As our beloved colleague Indigo moves on from her role at ioby, we’re excited to welcome Dawn Arrington as our new Cleveland Action Strategist! She brings her own big shoes to the role, and has no shortage of big ideas for her city. Service is in Dawn’s DNA and she’s ready to get to work.
“My mom, my step dad, my father, his twin brother, my uncle, and several cousins all served in the military in one capacity or another,” she says. “I don’t think everyone needs to serve that way, but I do believe that we all have a duty as residents of a place to maintain and contribute to it. That was instilled in me at an early age.” It’s an ethic that she’s stuck to throughout her life.
[Our new Cleveland Action Strategist, Dawn!]
Dawn has known about ioby since we came to Cleveland, but recently dove headfirst into an ioby project of her own where she got to know our model well. “Around that time, our car had gotten broken into. As my husband was paying for a repair to the window, the repairman–who is our neighbor–said ‘I would write window, but I don’t know how to spell it.’” It jolted Dawn, an avid reader. “The numbers are there in the greater buckeye community, Mt. Pleasant has the highest adult illiteracy rate in the city. So I had the idea to distribute culturally relevant comic books to our community.”
She pitched her idea, “Comics at the Corner,” to a community giving circle she’s a part of to get funding for it. The goal was to purchase comics and graphic novels written by and for people of color, and to share the books at well-traveled local spots like corner stores and barbershops. “There are programs in our neighborhood that are fantastic, and I’m not trying to supplant their services. But when I think about all the things that are competing for an adult’s attention–work, taking care of their home and their kids–there’s just not always time.” Sharing the comics, a visually compelling stepping stone to greater literacy, seemed like a simple way to fit reading into people’s busy lives.
The giving circle ultimately decided to provide funding to a different project, but she knew she had a worthy idea. So she rallied her neighborhood together and crowdfunded over $2,000 to buy the books and share them in the community.
It’s these kinds of small steps that Dawn believes so deeply in. The little actions that ripple, and create waves of change.
“I don’t have to wait until I’m famous, or I’m rich,” she says. “I can give back in whatever way now, no matter how small or big. It doesn’t have to be ginormous or big, it can be within your capacity and your everyday life to give now.”
[Dawn, center, at the Larchmere PorchFest music festival she helps lead. Photo Courtesy of McKinley Wiley.]
Along with her belief in the big impact of small projects, Dawn brings to ioby a wealth of knowledge and wisdom from working in the Cleveland community. She’s worked on community festivals like the Larchmere PorchFest, a free one-day music festival in Cleveland’s East Side, and with several notable organizations in the city.
“I’ve sat on a number of grantmaking committees before, and applied for grants myself, and I’ve found that there’s often a big understanding gap,” she says. “People don’t often come to places of power with a full understanding of how the system works, and people seeking grants don’t always align with what powerful people–and we are powerful as grantmakers–might envision as the ‘perfect grantee.’ But the truth is, people need a bit of trust, a bit of support, and a bit of practice as they learn how to become effective changemakers. And that trust needs to go both ways so that we can learn and grow with each other.”
For Dawn, ioby acts a powerful conduit to that work of building trust. “We talk all the time about places of power being removed and putting money into things that nobody asked for. ioby responds to that by letting people experiment together, and decide as a community what ideas we agree are powerful and useful. It may need tweaking, or it might even be that now isn’t the right time for that idea, but you get that feedback in real time and people get to decide together.”
Ultimately, it’s that work that Dawn is so excited about doing at ioby. It might not be glamorous, and it certainly isn’t easy. But building trust, and building community, is fundamental to ensuring our neighborhoods are healthy and thriving. “Look, I can’t fix a car, so I need my neighbor the repairman,” Dawn says. “We need each other, and we need to support each other. That’s what community is about.”
Want to know more about the work that Dawn does in Cleveland? Learn more about our City Action Strategists.