MatticeBTAt the closing retreat of Mattice Haynes’ Learning Journey in October of 2014, she got an email from the City of Decatur (population 20,000 in the heart of downtown Atlanta and where Mattice lives). Her consulting organization, The Art of Community, had been chosen to run a community engagement process to help the city implement part of it’s 2010 Strategic Plan to “Encourage a diverse and engaged community.”

Better Together is a citizen-led, government supported effort to build deeper connection, understanding, and mutual respect among the Decatur community. It will culminate at the end of 2015 with the creation of a tangible Community Action Plan focused on cultivating a more just, welcoming, inclusive, equitable and compassionate experience for all who visit, live or work in the City of Decatur.

The city faces growing challenges such as housing affordability, rising taxes, and some recent events, particularly ones rooted in race. Officials have become aware that not everyone feels equally welcome and it’s time, perhaps even past time, to start shifting things. Mattice and her team are leading the city in a participatory engagement process that gives the people most effected an opportunity to give recommendations for the future.

The first phase involved creating a Leadership Circle of Decatur residents who represent a diverse cross-section of the community who, together with the police chief and a handful of city employees, have formed meaningful relationships, had challenging conversations about race and equity and have been guiding the Better Together process. Later this August there will be a 1-day capacity building training to support people working together across differences and a community-wide event to generate suggestions for a Community Action Plan.

Group Collage LG

In a recent meeting with her team, Mattice was reflecting on her Learning Journey with Mycelium and how pivotal it was in preparing her to take on a project of this scope and scale. She learned to pause, rest and take care of herself, connected with new supportive friends and colleagues, and learned participatory skills that have been valuable in the process. Listen to Mattice explain in her own words.