Sister Cities Project builds momentum

The Sister Cities Project has been bringing residents from different communities together.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Solana Beach resident Shawn McClondon offered to meet with his neighbors to discuss racism and the social issues brought to the forefront by protesters, activists and media.

From those meetings emerged an initiative to connect San Diegans from different cultures and support black-owned businesses: the Sister Cities Project.

The project brings residents of Solana Beach and Encinitas to Southeast San Diego and City Heights to meet with the people who live there. They typically go to a Black-owned restaurant, take their food to a park, and discuss how the disparate communities can help and better understand each other.

“It’s grown way faster than I thought it would,” said McClondon, one of a relatively small number of Black residents in Solana Beach and throughout North County. “I didn’t have any expectations because I figured even trying or attempting to tackle such a big issue, I just didn’t know what to expect.”

He added that in two and a half months, the Sister Cities Project has “way exceeded what I thought it would be.”

The initiative’s areas of emphasis are business growth, workforce development and cultural events.

Other local grassroots groups, including Solana Beach 4 Equality and Encinitas 4 Equality, are among the partner organizations. More than 100 volunteers are participating, and there is a 16-member leadership team.

“It’s just so many moving pieces and it’s moved so fast and so many people want to support us that it’s been a little overwhelming, but great all at the same time,” McClondon said. “I’m excited at the progress and I’m excited just at the impact that we’re starting to make.”

The Sister Cities Project is also working to create a San Diego Black Women’s Entrepreneur Summit.

“If you want to help communities of color, you actually help the women in that community,” said McClondon, referring to research that has shown how investments in entrepreneurship can benefit women of color and their communities. “By giving resources and tools to the women in that community, you can make a bigger impact in a community of color.”

The initiative will also include events and other opportunities for local residents from different backgrounds to learn more about other cultures. On Oct. 17, it will host a youth beach day for about eight Black youth who will be paired with surf and boogie board instructors, followed by a picnic lunch from a Black-owned local restaurant.

“The bigger part is building relationships,” McClondon said. “The more cultural events we can have that put people together, we’re hoping it makes a difference in the way people look at each other.”

The Sister Cities Project is still looking for more volunteers, businesses to help with the initiative’s programming or anyone else who wants to contribute to their mission.

“For me, it’s all about the impact we make. That’s what we’re concentrating on,” McClondon said.

He added that “the bigger goal is about social justice, it’s about changing what’s going on in our system.”

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