July 31, 2009 - Launching the Pleasant Plains Neighborhood Network
Haile Gerima, the owner of Sankofa (the restaurant is named after his movie of the same name) allowed us to use his upstairs board room for a meeting with Mentoring Works2 and the Emergence Community Arts Collective, along with Ernest Quimby, a Howard criminologist/sociologist. The outgrowth of the meeting was another meeting with Darren Jones of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association and the decision to create a broader umbrella organization, the Pleasant Plains Neighborhood Network, which would produce and distribute a monthly newsletter (with help from Mentoring Works2) electronically and in paper as a vehicle for engaging the community. This is very exciting to us; this is exactly the sort of collaboration and coordination that Freedom Summer is all about.

Abby and Amanda have been helping this week by designing and writing the newsletter and our whole crew has been canvassing in the evenings to sign people up for the newsletter.

July 25, 2009 - Held Pleasant Plains clean-up and picnic in partnership with Mentoring Works2
Here's the post-event email from Courtney Stewart, founder and executive director of Mentoring Works2:

Yesterday was a proud day for me! The magic of us coming together as a community for the common good of the neighborhood was one of the most rewarding experiences. It started off with Abby and Alibia’s hats, now that is the way to come to a clean-up! In addition, poor Tom was riding down the street with his gas grill strapped to the top of his car. That was a sight to see! How about Darren Jones [head of the Pleasant Plains Civic Association], he did a great job of pushing the lawn mower around all day and I think the person’s name is Paul, he ran off with the weed whacker. They both became addicted! Harvard St., it was so challenging that Tre and his crew was stuck there most of the day. Ms. Taylor applauded everyone’s efforts. We are all thankful to Amanda Pollak and Mrs. Pollak for provide those fantastic brownies! We all know those little morsels made it all worth it!

Additionally, Howard University students deserve so much of the credit; they showed up in numbers and reminded the community that we can count on them. I also want to thank my staff, Randell in particular, and the youth of MW2 for doing such a great job. Thank you also goes out to the Hillcrest Children’s Center for allowing us to use their parking lot, the Green Team for supplying the tools and always coming through for us, Charles for taking pictures and Del for coming out.

Furthermore, I want to personally thank all the residents young and old in the community who came out and worked so hard at helping us reach our goal, including the many that did not live in the neighborhood. We are thankful to you all!

It is President Obama’s vision that communities can start working for themselves to fix some of their common problems. As you may know, Freedom Summer has been going door to door throughout the community trying to bring that vision to promise and for that, we are grateful.

Again, thank you “all” for your great effort!

Special thank you from MW2 to Tom, Abby, Alibia, Tre, Chris, Greg, Amanda, and the whole Freedom Summer Team!

July 23, 2009 - Congressman-to-be Greg's last day!
Very sad. He's heading back to Ursinis in the evening to start his Residential Assistant training and help with a summer program for minority students. We will miss his positive spirit, vision and good humor.

July 10, 2009 - Completed focus groups
We completed three small focus groups with the help of the Howard University Community Association, the Emergence Community Arts Collective, and Mentoring Works 2. Each was fascinating and valuable in its own way.

We expect to start canvassing/surveying neighborhoods today to help recruit tutors and mentors for Mentoring Works and to enlist "block organizers" to help build the block-by-block infrastructure to support block parties and neighborhood dialogue; clean-ups and other community-building activities; and build toward providing greater community support for the grassroots nonprofit organizations and associations that already exist.

July 2, 2009 - Conversations with local organizations
We've had good conversations with local organizations about their needs. There doesn't seem to be much interaction between the organizations. Everyone is struggling to make ends meet. I hope that we can help them connect with one another and serve as a vehicle for them to get the word out to the community about the good things that they are doing. The focus groups we are planning for next week with residents living near Howard will give us a chance to see if people would be willing to do more to support and be active with their local organizations and associations.

June 30, 2009 - First round of canvassing complete!
We've now visited every home in our area but for a small stretch on Columbia Road. We've skipped apartment buildings. Luckily, there are not too many, but we will have to do some more research on the best way to reach apartment dwellers.

Some conversations are very quick but we don't rush if someone wants to talk for 20 minutes. We want to understand the neighborhood. This takes time.

We're learning as we go. Greg is the expert on getting people to join our email list. He's helped everyone else learn the art. (See the video on the home page.) Our core crew of Abby, Greg, Amanda and me -- Alibia has been out of town for past two weeks -- is usually supplemented with two or three part-time volunteers.

June 29, 2009 - Our first event!
We held our first event last night: a community picnic for the residents of the 700 block of Harvard St., Hobart Place and Columbia Road. We made sure to knock on every door in the area and left a flyer if nobody was home. Our goal was to get the WHOLE community out, not just the gentrifiers or the old-timers or the Latinos.

I think everyone felt the picnic was a big success. We served approximately 150 burgers and hotdogs to people ranging from newcomers who had been on the block for a month to one resident who had lived there for more than 40 years. Abby, Greg, Amanda, Colby and I must have talked to virtually everyone, at least briefly, who came to the party. I felt the simple act of having everyone put on name tags (mailing labels) helped get people talking to each other.

Disappointments? I don't think any of the Latino families came, even though several said they would.

We seem to have created a minor buzz in the community. Greg called a local organization to set up a meeting and before he could say who he was with, the person mentioned this "new group, Freedom Summer, that was talking to lots of people in the community." The challenge now is to turn this goodwill into action.

June 19, 2009 - Reflections after 2 days of canvassing
We're not asking for anything in our initial round of canvassing. It's easy. We leave a one-page flyer on the project (passing out a 1-page intro flyer ( and let people know that we're walking their neighborhood to get the word out about our new project. We tell them we will be around again to learn more about their thoughts on the community and that we are planning a neighborhood party within the next two weeks. I continue to be surprised by how receptive people are to what we are "selling." I'm sure it's out there, but I haven't felt any of negative reactions I've had when canvassing for political candidates -- even very popular ones! If I had to guess, I'd say 70-80% of people seem to appreciate our efforts and the remainder seem neutral or, understandably, a bit suspicous -- "I'll read it when I get a chance."

Last night, I focused on a single block near Howard. The modest two-story townhouses ranged from decrepid and vacant to thoroughly rehabbed with fancy frontdoors and, I was told later, price tags of $500,000. A few had planted wonderful gardens in their 15' x 15' front yards; others had grass a foot high; and most just looked "lived on." At first as I looked down from the top of the street, I was a bit nervous seeing lots of people hanging out on the street. I wondered if it was some sort of open air drug market. Turns out that, according to a middle-aged man sitting on a car, it's just a very friendly block where everybody gets along with everybody else.

Who lives on the block? A few senior citizens who were reluctant to open their doors; someone in a city job training program; a young man sitting on his porch who, I'd guess, was high on something, had grass a foot high (his neighbors weren't happy) but thought that "everything in this block is cool"; an artist painting a canvass on her porch; at least a dozen elementary school-age kids; a 30-something guy who had owned a couple of houses but bought one on this block where he was raised because it remained the best place he'd lived; two women sharing a porch who thought people needed to fix up their front yards; a student from Howard; a few families who spoke little english. And more. All in all, much more diverse and interesting than I had imagined.
-- Tom

June 17, 2009 - Launch!
Abby and LaSonia started work as project leaders two days ago. Abby found a wonderfully bright classroom at Howard with windows on three sides. We were supposed to get started at noon, but only three interns -- plus one more who came in, told us his car was about to be ticketed, and left -- have shown up by 1pm. Oh well, we will start small. A couple more interns say they can start next week. No turning back now!

* Don't rely on other organizations for recruitment.
* Recruiting in June is very hard!
* College students want real stipends! We are only offering $350 for the whole summer.

February 27, 2009
This project is just now getting underway. If things go according to plan, we could have thousands of volunteers working in communities around the country this summer or next.

We anticipate that most of the work will be done on a volunteer basis, but there may be some paid positions as well.

If you are interested in either, please sign up here to be added to our mailing list. You can also join our Facebook group/cause at
-- Tom