Community Advocacy and Involvement: Community Leader Spotlight of Nicole Gaines

Written by Lucy Gray

Nicole Gaines

As a member of many organizations, Nicole Gaines is incredibly dedicated to serving her community. Ms. Gaines, who is based in Greensboro, is a board member of the Haw River Assembly, and a Member-at-Large on the Greensboro Sustainability Council. In addition, she is part of the NCCJ Collective Leadership Team and the NC Sierra Club. Ms. Gaines’ current
projects include fighting an urban loop highway extension that is proposed to go right by her neighborhood.

The urban loop has been in the works for the past 10 years, and was presented to homeowners, including Ms. Gaines, several years ago. However, Ms. Gaines says that since then, the loop’s route has changed.

“Now, looking at the map, I argued that it wasn’t the same that it was presented to me. They had repositioned the entry and exit way about 200 maybe 400 yards towards the north over to avoid an apartment complex…they took advantage of green space that was there.”

Although the construction of the loop is a done deal, anticipated to be completed sometime in 2021, Ms. Gaines is advocating for greater transparency throughout the rest of the construction process, as well as a thought-out plan to minimize negative impacts, such as pollution and traffic, on her neighborhood.

“In my opinion, whether it’s NCDOT or Department of Transportation or Greensboro DOT, the lack of constant communication or transparency, other than what we actually see – I see there’s forward movement on this loop, I know it’s coming, I know it’s there – there are no particulars
about how they’re planning to suppress noise pollution, suppress light pollution, and they have not given us any idea of traffic calming ideas because the traffic is going to be increasing.”

Ms. Gaines has advocated for her community by attending town hall meetings and talking with her mayor and councilwoman, and her work is beginning to pay off. One of Ms. Gaines’ chief concerns is the increase in traffic in her neighborhood and the related safety issues. She was recently contacted by a member of the Greensboro Police Department, who spoke with her about ways they could reduce these concerns, including setting up monitoring boxes and posting additional signage.

Additionally, Ms. Gaines has also been working with Greensboro Beautiful proposing ideas for the future of her neighborhood. They have discussed tree planting, as well as the addition of a bike lane in order to make the community more pedestrian-friendly.

Throughout her work and advocacy, Ms. Gaines emphasizes the importance of engaging and giving a voice to communities that are often left out of important conversations.

“I am working with Emerging Ecology and what we are doing… is getting our community together to discuss a common theme, and that theme is: How do we make our community the best it can be? We’re using a model where you invite neighbors to participate in determining how we make a potentially negative situation turn into the best it could be, and that takes a lot of communication.”

Ms. Gaines also touches on the negative effects that certain types of research and engagement, albeit well-intentioned, can have on the communities they leave behind.

“I’ve done research and talked with other researchers when we go into communities and decide to ask questions and ask people about things to do and participate in. Once that research is done we all leave – it is being recognized now that that causes more harm than anything… When we
look at community organizing, you are organizing and you are beginning with the people who are most affected. You are beginning with the people who live in those communities and they are living the harm, and you help them or they help you figure out what’s best for us.”

Overall, Ms. Gaines emphasizes that while community organizing is an important skill, organizers should never posit themselves above the members of the community in which they are working.

“Community organizers… provide the know-how, but you absolutely let your community say what they need. We don’t tell them what they need.”