Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

David Beckwith papers (Ms.2010.010)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148
Email: Manuscripts: hay@brown.edu; University Archives: archives@brown.edu

Biographical/Historical note

David Beckwith

David Beckwith is a native of New Hampshire who began his career as a community organizer in 1971 in Providence, Rhode Island. Over the next ten years he worked in numerous capacities such as organizing, fundraising, consulting, recruiting and training, for neighborhood organizations in both Providence and Washington, D.C. From 1981 until 1988 he served as Director of the East Toledo Community Organization (ETCO) in Ohio.

Beckwith worked for the Center for Community Change from 1988 to 2002. In this capacity he acted as consultant and trainer for numerous partner organizations, most but not all in the Toledo area. Some notable Center initiatives are: The Housing Trust Fund Project, the Transportation Equity Network and the Jobs and Economic Development Initiative (JEDI). Beckwith and the Center provided partner organizations with extensive resources and training in community organization, economic development, transportation, jobs and fundraising.

He served as the Executive Director of the Needmor Fund, a family foundation based in Toledo, Ohio that is committed to funding grassroots organizing for social justice, from 2011 until his retirement on January 1, 2013.

Center for Community Change

According to its mission statement the Center for Community Change "strengthens, connects and mobilizes grassroots groups to enhance their leadership, voice and power." Inspired by the work of Bobby Kennedy, the organization was formed in 1968 to assist low-income people and communities.

History of Community Organizing

The material in this collection reflects a philosophy of community organizing that evolved under what John McKnight and John Kretzmann call "a post-Alinsky agenda." In the 1940s organizer Saul Alinsky envisioned an "organization of organizations" model, where local affinities banded together to challenge an "enemy" which was visible, local and capable of correcting the particular problem under consideration. Chicago's Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, founded in part by Alinsky in 1939, marshaled the leadership of the various neighborhood enclaves into an organization that represented their collective interests; as such, the Council successfully secured "WPA dollars for the neighborhood and [created] a school lunch program that became a model for the nation" (BYNC website).

The conservative 1980s saw the relocation of political and economic power away from the local sphere and a corresponding decline in labor union and church membership, both of which had been traditional staging grounds for community dissent. Instead of marshalling existing local affiliations, organizers needed to "stress an organizing process that enhances and builds community rather than assuming it." No longer were neighborhoods viewed solely as consumers; an equal emphasis was placed on their capacities as centers of production.

One result was the growth of the Community Development Corporation, or CDC, which exemplified the "reconceptualization of the neighborhood as a locus for production as well as for consumption" (McKnight and Kretzmann). The disappearance of the local bank meant that the local credit market disappeared, as well, and this development affected housing availability. "Community development corporations are typically neighborhood-based, 501(c)3 non-profit corporations, with a board composed of at least one-third community residents, that promote the improvement of the physical and social infrastructures in neighborhoods with populations significantly below the area median income," according to the University of Maryland's Democracy Collaborative.