On the evening of the Autumn Equinox (September 22, 2020), I accepted an offer to join the Washington, DC-based consulting firm Justice & Sustainability Associates, LLC as a Senior Associate (working from Miami). I will be leading the firm’s Governance practice and working on projects in its Parks & Open Space and History and Conciliation practices.

This job is a dream come true for me.

The first project I’m working on provides facilitation, documentation and strategic advice services for the newly formed Mayor’s Task Force for Racial and Ethnic Equality in West Palm Beach, Florida. The mission of the Task Force is to identify and help address issues of racial/ethnic equity through education about racial and ethnic inequities, research of best practices, and issuance of policy/funding recommendations to address racial/ethnic inequity in the City of West Palm Beach.

JSA specializes in designing and implementing large and small group multi-stakeholder agenda setting and decision-making processes. It uses alternative dispute resolution techniques in public policy, civic engagement and organizational development processes related to achieving sustainable community development, environmental justice, and smart growth.

I am thrilled to be doing work in alignment with my values.

The Journey to JSA Began Two Decades Ago, on a Bus Ride

I’ve known JSA founder and CEO Mencer “Don” Edwards for twenty years. We first met when I was trying to pivot from a career as an Internet consultant to work engaging people in non-virtual communities. I’d been an activist for bridging the digital divide; now I wanted to help diverse stakeholders have a voice in planning processes that shaped their cities, their neighborhoods and their public spaces.

As a part of my effort to make this career change, I decided to attend a public workshop on transit-oriented development held in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. Afterwards, I boarded the 42 bus to head back to my own neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Rick Rybeck, then DC’s director of transportation, happened to be standing in the aisle of the crowded bus.

We struck up a conversation. When I voiced my desire to move into urban planning, he remarked: “I know the PERFECT person for you to talk to! It’s Don Edwards. He’s looking for someone with Internet skills.”

DC Comprehensive Plan

Mentored by JSA Founder/CEO Mencer “Don” Edwards

That fateful encounter on the bus helped open the way to my work with JSA in its early years, when the office was Don’s apartment. I started as a contractor managing JSA’s PublicSpaceForum.com site, which it launched to give residents a virtual space for dialogue about the city’s planning and transportation projects.

Soon, Don became my mentor. I began working on numerous projects as a sub-contractor to JSA. Again and again, Don brought me to the table. I didn’t have the same formal experience in conflict resolution or mediation (although I did have my M.A. in Speech Communication), but I learned by watching Don and just “doing the work.”

My biggest “break” took place one afternoon when Don invited me to a small meeting with lead consultants at HNTB, a major infrastructure design firm that wanted to bid on the contract to update DC’s Comprehensive Plan. There were about five or six other people sitting at the table, and honestly, I felt like I was out of my league.

Very tentatively, I mentioned that I had sketched out a “matrix of public participation” after our meeting the previous week. “Well, let’s see it!” said Don, smiling. Don wrote about this moment in a memo he sent to the project team after we completed the Comp Plan revision process (yes, we did win the bid):

Corinna is the architect of the famous “Quadrangle Strategy” that is the foundation on which ALL the rest of what we did for public involvement rests. I recall the first time Corinna sketched it out for us at HNTB’s office. It was like “Damn, that’s brilliant!” On behalf of everybody on the project team and all the residents who will never know how they came to be informed, educated and engaged as well as they did: Corinna, thank you for everything.

Mencer "Don" Edwards

Founder/CEO, Justice & Sustainability Associates, LLC

The Reunion

Don, I thank you for everything.

I received this job offer from JSA out of the blue. It’s the year 2020, and I am older but wiser and more experienced. JSA has come a long way since its early days, too. It is receiving so much work the firm has had to expand significantly just in the last year.

Now’s the time to go to back to JSA, a firm with a vision to build “Beloved Communities.” Yes, indeed. We’ve got work to do!