Guest blogger Casey Philips writes about facing pandemic fears with faith in self and conviction for helping others

He runs The Walls Project to help improve communities and which was launched through the Social Innovation Accelerator

By Casey Philips

 

Editor’s note: Casey Philips is the Executive Director of The Walls Project; its mission is to work with communities, through coalition building and interconnected programs, to create a more equitable society for all. The Walls Project was a recent organization to participate in the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Social Innovation Accelerator, which is where our Bob Wright got to know Casey. Bob is the former chair of that program and still advises Casey.

 

There are times to be fearless, there are times to be cautious. Now six months into this Covid reality, what is becoming clear is this is the time to be both. As a leader of a nonprofit operating in Texas and Louisiana, I must balance meeting the critical needs of the community with the fiscal responsibility of keeping our organization intact. With Covid, the stakes for all of our survival have never been higher.  With an economically crippling 20 percent unemployment and resulting housing and food insecurity, the financial reality confronting small businesses and nonprofits is overwhelming. The pandemic’s impact is proving to be too much for many of our neighbors to keep a roof over their heads or the doors open to their business.

I know this feeling too well. When Hurricane Katrina hit 15 years ago, I lost everything – my company, marriage, and the NOLA neighborhoods we all loved – to destructive flooding and devastation. Without my geographic ground, I was compelled to pull back to my hometown, and travel coast to coast to build my current company, The Force Agency, in order to continue my career in the arts and entertainment industry. Like the unknown today, it was hard to see what the future had in store, but I learned to, above all else, trust in myself to figure it out, mistakes and all. Coming home to raise my son only a few blocks from the house I grew up in ended up being the greatest gift. It helped me rediscover my roots and unlock the power we all have to make a difference in this world wherever we stand.

Learn to trust the path. Although The Walls Project 501c3 started in 2012, without knowing it, our organization has been preparing for this crisis all along. Offering a wide range of education, workforce development, and urban farming programs to address the “Nine Drivers of Poverty” identified by the City of Dallas poverty task force, the Walls created a nexus for more than 10,000 community volunteers and 300 hundred nonprofit partners to partner with local government agencies to change our communities for the better. Simply put, since our inception, the power of the Walls has been based on leveraging collaborative resources. We are now positioned to ignite this network galvanized by years of transformational work in blighted neighborhoods, empowering youth who attend poor-performing schools, and growing/distributing fresh produce in food deserts.

Selflessness doesn’t mean a loss of self. Despite the tragedy of the pandemic, never have I been more thankful for the challenging opportunity at hand. It is an honor and a gift, not a sacrifice, to do this community work — to live outside of self and for others. I have chosen a life of fulfillment and purpose over hedonistic happiness (although if I’m being honest, that can be pretty awesome too). Even with the uncertain darkness of the current Covid times, I continue to live by the mantra – Future Is Bright, Good People Unite! 

If you would like to learn more about our work to close the digital equity and opportunity divide with the Futures Fund program, please engage with us. The Futures Fund is one of the few intergenerational career and technology training programs that is dedicated to offering wrap-around services for the working poor.

If alleviating hunger is more your passion, our Baton Roots Community Farm leads a food insecurity coalition that provides a long-term continuum of fresh food access to ensure no children, elders, or families go hungry in our communities.

Enlight, Ignite, and Unite!

Casey Philips can be contacted at casey@thewallsproject.org.