As we count down to the final application deadline for the next Public Allies class, we invite you to listen to snippets from conversations we’ve had with our Alumni. As you do, you’ll get a glimpse into the Public Allies experience and the impact it has on a person’s life and career. Today, please meet Josh Whitehead, a Cincinnati 2001 alumnus. Josh grew up in Memphis and learned about Public Allies when he was a grad student studying community planning at the University of Cincinnati. Now he has a law degree and he’s back in Memphis, where he’s the Memphis and Shelby County Planning Director.
Public Allies: When you were an Ally, you were placed at an organization called Citizens for Civic Renewal, where you must have felt at home given your interest in community planning. Was it the same with your Team Service Project?
Josh Whitehead: It was an interesting juxtaposition, because Monday through Thursday [at Citizens for Civic Renewal] we were talking about regional issues, how to get some of the suburban jurisdictions to care about the urban woes, and how that may affect their decision-making. While on Fridays I was assigned to the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati, with The 06 Alliance. You know, some of these regional planning issues are multi-generational. Maybe we’ll see some movement of the ocean liner in a generation or two or three. But in the meantime, there are folks suffering. They’re in a blighted environment with very few economic opportunities. Their wealth has diminished because their property values have decreased, etc. etc. etc.
P.A. It sounds like the intersection of the theoretical experience that you were in Monday through Thursday and the real life gotta-find-a-solution-now experience on Fridays really informed your thinking about the way you approach your work now.Would that be an overstatement?
Josh: That is not an overstatement.
P.A.: How do you think a conversation is different when someone with a Public Allies background is at the table?
Josh: Well, not to say that other people at that table don’t have a variety of experiences, because often they do. But often they don’t. Typically, if you’re sitting around table with, you know, a developer, a neighborhood organization, that could be combative. The one oftentimes has a very unique background and perspective on life, and life experience, and the other has a completely different one. … What Public Allies is effective at is providing someone with a variety of perspectives who ideally can see through the lenses of both those disparate parties and hopefully can be effective in mediation, compromise, creating some third way that is probably better than the first two ways. And that’s what I strive to do.:: Public Allies Cincinnati is taking Ally applications until May 15. Click here to learn more.
:: Visit the Public Allies website to learn more about the Ally Program.