Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance Is in the Business of Neighborhood Building

By Brenda Porter-Rockwell

Block parties and barbecues make for great television when it comes to showing the work of a nonprofit community-building effort. Behind the scenes, there is the neighborhood building strategy that leads to program funding and recognition to fuel the awareness that a block party brings.

Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance (LNA), a Neighborhood Excellence Pride Awards winner, and no stranger to block parties, aims to address systemic poverty and concentrated inequality in this northwest Charlotte community. LNA Executive Director, Jamaal Kinard can attest that developing a solid and actionable business strategy for neighborhood development doesn’t always make the 5 o’clock news; nonetheless, the work is critical to building a better neighborhood.

Getting down to business

According to Kinard, the strategic business plan contains the goals the group has set for the year ahead. It also provides transparency for both potential funders and community members.

“We think everything is supposed to be … the kumbaya moments,” said Kinard. “You still (must) have a revenue stream, you have to drive outcomes, you have to collect data, you have to understand what it means to have the trust of the people that you’re serving, and also have those people hold you accountable.”

Potential donors, Kinard said, want to know what’s behind the headlines — data from the strategic plan that answers tough questions like, “What problem are you trying to solve?”

According to Kinard, it’s important to build relationships with donors and community partners who want to work cooperatively to seek solutions to the issues LNA is trying to address.

“If you’re doing that, that leads to longevity and that leads to sustainability,” Kinard said.

Setting and meeting goals

LNA has a big picture strategy and revitalizing the Lakeview community is just the beginning.

“We have organized ourselves around a ‘3E plan’ — engage, educate and empower. That’s the [basis] for everything we’re doing here in the neighborhood,” said Kinard.

The 3E plan is baked in to four areas of tactical programming: child and family stability; prevention of displacement due to gentrification; economic mobility; and civic awareness and political education.

For instance, under the economic mobility pillar, LNA helps supplement families’ income gaps with gift cards they can use for food and other immediate needs. The gift card program is paired with financial counseling to help recipients learn to create and maintain savings.

LNA also educates and empowers residents with tools for wealth building, such as placing a tiny home on a resident’s property to create rental income.

The group plans to purchase the Lakeview Elementary School, a nearby vacant building, turning the space into a cooperative business to spur economic mobility within the community. Kinard pointed to a similar concept successfully executed in Cleveland. There, a neighborhood formed a cooperative and partnered with a major employer — creating jobs in the community and putting money back into the pockets of stakeholders.  

“We’re trying to put the ‘neighbor’ back in neighborhood and turn a neighborhood back into a true community that has an economic base,” Kinard said.

On the horizon: “We’re building a model that can not only help solve the problems in our neighborhood but can be a model that can be duplicated across the city, and hopefully across the nation,” he said.

Overcoming challenges

The Lakeview area was once called Lakewood, the older name is a holdover from the days when Black people weren’t allowed to live there. Times changed and Blacks migrated into the community by the lake and began calling their borders Lakeview, taking the name from the Lakeview Elementary School.

By 2019, the community wanted to unify its identity. The Lakewood Neighborhood Alliance and the Lakeview Reunion Committee collaborated on a resident survey to name the neighborhood. The overwhelming favorite? Lakeview, a name proudly etched on the community sign.

Post-survey, LNA’s community engagement increased from 30 households to 200.

“It came about by us being intentional about getting to know people, what they wanted, what they stood for, what was important to them,” said Kinard, who started LNA thinking he had most of the answers to Lakeview’s problems.

He had completed racial equity training, earned an advanced degree, worked as an educator in Charlotte public schools and had a background like those Lakewood families.

“I got a lot of doors slammed in my face — ‘Like man, if you don’t go sit down,” he half-joked.

Since then, Kinard learned to address those issues, one step at a time.

He said he learned another lesson — untangle your personality from the business.

“Understand you’re not going to always get your way. When you’re co-creating a neighborhood … you’ve got to have this benevolent leader that understands the goals and vision,” he said. “But you also got to have that leader that leads with empathy, that can hear residents, and can understand when the lay of the land changes.”