“I could have taken the bus,” I think to myself as I walk. It would have been faster.
Overhead, the sky still wears its cloak of grey, a reminder of the rain that stopped a few minutes ago. With care, I dodge the puddles as I make my way northbound.
I’m going to see my friend, Ronn, who works at a non-profit in a nearby neighborhood. The North of Howard Area – named after the major road that marks its southern border – has a reputation of being a poorer and rougher part of town. Confined by the train yards, a cemetery, Howard Street, and the lake, it is alienated from the rest of the city.
Although it’s not that far from where I live, today is my first time visiting this neighborhood. I’m excited to finally make the trip.
Make a visit to a nearby neighborhood
Well and good
Walk the grounds you’ve never seen before
What you see may yet surprise you
See what’s true
Arriving at the building, I knock and am let inside. Ronn greats me with a smile. We begin to talk about the neighborhood. As he describes Good News Partners (GNP), the organization he works for, I sense his excitement about their work.
He tells me how GNP serves the community by providing low income housing. They own and manage several properties in the neighborhood, giving a home to people who would otherwise have to go elsewhere because of the rising property values.
After giving me an overview, we grab our coats and head outside. It’s time to see the neighborhood firsthand.
Walking with Ronn, I notice something odd. Where I had expected the buildings to have a dirty and crumbling appearance, they are clean and neat. Some of them look nicer than the ones on my street. I find my perceptions of the neighborhood shifting. They will shift again.
We pass a community garden. Squash, tomatoes, corn, and a host of other vegetables fill this island of earth amid the gravel and concrete of the city. Flowers rush in to fill the gaps between the vegetables. Rich and colorful – this is a place of life.
On its gate hangs a sign: “No alcohol, drugs or violence”. It is a place of life, indeed.
The garden echoes the story of the people who live here. They desire the same the same things that I do. They want health and safety. They want the freedom to live in peace. They are not so different from me.
We keep walking.
Ronn tells me the history of the neighborhood and points out buildings of note. Each of them has a story. They are interesting stories – stories worth hearing.
One building has received the whole spectrum of use. Starting as a residence for the homeless, it transitioned into low income housing. From there, it became a cooperative. It stayed that way until the residents decided to turn the units into condos. For all the desperation of the area, people are, step by step, moving out of poverty.
As we walk, we meet people. Ronn usually knows them, and he greets them with a smile. They return the greeting, and say hello to me. This place is not my home, and I expected to be uncomfortable. But I feel welcome.
Each person has a story. Some work for GNP. Others live in the buildings they own. The rest are neighbors. I’m glad to catch a bit of their stories.
Nearing the end of the tour, we pass the new fitness center and school wing. The city added them recently to raise the standard of living at the area. But the story is not completely positive.
Three hundred units of low income housing disappeared with the additions. People simply lost their homes and were told to go live somewhere else. Those that remain in the area find their rent increasing as the property values go up. Ronn says he’s worried that the poor will be forced out.
Organizations like GNP work to help those poor. They give their stories the value and attention they deserve. They help them take the next step in improving their lives. The story of this neighborhood may yet have a happy ending.
For everything you have an expectation
That guides how you treat those you do not know
Friend or foe
Open yourself to thinking differently
Chang how you see
Returning home, I ponder the visit. Half of what I thought about the place turned out to be wrong. Many of my expectations proved incomplete. But I wouldn’t have learned had I not come.
In your mind, you have a story for everything. Even if you know little about a subject, you’ll fill in the gaps with made up information. This is a useful ability as it lets you process and react to the world quickly. The danger though is that those stories influence how you see people. And how you see people directs how you treat them.
Make an effort to learn the real story. Meet people. Look upon their faces.
Visit places you haven’t been to before. Often, you won’t even have to travel far. My journey only took me a few blocks from home.
Let what you see dash your expectations. Allow the writing of a new story. See how the stranger is not so strange after all.
PHOTO: An unexpected spot of color.