“Money left the community, so we decided we would be our own superman, because superman isn’t coming.”– Alicia Smith, founder, The Junction Coalition (National Wildlife Foundation, 2019)
For many developers and municipalities, a neighborhood is valuable so long as it generates wealth—public or private. For residents and citizens, a neighborhood is valuable inherently as a living, social thing. A neighborhood is its people, the spaces they share and the relations they develop as community in pursuit of health and happiness.
The Junction Coalition (TJC) is a community-powered organization that defends and cultivates the inherent value of its neighborhood. Founded in 2012 by Alicia Smith, TJC coordinates extensive community services in the wake of historical disinvestment in their neighborhood by developers and civic leaders. TJC declares proudly, “We Know Who WE Are…,” and they embark on a mission to empower community voices, cultivate healthy relationships and develop a better quality of life in their neighborhood.
Located in central Toledo, Ohio, the Junction neighborhood reflects a common narrative in urban US history. Once a thriving hub for European immigrants, it became a thriving hub for migrant African Americans and Polish American neighbors by the mid-20th century. At the same time, federal authorities codified racist standards for lending and development that fueled a half century of disinvestment within stark Junction boundaries. Suburban opportunity for whites only fueled gradual declines in housing stock, business opportunity and population. Home to 30,000 in the 1950s, only 8,000 residents live in the Junction today. 85% are African American; more than half live in poverty. 45% of Junction’s land parcels are vacant.
After a series of failed top-down initiatives to revitalize the neighborhood, Alicia Smith took matters into her own hands. She aimed first to provide basic services that lost funding when development experiments collapsed. TJC’s vision soon broadened, in their own words, to imagine and create “…a viable, safe, and sustainable community for ALL” residents by providing legitimate resources and accessible information to improve residents’ quality of life. TJC concentrates its work in four pillars: economic justice, environmental justice, social justice and peace education.
“…[T]here was no way for me to come up and out of being a black woman in a racist America. It was a way of becoming a black woman and becoming more socially educated so that I could help others understand how we should treat one another.”– Smith to Urban Waters Learning Network, 2021
In 2014, TJC secured environmental justice when algal bloom poisoned Lucas County water. Half a million county residents, including Toledo and Junction communities, lost their drinking water. Many were exposed to neurotoxins deadlier than cobra venom or sarin gas. Still, some civic officials denied the crisis, and little state aid buoyed residents. TJC helped to organize Junction residents — led by young students — to obtain and distribute outside water, and they campaigned to inform residents on the risks they faced and solutions to them.
TJC also joins nationwide efforts to end lead poisoning in BIPOC communities by educating community members on lead dangers and training them in lead remediation. Other water-based initiatives at TJC include support for nature-based stormwater management and jobs development for green infrastructure maintenance. Beyond water, TJC facilitates an empty lot renewal program for youth that brings holistic green space to the urban neighborhood.
“We have a mantra that there’s nothing about us without us. We listen, we plan, we act!”– Smith to UWL, 2021
TJC pursues a holistic mission by folding environmental concerns into its development advocacy for the neighborhood. “Each pillar is interconnected,” Smith says, “…you can’t have one without the others.” At TJC, community members can learn financial literacy or produce original stories in podcasts that magnify a community voice.
Most extensively, TJC has coordinated with Toledo Design Center to offer a comprehensive Master Plan for the neighborhood. Its five essential initiatives include building TJC capacity to serve its community, expanding business and employment opportunity, renovating and developing housing stock, enhancing open space and recreation, and improving public transportation. In 2023, the Toledo Planning Commission will add the Junction Neighborhood Master Plan in its entirety to the city’s long-term planning agenda.
Ultimately, TJC aims to create what developers and municipal authorities have long desired but failed to maintain: a thriving district that generates holistic prosperity in its neighborhood with care for people, space and relationship. A2 supports TJC and its mission to heal, enliven and give voice to its community. In 2022, A2 awarded TJC a Community Organizing Grant to continue that mission.
For more information:
Alicia Smith activist profile at NWF
Alicia Smith in Toledo’s Soujourner’s Truth
Air Pollution, Flooding, Heat, Water Contamination
Environmental Justice Concerns
Hazardous/Toxic Sites, Lead Contamination
Affordable Housing, Community Farm/Gardens, Community Science, Direct Relief and Aid, Elevation or Relocation of Homes, Fighting Industrial Contamination, Green Infrastructure, Halting Bad Development, Policy Reform, Renewable Energy
501c3 Tax Deductible