A moment in the neighborhood
March 6, 2018
Today three men, probably in their 20s, approached the stairs before me and sat down. There’s a good view towards the ocean. Fine with me – plenty of room on the staircase for all.
I did three sets of stairs before one of them lit a cigarette.
Then I see a blond woman at the top of the stairs. She stands there.
After about a minute, the three men stand up and walk up the stairs and away.
I keep walking and then the woman stops me at the bottom before I turn and return.
“You can ask them if they live in the neighborhood. They clearly don’t.”
“I wouldn’t ask that.”
“I’m on Neighborhood Watch and that’s what you’re supposed to ask. I mean there is an open garage over there. I’m not saying they would have taken anything.”
“That’s not a question I would ask. There is an implication based on ethnicity and how they are dressed that they don’t live here, and I would never ask that. There are four construction projects on the street. If they don’t live here, they might have just come off a job and are sitting before heading off.”
“It was a Black police officer at the meeting who told us that’s what you say. I mean they obviously don’t live here and they come over and sit here and smoke pot.” I definitely did not smell pot.
“It’s still nothing I would ask. Thank you for your work on Neighborhood Watch.”
Before I saw her, and they left, I was about to say, “How ya doin’?” as I walked up the stairs. That’s the only question I would have asked.
On Tuesday I led a workshop on Poverty in Los Angeles and one key aspect is all the assumptions we make. All. The. Time. At that moment in my neighborhood, assumptions were swirling and I was watching the spin.
Last week in NYC, I was working with my team of consultants (a great team of four outstanding educators/community change activists), and the work we are doing with the NYPD – New York Police Department. We are consulting with NYC Service – Office of the Mayor – to build out Youth Leadership Councils across the city in all boroughs. These youth-adult partnerships are bringing generations and populations together to listen to each other to shape relationships that matter, taking action that improves neighborhoods, while strengthening leadership for everyone. Community relationships is a key part of what youth will improve with the NYPD and I don’t think it begins with “Do you live here?” when the asker has made up her mind based on appearance, language and clothing.
This is a huge challenge, to look at another person without bias and judgment. To aim to get to know each other. To listen. To thoughtfully observe. To lend a hand, not a fist. I won’t ask “Do you live here?”
Language matters. We communicate with our eyes, body, voice. Respect matters.
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March 29-31, 2018 — NESA Conference in Athens! See you there!
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