the help of a federal grant Newhallville received to make the neighborhood safer, the management team will help organize training sessions for people throughout town to learn how to participate effectively, and perhaps one day lead, their management teams.
• The management team chairs have agreed that they will rotate who helms the One City effort each year.
The summer effort will kick off on June 28 with a family fair from 4 to 8 p.m. at the New Haven Field House. Each management team will host a table highlighting its planned events. Other city leaders and organizations will participate as well.
The One City group has a website up to begin collecting and publicizing information about the upcoming 60-days summer schedule and events beyond. Click on it to connect with the effort.
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for the full interview with Kim Harris and Kurtis Kearney on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.