WARNING: This is a vent; an impassioned catharsis based on overhearing yet another disrespectful, cruel conversation about my neighborhood and its residents. I am addressing those that remain reckless with their words.
I reside on the Hilltop and it, and Tacoma, is my block. And I am my block.
There are so many fear based interactions and behaviors in our city. I resist and renounce that fear, but I don’t drive or control it.
If you’re scared of my block, you’re scared of me. And whatever you say about my block you say about me. Before you write me off as dramatic, consider the deep meaning of place in your identity. Beyond the walls of your bedroom, your apartment, condo or home, the rituals of our neighborhoods are as much a part of us as our fingerprints. Whether block parties or bbq’s, chain link, 6-foot or picket fences, your block is a thread that pulls on your adult sensibilities because it is rooted in your development and your sense of home.
I feed greedily off the constancy, the rough rhythm of my block. It is no burden to bear. It’s not the imposition or warning label others proclaim. I reign from a porch swing with a stiff drink and an eye for my tribe buzzing around me.
There is no shortage of opinions on my block. Judgement reigns supreme on the Hilltop. Condemnation and criticism is as present as Paul Post’s van on my block.
And I suppose that’s okay. As a society, we love to critique and judge. We love to critique and judge others. We love to critique and judge others we haven’t met, and those we have absolutely no intentions of every meeting or speaking with personally. That works for the misguided troupe on the Bad Girls’ Club or the Republican Presidential Debates. But guess what, when you pontificate on the community you should remember that you are a part of it…at least in theory. Some definitions of community offered by OG Merriam Webster:
- A group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood)
- an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location
- the people with common interests living in a particular area
Basic, but relatively accurate right? By these definitions, we are each a part of community by virtue of area and proximity, whether you reside in the South End, Eastside, Hilltop or the Proctor District.
Here’s where the definition of community gets a little funkier:
- joint ownership or participation; as in:
- common character
- social activity
- a social state or condition
It just got real. Ownership? Participation? Well that takes the wind out of the wannabe witty comments. If you are an actor and owner of the community, if you are a spoke in the wheel that drives our streets, the disparaging and dismissive comments you offer up to others over happy hour or a latte just became a criticism of you and yours.
In education, we are always pushing strategies to get students to own their education in the hopes that if they take ownership they will be more resistant to peer pressure, increase their ability to advocate for themselves. Most importantly, owning their education means that they will also on every success along the way, cultivating pride in themselves as their accomplishments.
James Kunstler speaks to the potential of our active ownership in this essay, stating:
Human settlements are like living organisms. They must grow, and they will change. But we can decide on the nature of that growth—on the quality and the character of it—and where it ought to go. We don’t have to scatter the building blocks of our civic life all over the countryside, destroying our towns and ruining farmland…. It is within our power to create places that are worthy of our affection.
Can we do that when it comes to community? Can we own our role in the struggles and injustices of our fellow Tacomans, or more importantly, own our role in helping to care for one another? Caring is not about writing a check or running for office. Caring is about holding up the humanity and dignity of your people before anything else. Look me in my eye. Shut up and listen. Show up where you normally wouldn’t to show support to someone you’ve never met. Get. Out. Of. Your. Bubble. Social Media is the core of complicity because it affords us boundaries that perpetuate an invitation to criticize without the urgency to engage.
No engagement = no ownership. No ownership = nor participation. Zero participation = zero new relationships. Zero new relationships = a hamster wheel of status quo conversations packed with opinion but void of experience.
I cling to vision beautifully articulated by Ann Boyles in The Meaning of Community:
Communities that thrive and prosper in the new millennium will do so because they acknowledge the spiritual dimension of human nature and make the moral, emotional, and intellectual development of the individual a central priority. They will guarantee freedom of religion and encourage the establishment of places of worship. Their centers of learning will seek to cultivate the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness and will pursue as a major goal the participation of all peoples in generating and applying knowledge. Remembering at all times that the interests of the individual and of society are inseparable…
Whether you like it or not, we are inseparable. So be kind and act out of wisdom when you offer up your insights on our city’s “struggling neighborhoods.” Don’t take a ticket to ride on someone else’s life without paying the fare; or at least asking permission.
Today’s tragedy (the 5th in just a few weeks) makes this orientation to kindness and respect all the more important. Let your heart move your mind.