Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dorothy Richardson: An African-American Leader

Dorothy Richardson
As we recognize Black History Month, it is a good time to reflect on the history of African-American leaders within the history of NeighborWorks America.  In fact, the very existence of our organization is due in large part to an African-American homemaker named Dorothy Richardson. 

Richardson’s Pittsburgh neighborhood was in decline, partially due to redlining policies that prevented most banks from lending to her and her neighborhoods. At the time, in the 1960s, most cities tried to solve blight by demolishing neighborhoods, but Richardson knew that she and others were willing to fix their homes if they could get loans.

Richardson and supporters in front of a home
that would be rehabilitated instead of torn down
Together Dorothy Richardson, along with her neighbors, city bankers and government officials  convinced 16 financial institutions to make conventional loans in the community; a local foundation capitalized a revolving loan fund. They named the resulting organization Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. and it became a model for organizations nationwide 

Richardson is credited with introducing a new model of community development, one that emphasized cross-sector partnership and ground-up solutions for struggling communities.  During the 1970s and 1980s, Richardson remained a prominent figure by educating and inspiring community leaders throughout the country. She assisted them with establishing their own resident-led organizations, which led to the creation of what would be called the NeighborWorks America network. In 1978, Congress later institutionalized the network by establishing the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, now known as NeighborWorks America.

Mural of Dorothy Richardson by artist at NeighborWorks
affiliate Orlando Neighborhood Improvement Corporation
Today NeighborWorks America supports a network of more than 235 nonprofits, located in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Our network members serve low- and moderate- income individuals and families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, including African-Americans.

In 2012, NeighborWorks organizations served more than 11,000 African-American individuals with homeownership counseling, foreclosure counseling, refinancing, reverse mortgages, and rehab services. NeighborWorks organizations also served nearly 30,000 African American–headed rental households. Together, the NeighborWorks network helps residents to build stronger communities, achieve and maintain homeownership and support the creation and preservation of affordable rental homes.

In honor of Richardson’s life work, NeighborWorks America created the Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership in 1992. Each year, the award honors seven community leaders from around the country for their outstanding contributions to their communities. Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh, now known as NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, created the Dorothy Richardson Legacy Award in 2008 to recognize outstanding contributions by dedicated volunteers and long-serving board members.

To learn more about Dorothy Richardson and NeighborWorks America, watch this video:
To learn more about the 2012 Dorothy Richardson Award winners, visit: