Siren wails, car door slams, foot falls, and staccato voices regularly mar the late night peace on my street. Sagging pants, tilted hats, dress-sized shirts, and loosely laced gym shoes perennially intrude on my daytime view of the park across the road. Cars fly through my neighborhood, speakers bumping. I once heard the following declarations outside my window at 11:30 on a Wednesday night:
Woman 1 (Crescendo of car door slams converge on a footfall chorus): “I can’t WAIT till I get a job. Then, I’ma give EE’BODY back they money.”
Woman 2 (Nighttime symphony crests just at my front porch): “Me, too, girl.”
Woman 1 (Footsteps fade, a decrescendo into the darkness): “Lon, Pook, EE’BODY. I ain’t gon ask nobody for money who don’t want to give it to me.”
While unloading a Prius full of Trader Joe’s goodness one unseasonably warm Spring night, this music from a few gentlemen across the street met my ears:
Man 1 (Fist sweeping a wide arc through the streetlight’s eerie glow): “Loser b&*%h! Man, I f*^%&d it up!”
Men 2 & 3 (laughter, inaudible mumbles)
Man 1 (Shadow boxing): “I’ll do that s*&t again too, mu-f(*k!”
Surely, you have formed an image of my street. You have raced the people, wondered at the difference between the syntax of my writing and the depressed income of the neighborhood, imagined the unkempt lawns and dilapidated houses – if there are houses because this surely must be a remembrance of the projects, wondered how many of your tax dollars are paying for my neighbors’ food stamps, lamented the certain ignorance of the area’s fatherless school children, and wished you knew where I lived so you could avoid the area.
And this, Dear Editor, is the reason I am writing.
Undoubtedly among your readership is a population of educated African-Americans who are connected directly or generationally to a neighborhood like mine. I extend to them this entreaty:
I earnestly implore you to move into any one of the abandoned homes or vacant new construction properties or build on any abandoned lot in my neighborhood. Come and be our neighbor.
Before you answer, indulge me a few paragraphs more.
A developer took an interest in the area several years ago, buying homes from area residents, razing them, and erecting brand new dwellings in their places. Such new homes stand on every block in the area, some occupied, some not, some half-finished victims of a work halt. The underperforming school on the corner that serves almost all of the local children will hopefully improve with the School Based Change process, and one block from the school a green construction fence sports a sign thanking the mayor and alderman for the new library that might be complete in December 2010, three years after breaking ground. A park outfitted with jungle gym, basketball and tennis courts and baseball diamond forms a courtyard between my block and a street two blocks over. They are really very good about fixing the cracked slide and broken swings within a month or so of each unfortunate incident. Did I mention the community center around the corner, the high school being built three blocks down, or the farmers’ market that assembles every summer Saturday? If you eat the fruit the day of purchase and cook the vegetables within two, you will hardly notice the produce’s quick decay. For your religious fortification there are three churches in a three-block radius and a mosque just five-minutes away. Sadly, there is no full service grocery, but a discount food seller is just a mile away with a corner store and gas station convenience shop within a two-minute walk.
I think the neighborhood has potential.
What we need is you. You who wakes early every morn and carpools in your trendy VW or sleek Benz to your fancy job secured with your privileged education. We need someone like you, someone who will require all offspring to play in the backyard and follow the streetlight rule. We need you, someone whose friends will close their cars with a gentle tap and confine their outdoor conversations to inaudible whispers. We need you, someone who will refrain from littering her or his own stoop with candy wrappers and chip bags, someone who cannot stand in front of the dumpster across the street engaged in late night bragging about past criminal pursuits because the work day begins at 8 A.M. or before and on whom the symbolism and irony are not lost. We need you.
I implore you, please, consider my invitation. Your stabilizing influence is what we need to anchor our community in the notion that we are somebody and that education is the key to success where we come from, not just wherever we go. Your experiences are valuable because they serve as windows through which the community can experience the world. Your work ethic and education are examples we can strive to achieve. Your absence means our rapid descent into anarchy born of a siphoning off of our most promising minds. Your presence will help us grow into an egalitarian meritocracy where circumstance does not interrupt opportunity.
We need you.