Breaking the Cycle of Poverty- A New Day and a Better Way!

Background- The Problem!

There have been many in depth studies and reports that detail the success, and lack thereof, of federal programs that address the cycle of poverty here in the U.S. These summaries have discussed previous initiatives to increase income, reduce illiteracy, improve health etc. A great deal of this research was undertaken over the last fifteen years to determine the effectiveness of government programs in providing human services to those in poverty. The overall analyses of these reports reach similar conclusions that have not changed over time. Additional reviews of similar programs in impoverished countries, such as India, provide comparable insights. What are these important takeaways that can enable us to gain a greater understanding about how to combat and win the war against poverty?

  • “Federal programs do not lift the poor out of poverty. Across the U.S. government most programs intended to eradicate poverty have only served to perpetuate it. Both parties have gutted the welfare system to conduct a cruel experiment on impoverished families.” (1) Moreover, “There is very little evidence that foreign assistance has made much difference in overcoming the poverty trap in any country.” (2)
  • “There is no complete understanding of the real issues that those in poverty face.” (3) Poverty is the result of a broken integrated system of basic service needs such as health and wellness, job creation, education, housing, safe community, etc. If one of these links in the chain of basic services is broken, the whole delivery of basic services may weaken and eventually unravel with the cycle of poverty gaining a stronger foothold.
  • “Handouts will not solve poverty.” More dollars are not the imperative for program success, nor are ambitious governmental projects or piecemeal programs from (4)
  • Back in 2010 it was acknowledged that the American Dream was dead. At that time there was the recognized concern about the loss of the middle class in our inner cities. Since then, tax laws and policies have allowed individuals and corporations to take advantage of the system in place with the result that there today are no effective policies in place to increase social mobility for the (1)
  • We have riveted our focus on the related issues to social justice and poverty such as crime, violence, public safety etc., and not zeroed in on the needed breakthrough solutions. The media today is fixated on the reporting of social justice problems. There needs to be a greater shift in journalism coverage to cross sector collaborative efforts in our communities that are working and do provide social impact progress. Sharing community success stories is a natural strategy,
  • Frequently, there is an emphasis on more funding for existing known programs that may have limited or marginal effect and impact. Many times funds to address poverty have been It seems the strategy for some governmental programming has been to “throw money” at the problem with the hope that it will work. There are also many barriers to the use of government funds with limiting restrictions as well as weakness in administrative systems to help guide and support the use of the funds. A greater focus should be placed on whether these allocated resources actually reach vulnerable and marginalized residents. (2)
  • There have been limited primary roles for NGOs in poverty reduction programs. Many times, NGOs have not been engaged in major developmental programs, especially on the international There has been checkered and hampered NGO input at a local level with no authentic feedback on key issues. (2)
  • “There is no systemic attempt to identify people who are in poverty, determine their needs and address them, and enable them to move above the poverty line.” Methodologies to ensure program effectiveness, as well as tracking systems to confirm dollars reach intended recipients, are not formally (3)
  • Issues facing many Americans that have plagued our country for decades have tended to be treated separately. There is no connection or root cause analysis between a safe environment and a child’s ability to learn or high school dropout rates and (4)
  • Performance for federal poverty reduction programs have fallen short due to inadequate measurement tools to track success and effectiveness. Many federal programs need an overhaul in performance metrics used to track desired outcomes. Also, improved up to date community data systems need to be established. Many times, only short term performance metrics are used for monitoring that reveal minimal program effectiveness and long term impact

What is the Solution?

From these reports and overviews of past and ongoing federal government programs, there were also a number of suggested new approaches for future consideration. These recommendations included:

  • “America’s greatest untapped resource isn’t hidden in the ground but is sitting in plain sight: the human capital trapped in poor neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. The people living where crime and incarceration are rampant represent trillions of dollars in potential economic Investing in their wellbeing can be a social and economic game changer, but only if done in a way that produces results.” (4)

·       “A better approach is to invest in a small geographically defined neighborhood.” (4)

  • “Work together on every major issue at the same time such as mixed income housing, cradle to cradle college education programs, job readiness, and health and wellness.” (4)
  • “Poverty will be solved with vibrant activity driven mostly by the private ” (4)
  • “A market based approach to poverty reduction will result in income and wealth generation that will lay the groundwork for the next ” (4)
  • “Key is to look at bloated budgets and figure out what is not working, cut it out or close it down, and invest in alternatives that enhance public safety at a savings.” (1)/
  • There is the need for grassroots organizations to find alternative ways to combat the cycle of poverty within inner city neighborhoods. (1)
  • “Instead of attempting to make poverty more comfortable, we should focus on creating wider We should end those government policies, such as high taxes and regulatory excess, that inhibit growth and job creation.” (5)

The numerous reports and analyses are consistent in their description of the federal government poverty reduction program shortfalls, as well as their ideas for needed transformational change and new paradigms. The time is now to seriously look at how to accomplish transformational change in our ways to combat and win the war against generational poverty. We must shift the discussion away from a glass half empty perspective of brokenness and inequities that poverty can bring to one of a glass half full approach by implementing successful urban revitalization and community redevelopment programs to improve the quality of life, sense of place, and generate wealth creation for local residents. By achieving success with these programs, the battle against poverty can also be won.

Does Kent County and Grand Rapids Have the Same Poverty Related Problems?

If we look at the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County, the current status and demographics of the population tell a foreboding story. Kent County in 2019 had a population of 656,955 with 245,437 households. The median income was $66,532 with the state median income being $59,584. There were 10% of the households or 25,695 in poverty with the state average being 13%. On the surface those statistics might seem to be okay with Grand Rapids being below the state averages for poverty. There is, however, a deeper understanding needed with additional investigation.

The United Way and its partners conducted a most important study entitled the ALICE Report for Michigan. (6) ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed or those households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level but less than the standard cost of living for the county they live in and is inclusive of the cost of household essential services such as housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, technology, and other basic amenities. For a single adult living in Kent

County, the household survival budget is estimated at $24,720 which equates to an hourly wage of $12.36 needed to cover these costs. For a family of 4 that includes 2 adults, 1 preschooler, and 1 infant, the household survival budget is estimated at $68,640 which necessitates an hourly wage of $34.32 to support these costs.

The ALICE population represents an area concern for those Americans trying to establish their foothold in the middle class of America. In Kent County the ALICE households now represents 25% of total households, which also is the state average. So the staggering statistic and takeaway for Kent County is that an estimated 35% of households are either ALICE households or those households living in poverty. And in the City of Grand Rapids the situation is even more dire with an estimated 48% of households being either ALICE households or those households living in poverty. That means nearly one half of all the citizens residing in the City of Grand Rapids need our support and assistance to help cover these living costs! Introspection into other county areas in West Michigan, such as Ottawa County, as well as other statewide counties yield similar results.

Have economic development efforts in the City of Grand Rapids over the recent years improved this situation? A recent report revealed some eye opening information. The City of Grand Rapids is divided into three wards. The Third Ward covers an ~1/3 of the City’s land and population and is also home to many African Americans. From 2012-2017 a study showed that the three wards received ~$1.29B in private investments that were supported by the City’s economic development programs. The Third Ward received only ~ 1.5% or $19.4MM of these investments. That means the First and Second Wards received ~ 98.5% of this funding and private investments. More specifically, the Third Ward obtained

10.5% of development projects that accounted for 1.3% of new housing units and 7.6% of new jobs that benefitted from the City of Grand Rapids support during this timeframe. (7) This information paints a picture of significant disparity. Nearly ½ of all residents living within the City of Grand Rapids need resources to cover their basic household service costs and sustain their lifestyle. And the Third Ward, who represents a large portion of these residents, has received inadequate sources of capital to stabilize and grow their community in the recent past. So the answer is yes! Kent County and the City of Grand Rapids do have the same steep hill to climb to improve conditions for those households already in poverty, as well assist those households and residents whose economic status may be declining towards poverty.

Is There a Different Model for Urban Development That Can Work?

Previous reports and analyses of federal poverty reduction programs over time have reached similar comparable conclusions. Current programs do not have the overall desired successful impact for poverty reduction, yet they continue to be supported with a “top down” or “outside in” centralized funding and decision making model with the federal government at the core. The inner cities of many of our metropolitan areas face continued deterioration without resolve and the statistics continue to bear out these consequences. Social service needs appear monumental today and with a similar outlook for the future. Also, federal budgets are not balanced, and long term federal debt for social service programs is being passed on to the next generation. Philanthropy has made changes through improved social impact strategies, but they alone cannot improve upon these overwhelming issues. Yes, the federal government is a needed partner, but other community stakeholders are needed at the table. The public, private, and service sectors must come together to reinvest in their own communities!

What is required is an entirely different model and mindset that builds on the cultural and community capital and competencies within neighborhoods and their residents, empowers residents to help address and solve their own defined issues, equips residents with needed impactful resources for meaningful market based programs, and establishes the required leadership and metrics to track progress and ensure program success. This model can be defined as a “bottoms up” or “inside out” strategy for urban revitalization and community redevelopment.

Fred Keller, Chairman of the Board, Cascade Engineering has been a role model and advocate for “triple bottom line” sustainability in West Michigan that focuses on “people, planet, and profits” or environmental, financial, and social impact best practices and performance. He has been a catalyst for creating sustainability leadership in the community and acknowledging that “we need to take care of the problems in our own back yard.” That insight means new trustful working relationships among the public, private, and service sectors must be established in conjunction with local resident leadership to create new innovative market driven programs and strategies to improve resident quality of life, wealth creation, and overall community revitalization.


Is There an Effective Community Revitalization Model that is Scalable?

Over 15 years ago, the roots for Seeds of Promise were planted and germinated in the Third Ward of Grand Rapids, near the corner of Madison Avenue and Hall Street. Ron Jimmerson, the Executive Director, helped start the organization and has continued in his current capacity. The overall area where the Seeds of Promise programs and initiatives reach includes the borders of Wealthy Street, Eastern Avenue, Burton Street, and Buchanan Avenue which is home to over 15,000 residents. Seeds of Promise is a place based 501C3 organization ( with the following basic premises:

Foundational principles:

  • Resident needs and wants, including access to services, are determined through “deep listening”and neighborhood surveys
  • Residents direct their own transformation It is their neighborhood!
  • Those community stakeholders who serve the residents, also support, empower, and partner with the residents
  • Community organizations that provide resources integrate service delivery through the resident led impact teams
  • The overall strategy design is to create self-sustainability at all organizational levels though positive environmental, social, and economic impact

Seeds of Promise has consistently developed and refined its mission, vision, and goals over the years to help maintain focus, direction, and overall purpose for the organization.


At Seeds of Promise, our mission is to transform the neighborhood by promoting collaboration and community stakeholder partnerships; applying sustainable development best practices; building local resident leadership and trust; deep listening to community voices; and meeting the needs and wants expressed by the neighborhood.


The vision that we have for our target neighborhood is a sustainable community that fully meets the needs of its current and future stakeholders measured by a high quality of life, abundant servant leadership, and equal education opportunity. Its compassionate leaders will continuously seek to create a balance in the community’s economic vitality, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship.


  • Youth are succeeding in learning and
  • Families are adapting and behaving with purpose
  • Adults are employed in a livable wage job
  • Residents are committed to a wellness-based lifestyle
  • Neighborhood is safe to live, learn, work and play
  • Residents have a pathway to educational attainment opportunities and skills based training
  • Residents and families have access to affordable housing

What have been some of the successful community revitalization strategies that Seeds of Promise has practiced?

  • Act in a neighborhood association capacity for residents that live within the Madison Square and Southeast community areas
  • Maintain and build a group of Host Neighbor residents that are willing to support and lead the Seeds of Promise organization
  • Attract new community capital and financial resources through impact and local investment strategies, including funding support for specific impact programs of interest to donors and community
  • Embrace social entrepreneurship that enables residents to launch successful businesses and projects that help address the significant amount of local retail business leakage estimated at over $100MM for the local community
  • Enable the private sector to build long term working relationships and partnerships with local residents for increased access and delivery of basic household services and improved wealth creation
  • Afford direction for local foundations and philanthropy to make Program Related Investments (PRIs), create specific social impact programs of community interest, and provide operational support to establish positive community revitalization impact within the Seeds of Promise
  • Help the non-profit and governmental sectors focus resources on stimulating sustainable innovation and growth while creating positive social impact and change within the local neighborhood and community
  • Continue to furnish and provide the needed resources for Host Neighbor training, leadership, and skill development
  • Develop housing opportunities that include multi-family and mixed use mixed income projects, as well as small homes for rent and ownership
  • Form a resident led Giving Circle or investment club to generate a local resident source of investment capital
  • Incentivize local residents to apply for community positions based on their skillsets and capabilities, as well as to serve on major community revitalization projects teams


How has this Community Revitalization Work Been Accomplished? 

Over the years, Seeds of Promise has worked hand in hand with residents to learn and understand what the most important needs in the local community are to address and develop strategies to improve their quality of life. The overall goal has been to empower the urban residents to then construct their own approaches for desired change and foster a self-sustaining and self-transforming neighborhood over time.

To understand the real community needs and wants, a “deep listening” process has been set in place. Stephen Covey, a well-known management consultant and author of numerous leadership books describes empathic listening as paying attention not so much with your ears but with your eyes and heart. The aspiration of listening is to sense the other person, to truly understand him or her. You are not expected to try and portray your own experience to another individual, but only seek to see the reality that exists in the head and heart of the other person. The listening process with urban residents takes time and is built on mutual trust and understanding. Covey’s 5th habit is “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” Seeds of Promise has developed a competency using the Deep Listening process through neighborhood surveys and face to face meetings with other community stakeholders now partnering with Seeds of Promise to obtain resident input and direction on key community issues.

Seeds of Promise has also used a Base of the Pyramid (BoP) protocol process developed by Stuart Hart at Cornell University. Corporations, MNC’s, NGO’s, colleges and universities can observe the protocol in use at the Base of the Pyramid Learning Laboratory with ongoing project activities in developing and third world countries. In these countries new business models are being developed using the BoP protocol to deliver products and services to meet basic needs while creating jobs using sustainable development best practices. The BOP protocol addresses those most needy global citizens who live on $3-5 per day and have the lowest per capita purchasing power. Although the BOP was designed to develop products and services to lift local communities out of poverty in emerging and developing counties, the BOP process is directly applicable and adaptable to improving the quality of life in our inner cities of America as well. (8)

The BoP protocol encompasses three phases to develop products and services that are specifically designed to meet the needs of the most marginalized in our communities. Seeds of Promise has followed these steps over the recent years:

  • Phase 1 is an opening up and deep listening phase with local community residents. Key activities include developing community stakeholders and identifying community leaders; generating community profiles; deep listening to residents and neighbors to establish community needs and wants; co-generating ideas and opportunities; and identifying resource
  • Phase 2 involves building the community framework and local capacity for development. Key activities include mapping community assets and resident capabilities; selecting program partners to meet local identified needs and opportunities; developing a community visioning process and strategic plan; re-assessing opportunities; and building local consensus and
  • Phase 3 is designed to create community value. Key activities include establishing an overall resource plan; forming implementation teams; staging assessment and demonstration projects; ensuring community engagement; tracking progress and success; identifying gaps; and creating contingency

There are several important roles that have been developed by Seeds of Promise to help accomplish this work. First is the role of a Host Neighbor. Host Neighbors are defined resident leadership roles in the community where citizens function as “neighborhood connectors”, receive leadership training, lead resident driven impact teams, and reside on the Host Neighbor Leadership Council. The role of the Host Neighbor was defined by local residents to help connect other residents to needed basic services and programs in the neighborhood in a welcoming fashion. Endorsing Partners are community stakeholder organizations that embrace and sign a non-binding agreement to help support and provide assistance to the local community through the resident driven impact teams. To date, over 35 Endorsing Partners have been engaged with Seeds of Promise through active membership on one of the Seeds of Promise Impact Teams.

As a result of the deep listening process, Host Neighbors and Endorsing Partners have been able to create eight Impact Teams over the years where the project work has been accomplished together with community revitalization progress and long lasting sustainability impact. Impact Teams are facilitated and directed by Host Neighbors and meet regularly to develop their own plans and strategies. These Impact teams include:

  • Host Neighbor Leadership Council– Training Host Neighbors in planning and directing community revitalization strategies for improvement and helping make decisions for overall Seeds of Promise
  • Health and Wellness– Developing a place-based community health, wellness, and nutrition initiative that provides care, resources to community residents, and minimizes the use of local hospital and emergency care
  • Safe Community– Increasing activities in the neighborhood that contribute to improved public safety and awareness through community policing efforts
  • Ministerial– Providing faith and hope to the community and its residents through collaborative working relationships among local churches that help remove the barriers of discrimination
  • Housing– Maximizing resident equity in owner occupied homes as well as creating new opportunities for affordable and mixed income housing
  • Job Creation- Improving the skillsets of local residents through training and development programs and creating new employment opportunities
  • Entrepreneurship- Providing assistance and support for the development of sustainable, profitable, and community-focused businesses that increase local business ownership
  • Education- Strengthening and encouraging family support systems, while improving student and family learning capabilities and education attainment levels

Over the years, the Seeds of Promise Impact Teams have all operated with the overarching objective of improving the community’s quality of life and wellness for its residents and citizens. The Impact Teams were not established as silos to do their work, but as collective holistic working groups that benefit the overall community. Endorsing partners join individual Impact Teams based on their specific area of interest and service work.

The recent COVID pandemic, however, took a significant toll on the neighborhood community over the past 12-18 months. Many residents maintained refuge in their homes and were not in normal social contact with one another on regular basis. Seeds of Promise tried to continue connectedness and relatedness within the local community through virtual meetings, phone calls, and other conversations. One example of an urgent shift in community priorities was the need for elderly and shut-in residents to receive healthy nutritious food. This initiative was sponsored and supported by the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation during the months when the COVID pandemic was most prominent.

Also, some program funding, support, and needed resources were placed on the back burner until a more stable community ecosystem could be restored. As a result, several of the Impact Teams are now just regaining momentum and reestablishing their program strategies. Four major Impact Teams, however, continued on through these present challenges and have persevered with consistent program effectiveness. These Impact Teams include Housing, Safe Community, Health and Wellness, and Education.


What have been some of the success stories?

  • The W.K Kellogg Foundation supported the startup of Seeds of Promise through a well thought out grant to build the initial resident driven organizational capacity, training, and community project engagement for the Host Neighbor governance
  • Local organizations have provided much needed support, assistance, and funding over the years as these organizations have better understood the Seeds of Promise community revitalization model and its desired outcomes. These organizations have included the City of Grand Rapids, the Wege Foundation, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, as well as several community enterprises and
  • The Madison Square Business Association has been restarted with the engagement and membership of a growing number of minority-owned local businesses.
  • Seeds of Promise Host Neighbors have invested thousands of hours on an annual basis to help revitalize and redevelop the local community in many project and program
  • In partnership with others, the Seeds of Promise “P5” job placement program was built off of the Cascade Engineering successful Welfare to Career program (9) to allow local residents looking for a job to be interviewed, assessed, trained, and employed within a short time frame. Over 40 residents have been employed locally. The current program is undergoing further refinements to ensure greater employer and employee success in the
  • Over 35 Endorsing Partners have engaged with Seeds of Promise on various Impact Teams and provided support, guidance, assistance, and support resulting in improved decision making and better outcomes for focused community revitalization
  • In partnership with others, the Health and Wellness Impact team has provided annual healthcare fairs in the community with free health screenings for hundreds of local residents. Community awareness in health, wellness, and nutrition has increased with the local Browning Claytor Health Center experiencing a 35% growth in patients.
  • 15%-25% of local residents surveyed through Voice Kent County have indicated they have health and wellness issues relating to stress, high blood pressure, obesity, mental health, diabetes, substance abuse, nutrition, and tobacco use. Seeds of Promise has helped identify resident problems and referred them to local physicians and the Browning Claytor Health Center thereby reducing overall costly hospital and emergency room
  • The City of Grand Rapids has maintained its ongoing support and funding for the successful public safety community awareness training on why crime occurs, how crime can be prevented, and how residents can provide support in the Seeds of Promise neighborhood. In 2020, despite COVID, over 150 local households and businesses received public safety training for different types of spaces with over 50% feeling safer in their homes and community after obtaining the Six significant public issues were identified with 4 major areas of concerns being resolved for at least 6 months.
  • 39 residents in the local neighborhood, over the last five years and during COVID, received Neighborhood Improvement Program funding through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis for exterior home improvements that have provided over $500,000 of economic impact to the local community while improving local equity and ownership. There were many hundreds more local residents that desired funding but were unable to receive it because of a difficult federal approval process.
  • Several new neighborhood small homes were developed and constructed as the result of the housing and health neighborhood survey conducted by the Kent County Health Department and Seeds of
  • The concept of a Giving Circle has gained acceptance by the Host Neighbors and will be implemented shortly. The Giving Circle program will start to accumulate financial resources among local residents and the community that can be directed, sustained, and used for specific neighborhood programs directed by Host
  • The United Nations University Regional Center for Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development has recognized Seeds of Promise for its community revitalization efforts and publicized the successful outcomes of the health and wellness community programs and

Seeds of Promise progress has been made consistent progress over time without a base of major local anchor institutions. The promising results have been achieved through the support of local businesses and enterprises within the Third Ward of Grand Rapids along with community stakeholder organizations. However, there is a great deal more work to do with needed additional resources to help make these successful neighborhood programs have even greater performance and impact. These increased reinvestment resources will need to come from those public and private sector organizations that desire to see all areas within the City of Grand Rapids thrive and grow in the future through social impact reinvestments.

Lessons Learned for Economic Development!

 Michigan and its cities, municipalities, and townships continue to face daunting challenges to retain and attract talent for businesses, organizations, and enterprises across the private and public sectors. The statewide economic development model, like the community revitalization model within our inner cities, is also undergoing fundamental change. For example in April of this year, Oracle announced that they would establish 8500 new jobs at an average salary of $110,000 in central Nashville TN and invest

$1.2B in its campus as well as $175MM in public transportation with no new debt for the city being issued or additional tax burdens on local residents. The overriding attraction for Oracle was that “talent trumps capital and business incentives.” What can Michigan learn from this success for its future economic development programs:

  • The core of a competitive state and city economic development platform is human capital, not necessarily the economic capital and business incentives that are offered
  • Placemaking strategies are key to retaining and attracting people with the goal to create spaces where people want to live, learn, and work
  • The quality of basic services and investments in public infrastructure are the drivers for where people want to live and work
  • Communities must put out the welcome mat to engage new organizations, enterprises, and residents to attract reinvestment
  • High density high amenity central city neighborhoods and communities will be the key for future success of our cities

“What Michigan needs first, is a human capital-centered economic strategy, not one centered on business creation, retention, and attraction. The 21st century development foundation is high-quality education systems that prepare the next generation for the economy they are going to work in and communities where mobile talent wants to live and work.” (10)

These lessons learned for successful statewide economic development programs provide a similar and analogous pathway for successful community revitalization, as evidenced by the Seeds of Promise model programs and initiatives within the city of Grand Rapids.


Is the Seeds of Promise Community Revitalization Model Scalable to Other Communities?

The Seeds of Promise community revitalization model is conceptually scalable to other communities, both on a regional and national basis. The Seeds of Promise model addresses the shortcomings identified in the overview reports of the federal government war against poverty programs. Seeds of Promise has focused its efforts on community revitalization and community wealth building as an effective strategy to combat and reduce overall poverty. Through the years, this model has demonstrated resiliency when the economic conditions were most challenging and prospered during favorable marketplace conditions.

What are the key reasons on why the Seeds of Promise community revitalization model is replicable?

  • Focuses on sense of place and inclusive placemaking strategies
  • Builds up local resident human capital through development of skills, experiences, strengths, and capabilities
  • Leverages community tangible and intangible assets that include local heritage, culture, and values
  • Determines specific community needs and wants through a “deep listening” process
  • Supports creative holistic system strategies to address key community issues at once, rather than executing piecemeal initiatives that have had minimal historical positive impact on the community in the past
  • Ensures that community stakeholder organizations develop and grow close working relationships within the neighborhood community
  • Develops authentic resident driven leadership for the neighborhood community that provides dignity and respect
  • Renders hope and faith that local residents can become part of the solutions for community change and revitalization through their own contributions
  • Tracks community progress through annual collective impact reports
  • Embraces sustainable development best practices that improve environmental, social, and economic performance and impact
  • Helps achieve economic prosperity, increase wealth creation, and improve the quality of life
  • Establishes local equity as a primary goal for achieving improved community wealth building



Stephen Covey has argued “that human growth and prosperity rest on the immutable principles of love, honesty, kindness, hard work, gratitude, patience, perseverance, forgiveness, loyalty, generosity, and faith. These principles are unchanged through the ages and apply to all mankind.”

Successful community revitalization is a long, difficult, and most challenging process with which to engage. There are many pitfalls and also many shortcomings along the way that can take the winds out of everyone’s sails. However, there are many experiences and lessons learned that we have gained insight from. The Seeds of Promise resident stories that are shared provide us all with great encouragement that demonstratable progress can be made. Several illuminating observations can be shaped. One is that independent federal programs to address poverty have not hit the mark in the past.

These “outside in” programs have grown through a deficit and brokenness mentality and a glass half empty approach. Today, successful “inside out” holistic community revitalization programs are being developed with resident voices being heard and resident leadership and planning being established. The overall result is a positive community revitalization glass half full model being built that is developed through the strengths, capabilities, and assets of the community.

Transformational change is needed now. We have tried over and over again to assume that current federal government programs and approaches will hit the mark, but the results do not prove and validate the assumptions. The results are like what Albert Einstein has been attributed to with the definition of insanity- thinking that doing the same thing over and over again the same way will achieve different results. Failure has also been defined as succeeding at what really does not matter. Another observation is that failure enables us to locate the essential ingredients to succeed in the future. So what is the takeaway! Let us not go back to fighting and combatting the war against poverty the same way as before as we have learned a better collective approach through meaningful programs that can make a real difference. We can accomplish successful community revitalization and redevelopment programs in Michigan and beyond through an inclusive strategy that involves residents, businesses, NGOs, municipalities, service providers- all community stakeholders. That means all of us!

How does this work get done in our communities with greater success? The answer lies in the guiding principles and values we all use to get this cooperative work accomplished. Why don’t we try compassion, grace, gratefulness, grit, honor, trustworthiness, self-control, integrity, respect, hope, empowerment, and humility as a few values we can all work on to accomplish this important effort? Any neighborhood community can achieve more successful community redevelopment and revitalization programs that meet the needs and wants of their residents. Recent new approaches and strategies have shown us the way. Now what is needed is for those engaged to change their mindsets and get started! Let us all focus on the people within our communities, create placemaking strategies that meet local needs, engage local residents and community stakeholders, and generate prosperity and wealth creation opportunities for those that live there. Following the Seeds of Promise model in our Michigan communities will provide hope, encouragement, progress, and success for all of us trying to battle against the disparities and inequalities of our citizens and win the war against poverty!


  1. Eternity, 2013. Failed “Welfare” Programs and the Web of Poverty. Truthout
  2. George, A. 2006. Why the Fight Against Poverty is Failing: A Contrarian View. The George Foundation
  3. Mehta, K. 2017 Poverty Eradication: Why do we always fail. Next News
  4. Cousins, G. 2013. The Atlanta Model for Reviving Poor Neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal
  5. Turner, and Hughes, C. 2014. The War on Poverty Turns 50. Cato Institute
  6. The ALICE Retrieved from
  7. Hicks, J.P. 2019. Grand Rapids Ward with the Highest Black Population Gets Least Investment from the Retrieved from
  8. Simanis, E. and Hart, S. 2008. The Base of the Pyramid Protocol: Toward Next Generation BOP Cornell University
  9. Bradley, J.R. 2003. Bridging the Cultures of Business Poverty. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from
  10. Glazer, L. 2021. Five Essential Economic Development Lessons. Michigan Futures. Retrieved from Grand Rapids Business Journal


Norman Christopher

Sustainable Business Practices LLC  

“ Neither Lyndon B. Johnson’s Fifty Year War of Poverty nor $22 trillion dollars spent by the federal government have resulted in a significant change to eliminating poverty over the years. The number of people entering poverty have also not decreased dramatically. If you know why various federal programs have not been successful, then you need to read Breaking the Cycle of Poverty- A New Day and a Better  Way! to gain insight about new solutions and a scalable model for successful community revitalization.”- Ron Jimmerson, Executive Director, Seeds of Promise