Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"I keep to myself"

Stereotypes about "the projects" create a vicious cycle. They are hurtful to the people who live there and create a fear and distrust for those who don't. Not all of those stereotypes are true. I'm not saying "the projects" are a glamourous and safe place to live...much to the contrary. But what I have learned is that despite the stereotypes, there are many good people who live there.

As I have visited with people in Turner Courts through the years, I have met some really neat people. As we talk, they invariably say, "I don't want any trouble so I keep to myself. I stay inside." Some have told me that the moment they were assigned to Turner Courts for housing, they cried for the first week...or sometimes month. They stayed with friends or family to avoid it as long as they could.

Contrary to popular belief, the residents aren't excited and content to live in "the projects." They don't enjoy the fighting, the shooting, or the break-ins. They want their children to be safe and get a quality education. They want to make enough money to move out.

The problem I see is that community has broken down. The fear and distrust (sometimes perpetuated by rumors...media and such...from the outside and sometimes perpetuated by a few troublemakers on the inside) keeps the good people I've met from knowing (and trusting) one another.

My friends/co-workers...the people who run our After-School Academy here in Turner Courts...are working toward changing that through their involvement in the community, their leadership, and their friendship. Each one of them told me the same thing when I interviewed them for their current job, "I don't want any trouble so I keep to myself. I stay inside." Now that they are connected to each other and working toward connecting with the community, they are hearing the same thing from other residents.

As Wyshina and I interviewed for our new cook position, we both chuckled when every single one of them said the same thing, "I'm just a person that doesn't want any trouble so I keep to myself. I stay inside." I was so glad Wyshina was there. She reassured each one of them that she, Chanel, Sylvia, and Ms. Fields lived in Turner Courts and understood their concerns. She told each of them that our current staff had all felt the same way. She encouraged them to join them at the After-School Academy...whether or not they got the job.

Building community takes time. The process is slow. Building trust is not easy. It will happen, though. Their refusal to give up and their desire to make it all work inspires me. I look forward to and thank them for allowing me to be a part of their growing circle of friends.
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