Create a Culture of Peace – This is on You, Too

I woke to a number of “this needs to stop” and “something needs to change” posts across social media this morning. I have not seen one “I’m going to…” response to last night’s shootings in the city.

If you can’t see that this problem reaches beyond the responsibility of parents and city officials then you inarguably are not looking hard enough at the real issues. To choose to reside in an area where violent acts continue yet put the onus on others to rectify the situation so that you have a better place to live is irresponsible and elitist.

Maybe it’s time to step out of your privilege and into the streets. If problems exist in your neighborhood, why? And don’t come back with that “black kids are the problem” or blame the Mayor for not doing their job. This is your neighborhood, after all. If you aren’t working within your means to make positive changes to the environment, your name belongs on the list of the enablers in front of that finger you are so quick to point.

So, fix it. Why is violence a problem in your community? And how do you fix it? I’m no expert, by any means, but I am relatively certain that sitting on your ass will in no way improve the state of affairs. I do spend stretches of time traveling through all kinds of neighborhoods – some house the more affluent while many are streets lined with houses in all levels of disrepair. Corners that once boasted beautiful parks have been reduced to urban trash dumps. Sidewalks are dangerously dark for wont of overhead lighting and the bygone summer sounds of kids playing in their yards are now nothing more than muffled television audio from behind locked doors. Block after block, street after street, city to city it repeats.

It does not have to be this way. We all know it. You may have even said it yourself. Go ahead and nod your head. That’s a start. You can’t fix a problem if you can’t admit there is a problem…right? So, you can’t do it alone? That’s okay. You don’t have to because you aren’t alone. Behind every darkened porch light is someone just like you.

If the neighborhood has a problem it affects the entire community. Why not activate the people and work together? Maybe a good old fashioned intervention is what we need…

…a neighborhood intervention!

  • Call out the violence – identify and raise awareness of all turns of violence that affect your community. Talk about it with the people on your street. Word will spread that the behavior is not acceptable or tolerated.
  • How well do you know your neighbors? Attend neighborhood activities to meet the people on your street or organize an event if there isn’t something already planned. Friendly folks tend to look out for one another, and this is invaluable when working to build a trusting environ.
  • Mentor kids in your neighborhood. Maybe that single mom could use a little positive assistance with one of her kids, or a local sports team could use a cheerleader at their Saturday afternoon games. Work with teachers and school officials to build a stronger alliance and community support system.
  • Promote the arts in your neighborhood: create a community art project – maybe a local business has a wall that is just screaming for a mural or you could invite the man who plays guitar on his front porch every Friday night to play for a neighborhood event.
  • Identify areas of blight in your neighborhood. What can the community do to improve the space? Ask the city to provide a dumpster for a community clean-up day (then keep it clean), speak to city officials to replace or repair broken street lamps, paint the porch for that elder woman down the street to brighten her day and the neighborhood, or turn that small vacant lot into a community garden space. It’s not difficult to notice when someone works to make things better. Even those who are violence-prone will sometimes respect the efforts, move on, or even choose a better path.
  • Many neighborhoods already have social media pages. By all means, continue to use it to identify possible threats; but make a point to share the good stories there, too. Post about the people in your neighborhood: Mr. Johnson’s lawn looks amazing this summer; did you see the new trees at the Coffman house? The more you look for the good, the easier it will be to find.
  • Remember, you have alder persons who live through these horrific acts of violence with you – call them to enlist their help. Don’t just present them with the problem. Ask what you can do to lend a hand – this isn’t just on them, you know.  Work together to solve common problems.
  • Invite your local city officials and law enforcement precinct to your neighborhood intervention. Let them know that violence is no longer the status quo where you live and get them on board.

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Renaissance Park Community Garden | Peoria, Illinois

Here’s the thing. There is no quick fix. If there were, we wouldn’t be repeatedly having these conversations. Some of you – likely many – will see all of this as a waste of time and give up before you even begin. If you are one of those people then you just aren’t angry enough or scared enough or tired enough of living this way, are content with this as the norm, or maybe it just hasn’t hit close enough to home yet. You do you. No one is trying to change you; some people are just trying to save a few lives.

To those who wish to see change, I say take the time to find what works for the people on your street, your block, and for you. Will it be easy? Hell no. Will you want to give up? Probably. It very well could be one of the most demanding plans you’ve ever attempted, but what if it is also one of the most inspiring? But don’t give up yet. There are truly lives at stake. So, step up and take the initiative to clean up your community, rid the streets of aggression, and create a culture of peace.

Cover photo:

The Ville, North St Louis

From the book Highway 61 – Crossroads on the Blues Highway [History Press]

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