Partner Spotlight: Kaboom

We believe that the future is community-owned.

We believe that better futures aren’t built in bubbles. 

We believe the future isn’t something that happens to you, it's something you — and me, and all of us, individuals, communities, and brands alike — can actively participate and invest in.

That’s why this report was brought to you in partnership with Kaboom, an organization that shares our values and our vision of this particular better future.  

In 1995, four-year-old Lesha and her younger brother Clendon were looking for a place to play in their Washington D.C. neighborhood. Without a playground to be found, and with the only community center too far for their little feet to walk, they decided to make up a game to play inside of an abandoned car they found nearby. They got trapped inside and suffocated to death, a desperately sad story that resulted in much handwringing and finger-pointing in the community and around the country, but also in the action of Kaboom’s founder, Darrel Hammond.

Hammond didn't set out to start a non-profit organization; he set out to do what he could to support a particular community — and its kids — that had experienced a tragedy. And so, over the course of four days, he built a playground with the community. And it only snowballed from there. 

Play is the very essence of childhood, and yet not every child has equal access or opportunity to play.

Over the last 25 years, Kaboom has set out to break down the barriers to play inequity and bring play infrastructure into the largely black, brown, and indigenous communities across the U.S. that have been disinvested in and, in many ways, ignored, thanks to years and years of systemic racism and its legal and extralegal effects.

Their work is centered in communities who aren’t accustomed to change. Maybe a politician or an organization will blow through with big talk, but real change? That doesn’t happen here.

And so, Kaboom embodies tangible and transformative change in all that it does.

And it always starts with the community.

From the playgrounds it builds, to its playable cities effort, ‘Play Everywhere,’ every initiative starts with community input. Because when a community feels ownership over a space, it gets used more; it gets treated as the safe space it deserves to be; it become a real, collective priority.

And, much like the way we do things at RADAR, collective ownership starts with collective imagination.

Each playground initiative starts with kids in the community designing their dream playgrounds. And the beauty of it, for Kaboom Senior Fellow James Siegal, is that “kids have no barriers in terms of what’s possible; they don’t think in those terms.”

And so, while most times they see kids drawing their own version of the slides and monkey bars we’re accustomed to, they occasionally get things like, say, a volcano.

True story.

While working on a project with the New York Housing Authority, a kid dreams up a volcano. Not fazed by this, Kaboom takes the drawing back to its playground manufacturing partner to create a playground that was evocative of a volcano, so it had a central point higher than everything else with all sorts of ropes and slides coming down from that central area.

The kid shows up as it’s being finished, and beams with pride: “That’s my playground.”

(cut to your author crying)

This is but one story of many that demonstrates the power of envisioning a better future and seeing it brought to life. That shows you that change is possible, no matter your background. That shows you that you deserve to be a meaningful stakeholder in the future ahead of you. That you deserve to be heard, and have your dreams valued.

As our contributing expert Annika Hansteen-Izora has written:

“The power of dreaming is in expansion. It allows us to expand beyond the confines of what has been handed to us as normalcy … (but) it is important to underscore that many of us do not have the resources or stability that offers us the space to dream. Dreaming is a privilege in and of itself. To have space to dream, we need rest, food, shelter, health care, and access to resources that allow us agency. I want us to dream towards each other. I want us to dream towards action. Communal dreaming means fighting for each other to have the right to dream. It means building networks and structures that serve us and our right to agency and safety.”

Whether it’s the ropes course that draws ages 7 to 71 on Seneca Nation land in upstate New York, bolstering economic development in a whole region from one playful build; the 200 playgrounds built on the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina that showed kids that even in the face of utter destruction, they were thought of and included in the rebuild; the everyday spaces turned into uniquely local, safe, and hassle-free opportunities for play in disinvested neighborhoods across the country; or the playgrounds underway in every space that needs one in Uvalde, TX, to help its community heal from the toxic, traumatic stress of one terrible morning at Robb Elementary — this is what Kaboom does.

They prove to kids and communities across the country that their dreams matter, and that with the right infrastructure — the time, the space, the resources, and the opportunity — they can see meaningful change and benefit from the better futures they envision.

In this instance, it’s A More Play-Full Future. One where every kid has access to the best places to play, and a role in ensuring that every other kid has that same access as well. But it’s indicative of the world we envision, here at RADAR: one where the more critical connections we can make between pathfinders and groundbreakers with shared visions for better futures, and the more brains, hands, and resources we can put behind them, the more likely we’ll all be to manifest — and benefit from — their fruition.

It’s our perspective on multiplayer futures — and we think it’s the most likely way we’ll change the world.