"I'm thinking of leaving the area, finding a different place to raise my kids."
My white neighbor and one of my housemates are talking, and I'm eavesdropping as I work.
"Oh? Why is that?" My housemate is looking at the man's daughter, playing sweetly with kids from our community.
"It's this neighborhood," he says. "I mean, you have it good, right here, you're sort of secluded. But we get the bad neighborhood boys all the time. And what are you going to do about it? So yeah, I'm looking for somewhere else to live."
I recall seeing this man encouraging his son to beat up another boy less than a month ago. I didn't hold my tongue then, but I make a choice to hold my tongue now, and I move on by, out of range of the conversation.
Here's what to do about it, sir: you take a stand for what is right and just. You engage with the youth in positive ways. Those "bad neighborhood boys" he whined about came to our party, and didn't break anything, joined in to the playtime, didn't cause an undo amount of strain and behaved pretty well. Yes, yes, I had to really lean on them somewhat a couple of times, to make sure they knew what sort of behavior I expected of them. But I sure didn't encourage anyone to beat up anyone else. I am not feeling powerless and feeling the neighborhood is filled with violence towards me and mine. Gah, look at me, lecturing off-line from the real world. My kids are familiar with this side of me. It is unpleasant, yes?
I found black boys from our street throwing rocks yesterday, at each other and sometimes towards cars and houses. Caitlan has experience with the ways different cultures handle behavior modification, but I don't. I went out and told the boys to stop throwing rocks. They ran, and hid, and denied they were doing anything. "I'm not asking you about what you did," I told them. "I'm telling you that throwing rocks at each other, and maybe breaking windows or damaging cars, isn't allowed. You are not going to do this. Now, take the rocks out of your pockets and put them back in to that yard."
Just about then, one of the older black men walked by. "What are you rotten kids up to? Throwing rocks? You're bad kids! Not a good one in the bunch of you! You're all no-account! I'm going to tell your poppas, and you'll all get whupped! Bad, bad, rotten, no-good, good-for nothing rotten boys! You'll never be anything!"
Is this the message we send? Where is the wisdom of elders? Is this how we raise people in my neighborhood? Do we want to teach our youth that they are worthless? Then as they grow in age but not stature, and have children of their own, they will only know how to fight or flee.
Why can't my neighbor see that our "sort of secluded" area, where his daughter can play in comfort, is the result of our hard work? We made this oasis, this refuge. We've been welcoming him in over the last several months. He seems to believe that we "lucked" into something, and that it isn't available to him. He could put in some effort and have a part of this, too.
I watch him creating his reality of misery and hardship, and while my heart goes out to him, I'm not some Gandhi, some Ella Baker. I feel too weak and talentless to pierce his pride and inspire him to greater harmony.
Forgive me, Lord, I can see the need, hear the need, feel the need, but I'm so close to my own edge that I don't see how I can act to apply Your will here.
Hm. And so my own learning place confronts me and challenges me and is let slip by yet again.