Out of the Mouths of Babes
(6.17.15) Over the last month, I had three encounters with neighborhood youngsters that was equal parts eye opening and reaffirming, and raw…
The setting of the first exchange was at a career day with our partner school, Harvey Rice Elementary School. I was one of several two-person teams of professionals who spoke to students about our career paths (yes, I know…blah, blah, blah). To keep things interesting, my partner in this activity (Jay Westbrook of Thriving Communities) asked students this question: If you had a million bucks to spend in your neighborhood, what would you spend the money on?
Their responses spoke volumes about neighborhood conditions. The students said that they would take down the “’bandos” (abandoned homes) and fix up houses. This shocked us and forced us to reflect on how the built environment affects our youth, and how external (i.e., neighborhood) conditions are internalized.
The second exchange involved a collaborative project modeled after Philadelphia’s Public Workshop that we call Making Our Own Space (MOOS). MOOS engages neighborhood youngsters from the Boys and Girls Club and East End Neighborhood House to plan, design and build their own playscape at Britt Oval, located here at Saint Luke’s Pointe. The project rests on the notion that we rarely ask teenagers what they want in public spaces. We build playgrounds for the little ones; but what about teenagers? When asked what they like to see in a public space, their answers were surprising. They did not ask for elaborate structures or grand plans. They wanted something simple: a place to relax after a hard day of school.
Finally, police community relations is the issue of day of the day, period. Add to this the persistent issue of crime, and you have a problem that it so complex and daunting that it’s easy not to act.
Our partners at Fourth District Police and The Cleveland Police Foundation have embraced a deceptively simple approach to police community relations: they listen. They are working to improve relations one person and one encounter at a time. When asked what they (the police) can do to better to relate to and serve the community, the youngsters said: “Continue to be present“; “Teach the community about the laws and what police do“; and “Host community block parties“. Again, relatively simple answers to problems filled with complexity.
Blight removal, access to quality public spaces, and police and community relations are big, big issues that are hard to grasp. Then I think about an African proverb: “What is the best way to eat the elephant standing in your path? One bite at a time.”
One house, one park, one /place, and one encounter at a time.
By: Nelson Beckford
Senior Program Officer, A Strong Neighborhood
Saint Luke’s Foundation