Today we’d like to introduce you to Shawn McClondon.
Hi Shawn, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
The Sister City Project Story really begins when I was five. When I was five my mom was a kindergarten teacher in an all-white Christian school in Lakewood, California. But we lived in Long Beach which was a mostly black neighborhood. So, she had the choice early on to enroll me in her school where she taught or send me to a school in Long Beach. She decided to enroll me where she taught and where I was the only black kid in the entire school. Then for elementary, she sent me to John Muir, the school in Long Beach that was right down the street with predominantly black kids. In junior high, she returned me back to Lakewood, California, to a predominantly all-white school where I was then one of the only black kids.
I believe knowing the type of woman that my mother was, that she was preparing me to be comfortable around and understand both cultures.
I created Sister Cities Project this year, and Sister Cities project is just as much my mom’s dream as it is mine.
My mom died when I was 13, never really realizing her dreams or seeing me realize mine, so I am doing this for the both of us. That’s partly why I decided that Sister Cities Project would prioritize black women. I feel that in honor of my mom and other black women that struggle in this country, it is my responsibility as a black man to do what I can to lift them up.
Fast-forward to the George Floyd incident. As I was listening to the national conversation about how to address the racial inequality in America, I noticed that most conversations centered around policy changes to address systemic racism and ending racism in general. Although both of these things are very important, drawing on my experience with my mother, it dawned on me that there was something else that was equally important. Black and White people just don’t have a great relationship. It is that simple. And I knew then that we needed to start improving that relationship. Since then, the concept of Sister Cities Project began to evolve.
I happen to live in Solana Beach, a community where I am one of very few black people. I decided the first thing that I would do was put a post on Facebook in the Residents of Solana Beach Facebook group. The post read, if anyone is interested in having access to a black person, wants to get to know someone who is black, wants to talk to someone who’s black, wants to have a relationship, or even become friends with someone that is black, please contact me. I left my phone number and my email address. Surprisingly enough, I was booked up for the next 3-week’s meeting people and having conversation.
What I learned through these conversations was that although these individuals were well-intentioned, good-hearted people that were willing to reach out and speak with me, there were still some serious misconceptions and misunderstandings about black people. That’s when I felt my idea to start Sister Cities Project was reaffirmed. Sister Cities Project is a program that partners underserved minority communities with affluent, white communities to build a new relationship to deepen cultural understanding
The larger vision for Sister Cities Project is to create a model that can be duplicated throughout the United States and the world eventually. We believe that forming these partnerships between differing communities will be the catalyst to help end racial inequality.
– Founder, Shawn McClondon
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Our challenges have been very unique…
We started during the height of COVID, so it was a struggle to really get things rolling because our model is heavily dependent on face-to-face interactions.
I believe that the deeper challenges have been the dying of momentum toward racial justice due to people getting back to their normal lives after COVID and the distance from the outrage of the George Floyed incident. We are finding it hard to get people from the affluent communities that we work in to continue to care enough now like they did then and continue to participate with the same fervor.
Another challenge we have is getting the black community to trust the white community and their sincerity in wanting real change for others.
We have, of course, had the normal nonprofit challenges with funding and volunteers.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I recently transitioned careers from online marketing, which I did for over 20 years to a consulting company that creates action-oriented strategies for DEI and CSR programs and training. Combining these categories into a singular focus and putting real discussions that increase the overall consciousness of the organization puts people at the center of what I do.
Because my entire lived experience can be characterized and has been shaped by three words, compassion, courage, and authenticity, I created a program called Leading with Compassion, Courage, and Authenticity.
Leading with Courage, Compassion and authenticity is a 3-month Corporate Social Responsibility Action and Accountability Program with Diversity Equity, and Inclusion as a focal point.
What do you like best about our city? What do you like least?
I think that I love what everyone loves about San Diego which is the weather, the proximity to mountains beaches, and city, and the laid-back nature of the people.
However, through the newfound awareness from the work that I do with Sister Cities Project, I have become very disheartened at the lack of diversity, equity, understanding, and the subtle segregation in the county.
- Website: www.sistercitiesproject.org
- Instagram: sistercitiesproject
- Facebook: sistercitiesproject