Saturday, September 22, 2007

Community conversations

As I dropped Checo off at his house yesterday, he commented, "Janet, we have the best conversations!" I had to smile. All the way to his house we had discussed the reasons behind recycling, how it affects the environment, and why more people don't recycle.

Checo is not unusual in his interest in issue-driven conversations. Johnas, a 20-year old, began a conversation with me about the NPR commentary that I was listening to in the car one day. Teenagers used to come to my home to watch documentaries from the civil rights era and would discuss and relate it to their lives today. Monique, a 22-year old, and I always have deep conversations about race and community issues.

I find that many people in our urban communities, teens and adults alike, become passionate when engaging about issues. I wonder if people and programs who come into the community to evangelize, provide parenting classes, do community clean ups, etc., did more to engage people about the issues, maybe people wouldn't have to be bribed with food and prizes to come to the meetings. Maybe people in the community would feel like partners instead of passive recipients and would begin initiating their own programs and projects based around their own needs using the assets they have within the community.

Last week, during our staff development meeting for the After-School Academy, we had a session where the group made observations and discussed what they would want for their ideal community. I found the discussion very insightful. Despite the negatives, there is a sense of community.

Wyshina: I moved from down here two weeks ago. And just not being able to walk out my door, walk over to Sylvia’s house, and ask her what she’s cooking today, see Lori walking to the store and say, “Hey, what’cha’all got going on?” I just miss the community. Not the negative things. Of course not the negative things. But I miss being in the community. I mean, I still work here and I’ll still be able to see the people because I know the parents who are still going to have their kids in the program but then I don’t get to see this girl who lives on the corner, “Hey! You still working at the After-School Program?” I won’t be able to see her. I miss that conversation.

Carla: I think it also shows that people who may live in poverty don’t have poverty lives.

Keilani: Even though it’s a lot of negative stuff going around…I think the friendships you have here and the bonding here outweigh the negative. I think that’s what we put in our drawings. That’s why Sylvia put the bar-b-que grill. You know, put some meat on the grill and have some neighbors come over and talk.

As the staff discussed and drew what they wanted in their community, they came up with things that are very basic, yet many of which don't exist in our urban communities:

What do we want for our community?
  • Library
  • Park
  • Community Center
  • School
  • Crosswalk
  • Police Department
  • Access Gate

  • Assigned Parking
  • Greenery
  • Houses
  • Kids are outside
  • Community gatherings
  • Manicured lawns
  • Security patrols

We want UNITY...SAFETY...CLEAN AREAS...GREENERY...TREES

Is that too much to ask?
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