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Posts Tagged ‘community’

A boy in our neigborhood was killed last night.  when police stopped a car he was riding in, he fled.  police chased him.  there was an altercation.  then the gun shot.  we don’t know details.  all we know is that a young man in our community lost his life today.

Tonight neighbors gather in the back alley, where julius died. we are circled around a small memorial for julius.  A few stuffed bears and a couple dozen flickering candles lie in the place where julius fell. Above, on the fence hangs some flimsy posterboard with penned phrases like, “He’s in a better place” and “RIP julius.” We stand tightly, shoulder to shoulder, holding candles that drip hot wax on our hands.  Pastors from our neighborhood churches cry out in loud, inspired voices, “We serve a god who does not make mistakes.” But this, I wonder?  Even this?  For what purpose is this?

We wonder and we hold tighter to the candles, putting our hope in each small flame, sheltering them from the soft summer nite breeze.  We wonder and we raise the candles together, believing that this life will not be forgotten.  We will not forget.  We wonder and we grasp onto each others’ hands, with a strong sense of connection and purpose:  that only when we truly love each other will we be the community of SHALOM we long for.

We wonder.  And in the loose warmth between our clasped palms, we feel the Spirit nudging us to believe.

Julius

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Titling an interview with Tom and Renee Pastoor “New in Town” is what those in the writing business would call irony, given their thirty one years of residence in the neighborhood.  But that is where they took me, to a time when they were new in town.

“We bought the house dirt cheap.  We met Ray and Isabell Squires, who were our neighbors and really, kind of second grandparents to our children.”

TomReneeWe quickly had to pause our interview for the welcome interuption of neighborhood kids wanting to talk to Tom.  Here is a scene and a continuation of the investment in the lives his neighbor’s children.  And here, in a way, is Ray, who had done the same.

“So Ray and Isabell were like grandparents to our kids.  They took care of them while we were doing projects around the house.  I learned a lot from Ray.  He helped me do some roofing on the garage.  He was in his mid-seventies, and he carried the rolled roofing, on his shoulder, up the ladder, to show me how to do it.  I learned a lot from him about being resourceful and being a gardener.  He had the most beautiful garden.  Basically, we’ve inherited his garden.  He graduated from Michigan College, before it was Michigan State, and had a degree in horticulture and animal husbandry.”

GardenRenee gave me a tour of their backyard, and the garden that Ray planted, and she and Tom had improved on.  It’s incredibly beautiful, almost magical to someone whose imagination tends to carry him away.

“When Ray was a little boy, he had hearing loss.  Six or seven years old.  When he got old, he related to me how difficult that was, to be a boy and not be able to hear.  He got pretty emotional about it, and Ray was a pretty tough guy.  He was one of the original garden boys.  There was a guy named McLouth that had a garden out by Mona Lake, by the Henry Street float bridge.  And these kids from the neighborhood would go there and learn about gardening.  I think it’s pretty fitting that we’re doing the same thing right across the street from his house.”

HouseDoorIn the park, across the street from his house, Tom teaches the neighborhood kids about gardening.  I’m beginning to think everyone in the neighborhood is a gardener.  I had no idea when I got involved with McLaughlin that it’s agricultural roots ran so deep.

And in coming full circle, the kids painted a mural on the fence in the new park, right behind the garden where Tom works with them.  And on that mural, they painted Ray’s old house.

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This week, I finish up with the McLaughlin Grows crew…

How long you guys been working here?

Michael:  “6 to 8 weeks.”

You guys like it?

Shaquille: “Yeah, it’s cool.  Teaches us life skills.”

How did you get this job?

Michael:  “At the pocket park, they had something going on, on a Saturday.  I went up there to help, and Michael Espinoza told me about it, that they had a summer job program going on, and would I be interested.  I said yeah.”

Shaquille:  “I got the job because I live in the neighborhood.  Trying to help out the community.”

Just for the summer, for you guys?

Michael:  “Yeah.  They’re trying to work it out so we can stay longer.”

And what do you think of Teri?

Michael:  “She’s laid back.”

Shaquille:  “She’s nice.”

Michael:  “She’s strict on us just enough.  Tells us a lot about the plants.  Most of us didn’t know anything about plants; we just know about the food.  And she told us the different plants, and what they do.”

Farm Rows

Is there a lot to learn?  I don’t really do gardening…er, farming, myself.

Shaquille:  “There’s a lot of work.”

AJ :  “A lot weeding.”

Michael:  “Leveling off the beds even.  Watering.”

AJ :  “Turning them over.”

Michael:  “After we got past the hard stuff, all we really do is weed and plant and water.  That’s all.  The first couple weeks were hard.  We had to turn the dirt over, then make all these beds.  Then we had to plant them all, and they cut the tree down.  That’s where all these wood chips came from.  Instead of picking up all the wood chips, we decided to just make a path out of them.”

What do you guys think about the neighborhood in general?  Do you like living here?

Michael:  “It’s a pretty good neighborhood.  Pretty decent.”

Now, are you the football player?

Michael:  “Yeah.”

What position?

Michael:  “Safety.”

What are your plans for the future?

Michael:  “I’m going into the criminal justice field.  Corrections officer maybe.”

Shaquille:  “You’re gonna see me; I’m gonna be a famous lawyer.”

So what are you working on today?

Michael:  “We’re planting these tomatoes we got from the prison.  Those ones we planted are diseased.  Blight, I think it’s called.”

Shaquille:  “And they got bronchitis.  Couple of them have AIDS.”

So what’s your favorite part about working here?

AJ :  “Getting money.”

Shaquille:  “Helping out the community.  Making it look much better than it did.”

Michael:  “At first it was just an empty lot.  There were glass bottles, trash.”

AJ :  “You could get cut out here.”

Michael:  “I used to cut through this yard, then one day I was walking and there was a fence up.  I was like, when did they put a fence up here?”

How about your least favorite thing?

AJ :  “When it’s hot.  Too hot.”

Shaquille:  “Yeah, you gotta weed.”

AJ :  “And the sun’s about to kill you.”

Michael:  “Other than that, it’s pretty fun.  Everybody gets along.  A lot of people pass by and ask what’s going on.”

AJ :  “Sometimes they drop us off something.”

Shaquille:  “You get little kids that walk up and down that are excited about what’s going on.”

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            We grow up in our imperfect worlds, and they make us who we are.  We learn our limits, and we know that we can’t fix the world, but we try.  We try to fix the things that hurts us.

            I sat in a little bistro on 3rd street called Mia & Grace, talking with Carlos Avrard, fellow Mosaic Way-er and coordinator of the Healthy Neighborhood Project in McLaughlin. 

“They have muffalettas here,” he said as he explained the place.

I set out my digital recorder and give him a simple directive: get me to now.

            He told me fondly about New Orleans – the food, the music, the weather, the drive-thru alcohol stands – the diversity he encountered on every side.

“We moved a lot, though, around,” he said.  He went to eight different schools in his thirteen years, never setting down any roots.  Then he tells me in a quiet sort of way that he’s envious of people who have long-term friendships, the kind that stretch back into childhood.

Carlos

     He met his wife, Sarah, in college.  They hung out in a Hardee’s one of the first nights he was there.  “She knew right away,” he said.  After graduation, they moved to Michigan.  The church they attended was located in McLaughlin at the time.  Starting Mosaic Way has seen them come full circle.

            “The diversity, that’s a good, healthy thing, that there’s not people who look like you and think like you.  There’s a vibrancy in that,” he said of the mosaic McLaughlin neighborhood.

            We arrived at now, so now what?  These days Carlos is remodeling his house and continuing his work with the neighborhood.

“One cool thing about our home remodel project – where we’re taking this home built over a hundred years ago and it’s sturdy and it has all this character to it, but has all this work that’s required – I’m kinda paralleling this home remodel project to this neighborhood.  Where as we’re spending ourselves and putting in effort and money into restoring this home in a way, of pouring passion and energy – and granted, it’s one little piece of this neighborhood, but paralleling that to this community, putting in effort, putting in time, pouring ourselves and our passions toward seeing this community be restored in a way. And I think those two parallels of the struggles that we deal with on the house, of knowing it’s not a quick fix and it’s not gonna be easy and we’re gonna have to be patient; we’re gonna have frustrations and roadblocks.  The same is true for this neighborhood, that it’s not going to be a quick fix; we’re gonna have to deal with the frustration and the roadblocks and all those things.  As you kinda dig into this stuff you find that you bust open a wall, and you find out what the plumbing and electrical is like below it.  Whereas, you knock on a door, you find a neighbor that has issues or something…  So that’s been an interesting thing that’s been echoing in my head a lot that this house remodel project in a nutshell is kind of symbolic in a way of this neighborhood.  You know we can’t do this house remodeling on our own; we can’t have this neighborhood redo itself on its own.  It requires other people.  Community and folks for support and all those things.”

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