When Maurianna Adams enters a room, it becomes lighter. The colors are brighter and there is a palpable sense of joy. Perhaps that’s why, in her work as executive director of a nonprofit, she is naturally positioned to build community. People from all walks are drawn to her.
Raised in both the northeast and northwest areas of Oklahoma City, Adams grew up in a single-parent household with strong role models – especially her grandfather Carl Wayne Buckner, who was a powerful influence. He was a social worker and, later in life, a schoolteacher. Adams said she has vivid memories of outings with him: lunches at Wendy’s with bacon cheeseburgers and bottles of Pepsi at the local convenience store. Undoubtedly, everywhere they went, he was greeted by someone he knew. After each interaction, he would explain how they had met. Most frequently, the connection had been forged through some service her grandfather had performed in the community.
Those experiences taught her to think of community in terms of puzzle pieces. When put together, the pieces form a more complete picture. “My piece is just as important as yours, yours as essential as mine, and yet there is much clarity and strength to be had in linking together,” Adams says. In her role at Progress OKC, an organization that supports and revitalizes Oklahoma City communities that have experienced significant disinvestment, Adams has used her unique abilities to pull puzzle pieces together to create life-changing opportunities in underserved areas.
IN HER OWN WORDS
What are the things that keep you up at night?
Our current public health crisis and the catastrophic economic fallout has further exposed just how many are on the margins of severe poverty. As important, how fragile some of our systems are, which can be as under-resourced as the individuals and families they seek to serve. In addition, there are historic and continuing disparities that contribute to the plight of community prosperity. None of aforementioned can be solved with the snap of a finger, yet citizens, constituents, our neighbors are in dire need. The question I constantly ask myself when thinking through both gaps and opportunities: How can we take incremental AND impactful steps today, and leverage the assets (i.e., human, financial and physical) and strengths apparent within each community?
What is the most positive or inspiring outcome you’ve seen while serving as executive director of Progress OKC?
To date, Progress OKC has reinvested over $2 million in underdeveloped communities through cultural and historic preservation, place-making efforts and affordable homeownership projects. Our Euclid Project … which is an infill redevelopment project, included the construction of nine single-family, for-sale homes. Seven of the homes were subsidized to maintain affordability for the buyer, but we do not sacrifice quality or efficiency. We build with dignity and care. On average, there is a $20,000 to $40,000 gap between what we spend to build a quality home and what a low-to-moderate income family has to purchase the home. Home ownership has neighborhood and personal wellness benefits, and it generates public revenue to support the physical and social infrastructure of a community.
What are the keys to improving economic conditions on the NE side of OKC?
It is already happening. Between current and projected private and public reinvestments in infrastructure, arts and entertainment, cultural preservation, businesses, health and housing, economic conditions … are improving. Now is the time to shift the focus to people. Economic opportunity is tied to quality of life, so ensuring that northeast community members are engaged as leaders and have access to growth – as parents, residents, business owners, employees – is vital.