DEL PASO HEIGHTS – Danielle Lawrence came to the Mutual Assistance Network (MAN) in 2008 with a background in social work and mental health. She was named executive director in 2019.

MAN offers stability and anti-violence programs and activities to keep youth and families engaged in Del Paso Heights, North Sacramento and Arden Arcade. It fights gentrification by providing home ownership development and placement for families in Del Paso Heights.

“What is going on in those neighborhoods is that they’re under-resourced, underfunded, and often forgotten,” she continued. “They also are full of wonderful, resilient people of color trying to go about this thing called life. Amazing youth, amazing families and our goal is to just come alongside them and make the neighborhoods better, make the neighborhoods strong.”

MAN serves as the incubator for the Arden Arcade Black Child Legacy Campaign, which addressed the disproportionate Black child death rate in Sacramento County. The area had experienced a high number of children dying from child abuse and neglect and sleep related deaths. Some wondered why it took a Blue Ribbon Commission for folks to care that Black children were dying.

“It took a lot of intentionality to even stand up and not just be like, ‘oh that sucks and that’s terrible,’ but it took a lot of ‘what are we going to do about it?’ Ms. Lawrence said. “Then it took a willingness to roll your sleeves up and do whatever it took at the neighborhood level.”

Less children are dying, she says, and communities are more engaged.
“We have a monthly impact group. The entire community shows up and we talk about how to make Arden Arcade the best Arden Arcade for the people most adversely affected,” Ms. Lawrence said.

“Arden Arcade is ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ There’s rich people, millionaires, and then it’s also one of the highest poverty areas in Sacramento. So what about the people in poverty? And what are the changes we can potentially make? We’ve seen some great positive synergy over the past five years to just lift up and train and empower the community voice,” she continued.
Change is multi-layered, Ms. Lawrence says.

“We started at education. ‘Do you even know that kids are dying, and here’s why.”

With education came targeted resources.

“It’s saying, ‘I saved this Pack N Play for you to safely sleep your child. I’m unapologetically not giving it to this (other) population because their babies aren’t dying disproportionately. Yours are,” she shared.

Ms. Lawrence is proud to be a trusted advocate.

“You know I have your full back and I mean you success and this is a safe place. To build and create that and to be able to sustain that has been amazing,” she continued.

Additionally, Ms. Lawrence is the co-founder of Advocates for Action Consulting, which focuses on mitigating and eliminating “predictable negative outcomes” for people of color within systems and organizations. They provide corporate workshops, individual consulting and executive coaching.

“We start with a workshop, ‘Power Privilege and Responsibility.’ It’s for White people,” Ms. Lawrence shares.

“It starts with them. You’ve got to get yourself right, then you get your people together and then we can talk about how power shows up with staff of color, so on and so forth.

The way that we approach this work leaves people really wanting to not only work on themselves, knowing they’ve got to do their own work, but really looking at some really tangible ways to effect change not only in my workforce, my hiring practices and my policies and those tangible things that affect change within an organization.”

Systems change, Ms. Lawrence says, is the only thing that will ensure sustainability.

“Poor people get programs, but rich people get policies. Programs are where we start, but if we don’t focus on the policies that continue to perpetuate these predictable negative outcomes for my people then what are we really doing? If we don’t change and we don’t move and adapt those systems to our betterment, then we are going to end up right back here. Whatever system you can name — education, criminal justice, healthcare — you can apply that same thought process to it.

Often, when African Americans point out inequities and injustices, they get the mirror pointed back at them. You’re calling out police brutality, but what about Black on Black crime?

“I don’t receive it,” Ms. Lawrence says. “There are very real effects of racism, effects of slavery, effects of 401 years of just oppression upon our people. That shows itself in trauma. This is what it looks like. It looks like domestic violence, substance abuse and a war on drugs, and it looks like criminal history and behavior that is unhealthy for our people.

“With that said, we do have a role and responsibility and the healing of ourselves and of our people and providing those healing spaces and providing those supports around not only trauma, healing, substance abuse support, mental health support, domestic violence support, sexual assault support, all of those things we can provide, but absolutely no way, shape or form are we to blame. We need to teach ourselves financial education and learn what we were never allowed to learn way back when. These are things that are important, but I rebuke it. If that’s for the system to fix, we need our reparations to be able to be well. In the meantime, we will continue to try to do this work individual by individual, community by community.”

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

The Sacramento OBSERVER introduces a special series, “Sistahs on the Frontlines,” acknowledging and highlighting the work that Black women are doing as “essential workers” on the frontlines, furthering the causes of the community. READ MORE