Meet Kat Guillaume-Delemar, President & CEO of Community Progress
September 5, 2023
When many people look at vacancy, abandonment, and deterioration—or what we call “VAD” at the Center for Community Progress—they see a “blighted” structure. They see the building that’s falling apart. The vacant lot where a house once stood.
But when I look at vacant properties, I see my mother.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s as a Haitian-American in Brooklyn, New York in a neighborhood that was filled with violence, drug use, and other atrocities. While my mother, my brother, and I were not drug addicts, my mother’s “insignificant other” was. And, when he wasn’t doing drugs and abusing and terrorizing our household, he and the other addicts and drug dealers were hanging out at the vacant lot down the street and terrorizing the neighborhood. We had to pass that lot every day. We couldn’t escape.
Then, in 1993, my neighbors had had enough. They cleaned up that lot and reclaimed that space. Today, if you visit that same lot, you’ll see a beautiful corner park with murals and a playground—Umma Park. In Arabic, “umma” means something akin to “community.”
Around that time, I moved from Brooklyn to Washington, D.C., where—inspired by my lived experiences—I focused my career on helping address injustice, working on issues like affordable housing and combatting homelessness. I sat on housing authority boards in my home community of Glenarden, Maryland and later became elected Councilmember-at-Large for the City of Glenarden. My journey to help make an impact beyond just my city led me to the Center for Community Progress; I joined the organization in 2020 as the Director of National Partnerships.
The fact that I am now here, as President and CEO of an organization whose mission I see myself in, feels truly audacious.
When my daughter was young, we would visit my mother, who still lives on Crooke Avenue in the neighborhood where we grew up. My daughter would beg for us to go to Umma Park. As I watched her run and play, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of this transformation. My daughter had no idea that this beautiful space that provided so much joy and hope for her was a place of devastation and trauma for me.
Umma Park is a textbook example of creative placemaking, of community revitalization, and of turning vacant spaces into vibrant places. But revitalization is not just about a place. It’s about the people who live there. We would be doing the communities we serve an injustice if we didn’t see the people who these revitalized spaces are meant for.
I am unapologetic about sharing this part of my story because it is important to me—and always has been, from my first day at Community Progress—to infuse the human element in our work.
This is part of why I am so excited to partner with the amazing staff of Community Progress in this new role. There’s so much work for us to do and I am honored to work with the board, the staff, and the communities we serve to help them thrive.
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