Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

The 2017 Renewal Awards Winners
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In late March, leaders from across America gathered to discuss inventive approaches to meeting the needs of their communities. Five local nonprofits were selected from hundreds of nominations by the public to be honored with this year’s Renewal Awards. Atlantic senior editor Ron Brownstein and assistant editor Leah Askarinam spoke with the winners about their work.

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Economic and Social Development by Design

Recently I spoke with Chelina Odbert, co-founder and executive director of Kounkuey Design Initiative, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that applies design, architectural, and planning solutions to the needs of communities in the U.S. and around the world. Last week, Kounkuey (a Thai word that means “to know intimately”) was chosen as one of five winners in the second annual Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. Founded by Odbert and five other friends at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2006, the group has completed projects in Kenya, Haiti, Ghana, Morocco, and low-income neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles.

I spoke with Odbert about the history of the group and her views about what it takes to drive social change. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

As part of our conversations with winners of The Atlantic’s Renewal Awards, I spoke with Kelli Taylor and Tara Libert, co-founders of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.

Inspired initially by a connection with Glen McGinnis, a young man on death row in Texas for a murder committed under difficult circumstances while he was a teenager, the two women have built an innovative organization that provides prisoners with opportunities to express themselves and build community through reading and poetry writing. Starting in 2002 with youth convicted as adults in D.C. jails, the group now works with hundreds of incarcerated men and women as well as former prisoners reentering society. In 2015, the group published a book of their members’ poetry, The Untold Story of the Real Me.

Here’s a transcript of our exchange, lightly edited for length and clarity.