In this ground-up perspective, the projects that appeal most to me are ones that engage citizens to grasp their own futures and shape the direction of their communities themselves. As such, I've been thinking about home this week - but not the home that raised me (the Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, brimming with higher education and technology). Instead, I've been thinking of my grandparents' home, the home where I'm related to over half of the local church cemetery, where the farms tell stories and history is passed down in the land. That home, Bertie County, is struggling, as is most of rural America. Our outdated agricultural subsidy system has created winners (enormous corporate farms) and losers (family farmers), and Bertie County is full of big-system losers in that sense. With farms dying and real industry hours away, the youth of Bertie County has historically been faced with an incredibly difficult choice upon graduation. Do they stay in their dying community, or do they leave and succeed elsewhere? In this respect, the youth of Bertie County is the same as the youth in any inner city. A better world is one where there are better choices for the kids of our farms and our cities.
This is where Project H Design comes in, which is the reason you're indulging me on this introspective rainy DC morning. I believe that we create community organizers every time we engage youth in their own community, every time young people take a stand in their towns, their cities, and their farms about how their world should operate. All politics is local, and all change begins with us. In Bertie County, change can begin with a different kind of chicken coop.
Project H is an award-winning design and sustainability project (see kudos here, here, here, here, and here, for starters) based right at "home" in Bertie County. Its Studio H project teaches high school juniors at Bertie High (where my dad was once a football star, where my cousin was valedictorian) how to implement good design in their own community. Project H teaches by doing with, not talking to. The kids build their own future, quite literally, in their own town. Project H's lessons can be applied anywhere.
Project H's dynamic co-leader, Emily Pilloton, gave a TED talk last year about what Studio H does, why it's different, and why it works. I'd love for you to watch it. Studio H's project this year is to build an open-air farmer's market in the town of Windsor, home of Bunn's Barbecue and the kind of fading historic downtown strip that makes my heart soar with revitalization possibilities. But this isn't about Windsor, or about me, it's about all of us. Give Emily, and her students, and this little corner of swampy farmland that I happen to love, a chance today. They deserve it.