June 17, 2022
For our June episode, we are joined by Richaun N. Bunton, LSW, MSW, Managing Director of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.
We discuss the many roles she has held during her time at the foundation, as well as centering her work with Family Partners, a group of community members—and friends, as they have grown together—who work collaboratively to support families in the Central community in their ability to thrive.
Richaun shares about how her spirituality is infused into her life and work, and how can we honor God in everything we do.
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Rachel Drotar, Generative Spirit program coordinator for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, hosts this month’s Generative Spirits: Conversations with Catholic Sisters podcast.
Following is an edited transcript of her conversation with Richaun Bunton, managing director of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.
Hello everyone, and welcome to Generative Spirits, conversations with Catholic Sisters. A Catholic sister podcast that explores how members of Northeast Ohio congregations respond to the signs at the times in ways only sisters can. My name is Rachel Drotar and for our June episode, we are joined by Richaun Bunton, managing director of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.
Richaun is a member of the foundation with a long standing commitment to the central neighborhood, allowing her to understand the needs of the community and highlight the champions she works with in the neighborhood. We discussed the many roles she has held during her time at the foundation, as well as centering her work with Family Partners, a group of community members and friends that work together to support families in the Central community and their ability to thrive. Richaun shares about how her spirituality is infused into her life and work, and how we can honor God in everything we do.
In several episodes of Generative Spirits this season, we will feature the work of sisters by giving particular focus to their ministries, including the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. We look forward to incorporating other essential voices into this conversation in the months to come.
Thanks for making time to be here. I am just excited to connect with you and learn a little bit more about your work
I'd love to start by asking you to introduce yourself and your role at the foundation.
Hello. My name is Richaun Bunton. I have the honor and privilege of serving as the managing director of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood collective impact initiative.
I remember first meeting you when I got to the foundation. We had a few overlaps of where we knew each other kind of based on both being social workers. It was really lovely to get to know you as a person that has had history in the Cleveland area and where we have overlapped. I'd love to know more about what your work entails. How long have you been at the foundation? And really, what you enjoy most about your work?
Those are all good questions Rachel. Yes, we do have overlap. And that's amazing. I love the overlap, because it just affirms that to me that you're on the right journey. Kind of like you’re wayfinding when you have people that resurface or relationships that kind of resurface, which is kind of how I see myself at the foundation and what I enjoy about the work. I've been here for going on six years. Those six years have gone by so fast. In those six years, I think I functioned in three different kind of roles. First, coming in as the education performance manager and working directly with the school system and working with the teams at the schools, the teachers, all the academic staff, the support staff, and the students and the families, a system that I had just transitioned from, so I really enjoyed that. Again, we talked about that wayfinding coming back to different types of relationships or coming back to those relationships in a different manner. I really enjoyed that. Then Promise, the collective impact initiative, had shifted a little bit. There weren't any more Promise grants that we will be going toward. We had an opportunity to kind of readjust our mindset about how we want to move this work forward. My role switched to supporting the initiative in a different way. I enjoyed that too, because we get to talk about the community, the dynamics of the community, and how it has changed in this decade that Promise has existed. We get to kind of catch up on things that happen to build Central and things that happen that kind of left Central and its families behind in a way.
In a transitional space of the pandemic and the things that Promise has done, what continues to fuel my passion for the work is our relationship with community—community being all stakeholders as far as residents, community leaders, community partners that have been staples to supporting communities. And, people who just champion Central and I say champion Central, because they're like, “You know what, I grew up there or that was a place where I've always found my heart, my friends were from the neighborhood, and now I just champion a neighborhood.” So I really enjoy the relationships and being a thriving community for families. That's what I really enjoy about my work at the foundation.
You mentioned a few things that I think relate to your position that I'm noticing. We talked about wayfinding and how you and I have popped up together in several moments in our lives. Also, your role in the Central neighborhood has evolved from friendship, coworker, supporter, confidant. Having this role at the foundation really does create another pathway for that wayfinding. Those folks probably come up in your life in several ways and your relationship has changed with them. You mentioned that phrase, kind of being a staple in the community and seeing the champions within the Central community as essential for that growth, not just within your position, but with each other. There's this dichotomy or kind of fluidity with wayfinding. This kind of fixed structure with being a long-standing staple in the community and how both of those are kind of working together and going off of each other and in every way. I could tell from the moment that we started working together that you were a relationship-driven person. That's something that is necessary for this work. Could you talk a little bit about how the Promise Neighborhood, kind of the difference that the Promise Neighborhood brings to the Central neighborhood as an identity and how it really began for folks that don't know its origins and you within that structure?
Good question Rachel. Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is a subsection of the larger Ward Five community in Cleveland. Promise, by its hard borders are identified between East 55th and East 22nd
streets and then from Woodland to Euclid [Avenue]. That's like 1.2 square miles of the larger Ward Five community. I say Ward Five community because we know and understand that Ward Five is a community that has compartments within it. You have Central, then Lower Kinsman, then a portion of Fairfax, a portion of downtown. Within that larger scale, there are neighborhoods, smaller neighborhoods that have a closer affinity toward one another. Even in Promise and that 1.2 square miles, there are subsections of neighborhoods that have a certain affinity around themselves. Understanding that those were the hard borders, but knowing that our families go beyond. Our support goes beyond East 22nd. Our support goes beyond East 55th. We provide support to families who are in Ward Five. That is a mission of Promise. Our vision is to help ensure that families in the community are educated, they're safe, they're healthy and they have access to social capital that will assist them in breaking the cycle of poverty.
The premise of Promise began years before I joined the team. I was actually an observer and a supporter of the initiative when the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland was just trying to get it off the ground. A part of that was being able to understand it. We are structured off of the Harlem Children's Zone, Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. The Harlem Children's Zone being a “cradle-to-career” pipeline that supports families no matter where they want to enter this pipeline, so to speak. We were founded on that premise. Now, we have had several iterations of what that would look like. We’ve had different structures on what that pipeline [looks like] or how we connect families into the pipeline. Understanding that in a community like Central where there's such deep concentrated poverty just in the 1.2 square miles, that we are hard borders that we service. We were finding that the needs of families change and they change fast. How can we sustain the capacity in the team and within a neighborhood to help uplift the change that residents wanted to see in their neighborhood? How can we maintain that capacity and help people really feel successful and elevating their voice?
So, we took a step back and understanding that with this wayfinding, there's some catch up that we had to do, because that was 12 years ago. A lot can happen in 12 years. Technology changes fast. Life happens fast. We've had a pandemic. So, we took a step back to say, “What is it that Promise has done well as a collective impact initiative?” Because, as a collective impact initiative, we are bridgers. We connect people. We help to connect people to systems and systems to people. We are social capital developers, so to speak. We help people feel supported and working toward a common goal—that common goal being families that are thriving in Central and Central as a thriving community. So, taking a step back to say, “Hey, what is it that we do well? What partners do we have currently that can uplift the work and serve as leaders for other partners to see how we can begin to co-create and work towards change for the community?”
When you talk a little bit about the 12-year span, that's such a huge amount of time. Not just what's happening in the world and what is available as far as technology is concerned, but community. The nature of community is fluid. Its borders can be kind of structurally identified, but it’s transition. People leave. People go and move to another neighborhood. That's the nature of what community is, not just within relationships within literal structural individuals and institutions. To try and find solutions in an ever changing scenario can be quite difficult. To hear you say, “Let's take a step back and see what we do well. We know that these folks in the community are staples and are doing well and are making sure that they value the networks that they've built throughout the change, throughout the flux. That feels a lot more sustainable as far as utilizing assets rather than saying, “What do we need to identify now?” Does that make sense?
It does make sense. That's the strategy of it—to have the connection to understand, okay, something's happening, something's bubbling up, changes are brewing. But, do they have the vision and partnership. I mean partnership with community leaders and residents to say, “Alright, we see these things, what is the vision and foresight that we need to do to kind of shape how we are supporting the evolution of the community?” What we what we understand is that people want to be a part of the evolution. No one wants to find themselves extinct or left out of this wayfinding as the community changes as things around us change. And people want to find their voice in that conversation and take ownership of what's happening so things don't happen to them, things happen with them. They are able to create the narrative of what their community looks like in the long term, having that foresight and having that ability to sit in a space of experience. You're in a present space of your current experience, but you have the history and the knowledge of what you've known, but then you have a goal and a vision to move forward.
How do you match those two ideas? How do you match having people be included and bringing their authentic experience into becoming the change, being part of that evolution in their own community? And also have that married with forward thinking strategy? In my mind I think there is this difficulty with saying, “Here's this kind of already scripted out strategy that we think works that has research behind it or what have you.” And, also to say, “This is a unique neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that has people in it that want to be part of that kind of evolution, but also see their history and their knowledge of what actually works with a neighborhood could not match that strategy that's being presented to them.” How do you include resonant voice with what feels like kind of sound research?
Let's think about that. The power of hope is transformational. If someone has had a traumatic experience, because some families or individuals in Central have had some traumatic experiences. Historically, their family may have experienced trauma that lives with them now by way of just hearing it or generational, or they themselves experienced a trauma. Living in deep poverty is an experience of trauma. If you are able to have hope, you have vision. Being able to uplift hope and individuals and then walking them through a guided sense of imagery.
The power of imagination is transformational. Just walking people through an experience of saying, “This is where you are now. Your present experience and what you have brought behind you that helped shape your vision right now. In Central in the community that you are a resident of you may have been a resident in the community for your entire life, what would you want your children to experience? How would you want your children to experience the community if they had to stay? Or if you felt like this is where I belong, what is the legacy that you want to leave behind for other families in the Central community?” Then, having that conversation, that dialogue and moving from there.
The power of art has been transformational in our work too. Utilizing the unspoken word, whether it be visual, performance art or someone showing you art and just having that image be a tool to trigger dialogue or conversation or get a sense of fulfillment has been phenomenal. We have so many artists in our community. Miss Garth, Walter. Other forms of art like gardening with Sharon Glaspie and Andrea and all the other community gardeners so there's a way where you can get people's mind wandering and that imagination to kick in and then that hope and resiliency to kind of fuel the change. And then they understand like, “Well, yeah, this is what I want. This is how I want to impact my community. This is what I feel passionate about.” Once they find their voice connecting them with individuals who share that same type of passion breeds change. It breeds change at a community level and it supports trust, because we know change happens at the speed of trust. The transference of trust to say, “Hey, you know what, I do know someone who's interested in that. I'm going to connect you to my friend.” Because that's the words I like to use. These are friends. This isn’t an institution. They work in the institution, but they understand us. They see us for who we are. They're our friends, because they're working with us to support the change we wish to see. So transferring that trust to be able to ignite that power of change moving forward has been dynamic.
I'm looking at the time, but I did want to ask you about some of the programs that you've been a part of some of the initiatives. Family Partners, specifically. What is that? How is that really essential for building that connection and community within Central?
You heard me say that I like to introduce people as our friends. I like to explain that Family Partners is a group of friends that work together to help families in the Central community support them in their ability to thrive. We're rooted in the five protective factors, because any good program or any effective program should be based or rooted in best practices or evidence-based practices. There are five protective factors that help shape our friendship. Those protective factors are: parent resiliency, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parents and the child development, and social emotional competence of children. They're very academic statements, but at the end of the day, it’s really just building community. Making sure people have a support system. Caregivers have a support system to help them understand how to support their children. In whatever space they are in, whatever age or stage they're at, recognizing that, as a caregiver, I have needs, hopes, wishes and desires. How do I effectively meet my wellness to be able to help my child experience their wellness and their wellness being social, emotional, academic—because they're starting their journey in school. How do I help them but still help me and thus strengthen our family bond.
The partners or friends that are working together are Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, Starting Point, Family Connections by way of SPARK Ohio, and Ohio Guidestone. The families who we primarily work with are families who have children ages three or four in the Central community. Those early learners who are just starting their journey and helping them really get prepared for kindergarten so they won't feel like this isn't the space for me. Early on, we're supporting them in their journey, like preparing them with the social skills, academic skills, literacy skills, numeracy skills that they need to be prepared to enter school and feel comfortable and confident so they can be them that their best selves. We do this by way of SPARK. SPARK is an evidence-based program renowned throughout the state in how they support families. The beauty of the friendship is that if a parent says to our SPARK person, “I'm struggling. It is hard for me to sit here with you when I have so many other things that are just racking my brain keeping me up at night. I just want to show up better for myself before my child.” SPARK partner says, “I have a friend who can help you with that. Can I introduce you to her?” You know that transference of trust. They trust you because you're there helping their child get ready. You see the growth, you see the potential. Then the other friend comes in and says, “Yes. Tag team. Let's help. What do you need help with caregiver? I say caregiver because understanding that families are different. Families have different dynamics. You don't have to be a person who gave birth to be a caregiver and raise a family. They're growing and they're sharing and they’re learning together. Then, we expand our friendship to include the other families who are working together around us in the community. We build a support of trust and families and develop stronger friendships to say, “You know what, I don't feel so isolated at my experience as a caregiver anymore because I see that family just went through it and they survived. Like, “Can you tell me, how did you do it?” It is so heartwarming. I am excited to be a part of it because caregivers have been taking leadership roles and really showing me how to be a better caregiver and a better person. Because we tend to forget that we're all having this human experience and we are working together for the greater good of humanity. When I'm in a space with my friends or family partners I'm reminded of that and I see how just an encouraging word can transform the power of a family's dynamics. It's amazing and I enjoy doing it. I enjoy doing the work.
Yeah, it sounds like you are facilitating the human experience that is already taking place to say, “This makes sense. People helping people. People have the same experience, saying, I've been there, I get it, I want to be there for you.” Then to make sure that it happens, kind of support it in to being, whether that means removing barriers, or including and adding support.
That's exactly it. Then when we talk about removing barriers. That is a critical part of it. That's that support in times of need, because when those barriers are removed, a family gets more access. Having that access is transformational. It's the difference between a family being able to stay together in a household or having to disrupt and separate the family.
It can cause lists of issues as an individual and as a family. To say it is possible to keep folks on a path that makes them feel like their best selves. It is possible to make sure that we can ask folks what they need and how they need it and then to support them in getting that.
To finish us off, you've mentioned this in a number of ways in our conversation today. I'm interested in it because you are a deeply spiritual person. You really do incorporate your spirituality into your work and into your life. I'm wondering how that is infused into your work in life and how you see that as important?
It is such a natural part of who I am. I am grateful to be in a space where it is supported professionally. Working in a faith-based organization truly makes a difference on how I am able to continue to openly share that aspect of myself. My connection to my spirituality really helps to hold me accountable to being of good character. In my culture, it is called N’fr bit. To be a good character means that I am mindful of how I treat people. I am walking with a sense of mindfulness. Mindfulness of how I'm displaying power. Am I being humble? Am I displaying poor character by being rude or disrespectful? Am I showing sanctity for life? Am I honoring God in everything that I do, so to speak? Am I honoring the God that lives within all of us in every aspect of how I talk to people, how I treat people, how I respond to people? That is how I use my spirituality in my daily practices. I am just reminded that I am to be of N’fr bit. I am to be of good character. Because when people see me, I am representative of a source of God's energy. If they see me and I am being malicious in my actions, then they're going to say, “Hold up. No.”
They're seeing you as a representation of the divine and you have this kind of beautiful opportunity in your life to display that, to say, “I want to be loving. I want to be tender.” You saying, “How am I displaying my power?” I don't really think about it often. How am I really saying, “How can I use this for good? Or am I coming in a way that is malicious that has this kind of ulterior motive?” But, to say, “This is an opportunity to honor God.”
Yes. In all that I do.
Thank you for sharing that.
Thank you for uplifting that.
Getting that insight. I get just bits and pieces of it when we worked together. To hear you really explain it more plainly, I'm just really grateful for that. I also agree, being able to work in a faith-based institution that says, “This is important to us, this is important to you and I want you to be able to share it.” I was I was hoping that people do feel open enough to share their faith in that way and I'm really glad that that you do in a way. Thank you so much for talking. I really appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. It's been wonderful.
Is there anything else that you would like to add? Before we say goodbye.
I would like to add, if you want to find out more, stay connected, become a part of our friendship circle, right? We're on social media. On Facebook. That is where most of our activity happens. To be able to just stay connected to what we're doing. If others feel like, “I want to be connected to something bigger than myself, I want to be able to give back in a different type of way.” We have opportunities for that to occur too. Central is really experiencing a renaissance and it's beautiful to see. It’s beautiful to find people feeling encouraged and inspired to share their skills, their gifts and their talents with others to uplift the community that has been so downplayed for years. But, understanding that it's a space of excellence. How do we uncover that gem in the community? And just celebrating them. We're on Facebook at Cleveland Promise Neighborhood. You can check us out there and stay connected to what we're doing and how you can become a part. And celebrate those individuals who are doing the work. Meeting them. Seeing them. Yes!
That's wonderful. Yes, absolutely. I'm going to put that information in in our notes and make sure that people know how to how to get involved and support folks. Thank you Richaun. I really appreciate your time.
Thank you for having me. Enjoy the rest of your day.
This episode was made possible by generous funding from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. We want to thank our sound editor Angie Hayes, and our music composer Matthew Dolan for their work on this episode. We look forward to our next episode. Available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, iTunes and generativespirit.org/podcast.