Bottom line, nobody knows our communities the way we do. People who don’t live it and especially those who have never experienced it, cannot know what it’s like to walk a mile in our shoes. It is common knowledge that people are in general, more self involved and our communities are broken. There are many reasons for it but we’ll save that for another day. If you take a look around, it isn’t uncommon to find that cohesive immediate and extended family units are often important in the success of the entire family unit. There is a larger pool of experience, knowledge, support and guidance to pull from and everyone wants to see the unit succeed. There is truth in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” From there, this concept can extend to close friends and even neighbors. Your neighbor may be a plumber or mechanic and you may be an electrician. You may be able to trade services or information that may help one another out. This concept can also be applied to a community. It’s similar the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
We’ve discussed how government programs have failed to rebuild our communities from both ends of the spectrum, welfare as well as trying to create self-sufficiency. President Clinton’s Welfare to Work program was a good idea based on stereotypes of low-income, urban communities. The reality is, stereotypes do not represent a group of people and people in low income, urban neighborhoods need more than just jobs. The first issue that comes to mind is sending a large amount of under-skilled and under-educated people into a workforce to compete for few jobs. The only thing it will help them maintain is instability because the jobs don’t necessarily pay good wages. In the end, we’re back at square one. Our communities suffer while the people with the power take stabs in the dark at ways to “help”. A decision has to be made and we’re the ones who have to make it.
If we decided to recreate all of the things that people leave our communities for, within our own communities, would more people stay? This is the part where I expect many people to stop paying attention because of the common belief that we can’t do that. I believe the opposite. It has been done many times before and it can be done again. You may say that it has been destroyed before, I am aware of that. We can combat that but first we have to build. Why tear down a good thing before it’s even built? Answer these questions:
If jobs were created in your neighborhood but there were no local shops to service you, would you travel somewhere more convenient? If good schools were built but your kids had to travel through unsafe neighborhoods to get there, would you move to a safer neighborhood with good schools? If you found the home of your dreams in an unpleasant neighborhood, would you still purchase it? Every aspect of our communities is interdependent and has to be changed by us. We are the ones who live here and we are the ones who can eliminate the obstacles that we face.
We cannot rely on elected officials or more programs that reek of welfare dressed up in fancy clothing for a solution. As we walk through our neighborhoods, we know what we need. We know first hand the problems that exist and who is creating the problems. In the opening paragraph, I spoke of the immediate and extended family. We also spoke of the “extensions” of family that we will call the village for the sake of this blog post. We all have had the play cousin, we’ve called our friend’s moms “mom’ and our mom’s friends “aunt”. That cohesiveness fostered trust. Trust improved communication with each other and established meaningful relationships. Within these relationships, dialogue occurs and information is shared on various levels from neighborhood gossip to job opportunities. The positive externalities help us to build safe, productive communities.
As members of these communities, we can recognize what we would need to survive. The corner store owners knew the needs of the neighborhood and would maintain those items. In return the neighborhood supported these local shops. The shop owner knew all the customers by their names, their children’s name and what they did for a living. We would have block parties and on Sundays we met at church. The kids were in YPD, in the youth choir or on the junior usher board. We could depend on the church in the time of need and the church stood with the community when a crisis hit.
How do we get back there? It is actually very simple. It has to be organic and come from us for us. Re-establish neighborhood block associations, plan block parties that encourage families to get out and and socialize with their neighbors, hold the church accountable for the neighborhood and not just for the people within their four walls. Become familiar with local politicians and become active. SHOP LOCAL and make sure that the people you spend money with put money back into the community and not send back to where the only families it benefits is theirs, not ours.
These is a lot more ground to cover but this is the appropriate starting point.