Progress is long, hard, and tiresome.
Hope sometimes seems far-fetched and destined to be dashed.
On our 4th month of Town Hall meetings in the much-neglected Rochester Park neighborhood, I think we are all beginning to feel that the honeymoon period is over. The "easy" fixes have been accomplished and now we're back to the same 'ole, same 'ole responses:
"We don't have the money."
"Turner Courts will be torn down in a few years anyway so we can't sink money into it."
"If the residents would do their job..."
"You guys need to...."
Residents of Rochester Park have taken the time to initiate the Town Hall meetings and have gone door to door relentlessly trying to convince people to have faith in the process just one more time. They have stepped out to build relationships with each other and have moved beyond their comfort zone to build relationships with the different city entities...only to feel like they're being told in so many words by a few, "It's your fault it's like this. You guys aren't doing your job."
The issue on Saturday that began creating a heated situation was when we started talking about police issues.
Residents have been reprimanded for not calling 9-1-1 enough to report incidents (anything from shooting to kicking doors in to setting cars on fire to indecent exposure), yet when they do call 9-1-1, they often have frustrating experiences because the police who show up (oftentimes 45 minutes to hours later) explain, "There's nothing we can do."
It amazes me how much the residents are blamed, regardless of their willingness and attempts to make things better.
It frustrates me to no end to see how hard they work and how much faith they are willing to put into the process (despite the lack of resources and priority they have seen over their lifetime in that area) for them to be treated like they are the problem instead of the solution.
The problems in the Rochester Park area run so deep and have been going on for so long that these issues are much bigger than any one person or one entity can solve. It's nice that Dwaine Caraway, our city council member, attended our first three town hall meetings, but the issues are so much bigger than him. It's nice that the police have worked with Mr. Caraway to beef up police presence, but it's only going to work if the police are respectful to the residents trying to work with them and if they are looking at a long-term plan. It's nice that Mr. Caraway has initiated health inspections of the local corner stores (which, evidently, hadn't been done in months...or maybe even years!), but since they are the only two stores/businesses in the entire area, until the store owners have motivation to dust their shelves, monitor their expired foods, or make their business presentatable, residents will continue to have sub-standard stores.
The solutions offered so far are not inconsequential. In fact, they are very much appreciated. But they don't solve the issues of the neighborhood over the long haul. Not yet, anyway.
Listening to all the talk surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, I think King would understand exactly what we are dealing with. King recognized that poor people were not being heard and they were not valued. The Poor People's Campaign was his beginning attempt at bringing the issue to the forefront...and some believe he was assassinated for pushing that issue. Promoting equity is costly. It challenges power structures; it affects pocket books.
Taylor Branch, in his book At Canaan's Edge, tells how King got frustrated at one point and shouted, "I don't want to do this anymore! I want to go back to my little church!"
I empathize with King. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to my quiet, rural town in Missouri.
In some ways, we are no further along today than we were in 1968. In many ways, we are fighting the exact same battles King fought then. But though he may not have reached the "mountaintop," he challenged the system. And as a result of his work, things did change.
Though the residents in Rochester Park are meeting with resistance from some and "explanations" for why they should accept sub-standard conditions from others, residents are pushing back.
The residents of Rochester Park may not reach their "mountaintop" either, but I have hope that their hard work will challenge the city to think differently about the people and the area that it has chosen to neglect for years.