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Meet the 2019 Community Revitalization Fellows!


The 2019 Community Revitalization Fellows are eighteen community leaders from Gary, Indiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Newark, New Jersey

Gary, Indiana 


Gary has lost over half of its population since the 1960s, and now has approximately 76,000 residents. Population loss, changes in industries, and aging infrastructure all contribute to widespread abandonment and vacancy throughout Gary’s neighborhoods. Approximately 25% of housing units are vacant and the city’s median household income is $28,895.


Community leaders and the City of Gary are working strategically to target resources in neighborhoods using a 5x5x5 approach: concentrating services in neighborhood segments that are 5 streets x 5 streets in size for 5 weeks. This clean-up has encouraged more resident engagement and the formation of new neighborhood associations. Residents are also using arts and culture as an engagement and neighborhood beautification and visioning strategy. These initiatives have led to increase relationship building amongst neighbors which contributes to safer and more engaged communities.


The Legacy Foundation, the community foundation for Lake County, Indiana, leads multiple initiates to empower and engage residents and will provide guidance and assistance to Gary’s six Fellows. Meet the Gary fellows below:


Sam Barnett


Community Involvement: 

Chair of Arts and Culture and Parks Committee, Gary Redevelopment Department Comprehensive Plan; Independent artist; Parks and Green Urbanism 

“I would like to see a series of tactical and very public approaches, drawn from the experiences of other communities, to increase responsiveness to residents’ concerns about dumping, mowing, litter removal, and



Nina Burton


Community Involvement: 

Founding member, PTSA West Side Leadership Academy; Lake County 4H

“I am highly invested in this community and will continue to work tirelessly to see it as a vital community once again.”


Freida Graves


Community Involvement: 

Faith Farms; Lake County Eats Local;  Gary Food Council; Gary Green Urbanism

“I would like to grow more food in our community, decreasing food insecurity. Then we will be able to educate more citizens about urban farming, which will lead to job growth, new housing opportunities, and revitalizing our neighborhoods.”


Devin Hall


Community Involvement: 

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.; NAACP; Urban League of Greater Chicago; Gary Community School Corporation Parent Teacher Association

“There is so much potential in Gary and I am working diligently to expose it and share it with the world.”


Andrea Kelly Ledbetter

Community Involvement: 

Volunteer Director of Community Initiative & Public Programming, Decay Detail, Inc.

“I believe education on historic preservation is the best way to deter crime that include property defacement, scrapping, and squatting in abandoned structures. When community cares about these structures and monitors them it reduces crime.”


Ola Morris


Community Involvement: 

The Urban League of NW Federation of Block Clubs; Block Club Coordinator; Love your Block Blight Elimination; Field Museum for Vacant to Vibrant

“Vacant properties could also be used as community sitting areas complete with a sitting bench, water splash for children and possibly a small sign that gives a brief history of the city or the community.”


Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson is a midsized city in the South home to 167,000 people, and the largest city in the state of Mississippi. Fellows from Jackson represent the West Jackson neighborhood, which is home to two of the largest institutions in the city, Jackson State University and the Jackson Zoo. However, the neighborhood experiences high rates of poverty (68%), crime (62 per 1000 residents), high school drop outs (33%), and unemployment (75%).


Recognizing crime was concentrated in areas with widespread property abandonment, residents in West Jackson developed a strategic plan to encourage investment in residential properties. Residents surveyed property conditions, developed a triage plan, and encouraged local business owners to invest and rehabilitate properties. What were once nuisance properties have been transformed into attractive homes for Jackson State University families and students.


The Foundation for the Mid South, whose mission is to invest in people and strategies that build philanthropy and promote racial, social and economic equity in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, will provide guidance and assistance to Jackson’s six fellows. Meet the Jackson fellows below:

Shante Crockett

Community Involvement:

Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Executive Director; Jackson Water Coalition; Capitol Neighborhood Association; Midtown Parent Involvement Committee

“I help create change in the neighborhood in which I live through community engagement, housing improvements, economic development, and education.”


Heather Ivery

Community Involvement: 

President, Zoo Area Progressive Partnership; Advisory Council for Pecan Park Elementary School; Board Member, Working Together Jackson

“My neighbors and I struggle to provide a safe, nurturing environments for our children to grow in. I won’t stop until that struggle becomes a reality.”

Robin Kurtz-Lendner


Community Involvement: 

Chief Administrative Officer, Center for Social Entrepreneurship

“We recognize that most crime is economic driven and returning blighted housing to the tax base, creating opportunity for economic development, focusing crime prevention, and improving education will all result in revitalizing our area.”


Lorena Quiroz-Lewis

Community Involvement: 

Hinds Steering Committee Family First Initiative; Founder, Language Access Coalition; Violence Interruption Group; Water Coalition

“I have served counties throughout the state of Mississippi and have great energy for community work and inclusion. I’ve worked with immigrant communities, mayors, as well as intuitional leaders to find solutions to reducing health disparities

in my state.”


Valerie Tucker

Community Involvement: 

West Center Jackson Neighborhood Association; Housing Rehab Manager, City of Jackson; Volunteer, Jim Hill High School Basketball and Track Booster Clubs.

“West Jackson definitely has a severe blight issue. I hope to impact this issue with funding secured for the City of Jackson to eliminate blight.”


Nia Umoja


Community Involvement: 

Lead Organizer, Creative Director, Co-Founder of the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson

“We seek to change not only the look and feel of our homes, but to generate stability, health, wealth and wellness by creating the type of neighborhood community that we want of ourselves–one that is vibrant, self-determined, and full of opportunity that enable our youth and families to thrive.”


Newark, New Jersey 

The City of Newark is experiencing trends felt by many cities across the country: people are moving back into the city center seeking walkable communities and access to urban amenities. However, many neighborhoods in Newark are still struggling to recover from the foreclosure crisis, with high rates of foreclosure and abandonment. The city experiences a 19% vacancy rate with over 6,400 vacant properties.


Residents from the Fairmount Neighborhood, in the city’s West Ward, and the Clinton Hill neighborhood, in the City’s South Ward, have taken on leadership roles to revitalize their neighborhoods. Residents are using community engagement and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) to reactivate a neighborhood park. They have been successful in organizing and advocating for their community and making it a safer place for all residents.


Greater Newark LISC, a national nonprofit community development intermediary that works in partnership with residents and other partners to forge resilient and inclusive communities across America, will provide guidance and assistance to Newark’s six fellows. Meet the Newark fellows below:


Ihsan W. Ali


Community Involvement: 

President, Vernon Avenue & Leo Place Block Association; President, Clinton Hill Block Club Coalition; Clinton Hill Concerned Citizens; Journalist, South Ward View Newspaper


“Newark is a great historical city, and I would like to continue to give back and be a part of its revitalization and improved quality of life.”


Sonja Dabney

Community Involvement: 

Vice Chair for Quality of Life and Land Use, Fairmont Heights Neighborhood Association; Chair, Friends of Fairmont Heights Green Spaces

“I am grateful for all that I learned and gained from the hands on experience. It inspired me to continue supporting environmental issues in my community and share with others how they can do the same.”

Tony Hughes


Community Involvement:  

Vice Chair, Lower Broadway Neighborhood Association; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties; Mount Zion Baptist Food Pantry

“As a former employee of the city, one of my job responsibilities was the care of vacant properties. My trade is that of carpentry which I believe gives me a unique eye in viewing vacant properties.”


Johnnie Lattner

Community Involvement: 

Newark Chapter of RWJ Barnabas Health Community That Cares; Clinton Hill Concerned Citizens; New Community Solution Community Advisory Board; New Community Corporate Education Advisory Board

“I strive each and every day to work towards making our communities a place where youth can become the best they can be and older adults can be the example they want to leave



Victoria Lowery

Community Involvement: 

Founding member and Treasurer, Fairmount Heights Neighborhood AssociationCo-Chairperson, Strengthen the Community Committee; Newark Civic Trustee; Two-time award recipient of Neighbors Helping Neighbors

“I have lived in this community for 27 years and would like to see it be the great and safe neighborhood I know it can be.”


Yolanda Stokes

Community Involvement: 

Secretary/Community Liaison, Zion Towers Tenant Association; Chairperson, Greater Newark HUD Tenant Coalition; RWJ Community that Cares; Captain, Community Emergency Response Team

“Based on the trainings I have had wherever I go I encourage citizens to become more engaged in their neighborhoods and to enroll in training opportunities.”