Handing out back packs with Christina of Bridgeport’s Jumoke Academy at Dunbar block party.
She was old and grey and wore sweatpants with elastic bands around the waist pulled up to her sagging breasts and wrinkled t-shirt. I don’t recall her name—or perhaps the truth is that I never bothered to ask. Every Saturday morning as I made my way to the bus stop bound to teach eight and ten year olds the fundamentals of tap dance and rhythm, there she was, accompanied by her dog (forgot his name too), holding on to a trash bag and gloves as she made her way up the steep hill.
For blocks she picked up trash where the street children regularly disposed of their corner store candy and local alcoholics sat enjoying their latest swig of internal destruction. I’m not exactly sure if she even lived in the neighborhood. I knew most of my neighbors having grown up in the same house for over 12 years.
My neighborhood used to be a place for middle class families from all ethnicities and backgrounds but, as I grew into my teens, it was slowly becoming a wasteland for lower income families, drugs and abandoned cars you dare not walk past at night. I wanted to move. I even begged my momma to sell her house and move to a “nicer” part of town. Momma didn’t budge and neither did the decline of the five-block radius I grew to despise.
The old grey lady with elastic waste sweatpants didn’t fear the changing neighborhood. She just knew she had to clean it up if she wanted it to shine once more. I never joined her. I didn’t see the purpose then. Besides, I was 15 at the time and the last thing I wanted to do on a Saturday morning was pick up trash.
Today, I wish I had remembered that woman’s name. I wish I would have found out where she lived and even more important, I wish I would have swallowed my pride and joined her in her one-woman neighborhood clean up.
I’m not sure if the old lady is still alive but I thank her for inspiring me albeit 10 years later. The message is still the same:
We have to be the change that we wish to see.
I don’t know what your neighborhood’s issues are. It may be the landscape of homeless men and women you see every day on your way to work. It may be the lack of quality food options and plethora of fast food restaurants. Or perhaps it’s the trash against the backdrop of residential housing that irks your nerves. Whatever it is, we can build up the nerve to change our communities even if it means spending our Saturday mornings removing corner store candy rappers from the drain.
You don’t have to start an entire movement, build a blog or join an organization to make change happen. Just get started and watch others follow suit.
5 Ways You Can Make Your Neighborhood Better Today
1. Organize a neighborhood clean up – You don’t need an entire crew to clean up the streets but if a few of your close friends / neighbors feel just as strong about litter in your area, join everyone together to host a community clean up every other week. In need of supplies? You can ask your local city officials for rakes, shovels, trash bags and gloves. Compost what you can and recycle whenever possible. Be visible and be bold. When people see you taking care of your block they’ll either join you or be conscious of where they put their trash.
2. Mow the lawn or the sidewalk – There’s no landscaping ever coming to the ‘hood. Overgrown grass, un-kept sidewalks and un-weeded gardens are pretty much the norm here in Bridgeport, especially in lower-income communities where many families rent and landlords care not. If you have a lawn mower and a bit of time on your hands, mow your entire block. Get neighborhood kids involved and adopt a block or two.
3. Bring a farmer’s market to your community – If your neighborhood is lacking in access to fresh fruits and vegetables, create a Farmer’s Market. It can be as simple as connecting with a local farmer or reaching out to your local city officials to discover what resources are available in your city and who you need to speak with to set up a regular farmer’s market. Find out if a community center or business owner would be willing to host a market weekly or monthly to get the ball rolling.
4. Get an abandoned building torn down – This one is a bit tricky. In every city I’ve lived in there has been a string of abandoned homes or old buildings. Abandoned buildings are meccas for squatting, drugs, and rape. The best thing to do is report the derelict building to your local city council. Cause a stink and remind them that it is a danger to your community, children and public health. Your city council representative should know what steps to take in order to find out who owns the building (a landlord or the city itself) and will help you figure out how to proceed. Ask your neighbors to call and complain as well.
5. Organize physical activities – Remember when kids used to play outside? Lure them out with a game of kickball (wait… do kids still play that?), baseball or even street hockey. If there’s a park nearby where you can organize an activity, get people amped up by posting a few flyers and inviting people out for a monthly game of (insert activity here). If you’re able, see if you can host a block party and have traffic blocked off.
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9:12
How have you done small things to impact your community? Is there anything else you can add to this list?
Love and Beauty,