The Many Voices of a Community
On a warm, Saturday, July morning the BLC field school participants attended a community event at Sherman Park. Markasa Tucker partnered with City of Light Church and other local groups to organize an event that brought the community together. Music, spoken word, art, food, and craft stalls were laid out for the large number of residents who attended. There were vendors, policemen, preachers, and young adults, socializing, conversing, and interacting with each other. This event brought forth the vibrant life of this diverse community and highlighted the cooperation and collaboration between various community stakeholders.
I was surprised, because this was not the story I heard on evening television. After the summer 2016 police shooting and property destruction, I heard a single story of this neighborhood. News reports seemed to highlight the dangerous conditions, rife with racial tension and violence. When I told others that I was going to work in Sherman Park, I was instructed never to be alone, to be vigilant, and to leave the neighborhood before dark. Many questioned my intentions — why would I choose to work in that neighborhood? Would I find positive stories, worth telling? Accounts of Sherman Park were flattened into a one-dimensional story of social discontent. The event organized by Ms. Tucker contradicted the incorrect, but otherwise popular single story of this neighborhood.
During the next few weeks, I read about Sherman Park’s history, explored local homes, and spoke to residents. I heard multiple stories, diverse experiences, and found examples of exceptional urban diversity. Residents told me that we were committed to the people of the community. They shared how they practiced these intentions; how they contributed to the creation of a beautiful community by acts of caring, charity, and neighborliness. They discussed their love for their neighborhood. Everything I learnt, while at Sherman Park, pointed towards a diverse and multifaceted world.
This world is built on relationships. Powerful women work towards creating strong networks of support. Groups of men organize in order to teach and mentor young adults. Churches encourage their congregation to share and help each other. Cafes encourage growing and preparing fresh local food. Ms. Camille Mays, Ms. Tremerell Robinson, and Ms. Cheri Fuqua demonstrate the healing power of nature as they describe how pocket gardens and well maintained yards encourage residents to tend and take care of their environment.
Pat Olin shared her dismay at how the media portrayed Sherman Park after the “uprising.” She noted that the national news media failed to tell the story of residents cleaning up the debris the day after the unrest. Matt Bohlman remembered that day, when everyone was out in the street, putting their damaged community back to order. Others lamented that while members of their community serve the people and act as stewards of their streets, these stories are rarely highlighted.
I went back to my research and found news accounts that highlighted a stark opposition between the community and the police. Videos from the unrest showed police in riot gears and politicians enforcing a curfew. Left with only that information it could be believable that the community is trouble. But I had alternative accounts listing the real concerns of residents and their desire to work with the police.
We interviewed many residents from various walks of life. We interviewed residents of the Center Peace neighborhood and members of the Sherman Park Community Association. We sat down with community activists, members of a local church, and tenants. We even participated in a Men’s Group breakfast in which local elders teamed up with young men from the neighborhood. A common theme emerged: All emphasized the power of caring and collaboration in order to bring beauty in places of disrepair. All were committed to nurturing places that everyone in the community could use freely. I found diversity in race, ethnicity, religion, education levels, economic levels, occupation, and gender. The homes too, were as diverse as the people, each telling a different story.
Of course, telling positive stories need not mean that we remain unaware of difficulties. There are still areas of improvement and multiple residents recounted these problems. Ms. Cheri Fuqua reminded us that she, “may not have everyone on board yet but they’ll get on.”
Sherman Park has always been a diverse neighborhood. Residents embrace this character as a trait of their neighborhood and consider their diversity as one of the primary reasons to live here. When we seek to hear, and listen, we uncover a mosaic of beauty that is otherwise denied by a single story. Mr. V.W. Chambers challenged us to listen and question, to understand the neighborhood as a multi-faceted place filled with deeply, committed, and passionate residents.
The Past, Present, & Future for the Community
Building the Economy in the Neighborhood
Beautifying the Community