The Emergent Power of Camdentown: reflecting on my first three months as a fellow at Camdentown Mpls

by Emily Fulcher

“Progression not perfection” This was the poignant closing line Houston White uttered with a bright smile at the end of my first meeting at Camdentown. This line made me feel uneasy as someone that has always been riddled with decision paralysis, over-calculation, and an insidious fear of misstepping. But for the three months that I’ve been immersed in the vision and community that is Camdentown I have felt this initial anxiety around Houston’s sentiment chip away.

My introduction to Camdentown was nothing short of stimulating. Walking through the doors of The Get Down, I was met with a buzz of vibrant colors, art, records, the smell of freshly ground coffee, and the hum of lively conversation intermeshed with the instrumentals of Superfly by Curtis Mayfield.

As I sat down waiting for Houston White, the founder and visionary behind Camdentown, I drank in the organic bits of interaction within the intimate space of the coffee shop. There were long-time friends absorbed in conversation, new acquaintances warmly greeting each other, a group of kids grabbing water before leaving to play outside, and remote workers tapping away at their keyboards in a deep flow.

I would come to understand that the space I had walked into for the first time on June 9th facilitated an “emergence.” As Adrienne Marie Brown puts it in her book Emergent Strategy, “Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” The complexity of community building was emerging through the daily interactions I had witnessed in The Get Down that day.

Camdentown refuses to be inhibited by deficit framing and dares to imagine as well as model a community building framework that facilitates emergence by embracing tension and change through responding with co-creation, nimbleness, non-linear insight, and accountability. But most importantly, Camdentown is an unapologetic Afrofuturist organization that harnesses the Black cultural lens and imagination to manifest Black joy and vibrant Black futures.

“What role do you see yourself playing?” Houston asked me during my initial Zoom interview. I am still unraveling what my presence as a white woman who just moved to Minneapolis, let alone Minnesota, within a Black centered urban community building project means. I don’t think I will ever stop interrogating what my role means and how to contribute capacity to Camdentown in a way that is celebratory rather than co-optive. I can not ignore the tension my embodiment brings to the project, but Camdentown has welcomed it and pushes me to lean into it, tease it out.

“Trust the people, and they become trustworthy,” Houston White said. Houston had chosen to trust me from the jump, which scared me because I honestly didn’t know if I could trust myself. I realized his faith in me was not blind but rather futuristic. I think there are a lot of perfectionist tendencies among white capacity builders that fester our action, and thus allyship, in social justice projects. This is something I have been trying to confront and work on among your everyday post-undergrad imposter syndrome. Camdentown is not only facilitating an emergence within the walls of The Get Down but in the people it calls in.

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