Should I leave or should I stay?

March 14, 2011
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Lately, I have been struggling with my love-and-hate relationship of Austin, oscillating between staying and leaving, wondering if I should join the host of others that slumber under suburban-night skies devoting the work day to this neighborhood.

And like some of them I could still use possessive plural pronouns when addressing social issues of the area like “our children,” “our streets” and “our schools.”

I can have the comfort of knowing that I am around people that can appreciate the reality of what dominant mainstream culture deems as normal or acceptable.

I wouldn’t have to put my cell phone on silent to mute the Guns N Roses’ ring tones I have downloaded. I could openly detest Gucci Mane and that guy who chants “black and yellow” the whole song through (he’s not even worth the Google).  When fellow suburbanites ask me who is on my play list, I can recite through a plethora of genres and radio stations.

I wouldn’t feel like a salmon in a school of goldfish.

It would be okay to talk about where I got my degree from or where I am studying for my master’s. I wouldn’t have to hide my extensive vocabulary or dumb down my knowledge of politics. And who in the suburbs cares if I don’t really want to drive every day? I have a CTA U-pass and gas is expensive.

Who wants to constantly be challenged for attempting to reach beyond the normal social constructs of this impoverished neighborhood?

It’s not about selling out.

Believe me, there is something quaint about the fellowship of late summer nights, drinking under the ivory moon light on a gunshot-free evening. There is a satisfaction for this ritual of which I cannot explain. This congregation has helped maintain my sanity for years.

They are extended family, comrades and confidantes. Many of them have a lot of dormant potential, and I just want to see them do something different.

A lot of issues in Austin remain the same.

I am tired of feeling like nothing is ever going to change. It is discouraging hearing about death, extended prison stays, lack of adequate education, no viable employment options for tens of thousands of residents.

And it seems like politicians don’t care or aren’t doing enough.

It seems like the problems garner more attention than the solutions. It gets disheartening to feel like generations are lost and not enough people reach deep within their satchel of talents to empower the hopeless, provide a platform for the voiceless or love those who know not of unconditional love. It seems so much easier tackling the problem from the comfort an apartment on the other side of Austin Boulevard.

If I go, then who stands up?

That’s the dilemma.

Who is going to engage my people in a manner divergent of the usual tradition? I allow room for folk to express what they need to without shame, allowing room for sharing of stories. I want to remain accessible just in case one of them does decide to change and needs directions on how to get there.

I want them to witness my transformation from the old to the new. I want them to keep stopping me on the street and telling me they read my column.

I truly believe that the past does not define any one, no matter how bad you have screwed up. I am certain there is redemption.

And no matter how miniscule the positive incremental change is, it is progress. Because I changed means that Austin has changed, and it means there has to be more people like me changing Austin from the inside.

Or did they leave?

austintalks.org@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Should I leave or should I stay?

  1. Might I suggest that you tap into the (admittedly all too hidden) diversity that is in Austin for more people to relate to (both racial and economic diversity). I don’t know in what part of Austin you live, but in my part, I haven’t heard a gunshot (at least one close by) in years–we enjoy many quiet nights sitting in our backyard or on our front porch having a glass of wine or a beer under the moonlight as you describe–and we do it for pennies on the dollar compared to the suburbs, especially in terms of property tax. I am guessing you are black from some of your comments, and I am white. I listen to a diverse range of music. I have a college degree, grad school degree, and am working on a PhD. I feel that the one thing Austinites (myself included) need to work harder at is embracing the diversity that does exist here. This will only make it a stronger neighborhood. We have been here for 8 years, and my issue is not whether to move out of Austin or not, it’s whether to move out of Chicago and Illinois in general. But the grass is always greener on the other side. As long as we’re staying in Chicago for the time being, I think Austin worth sticking by. There have been a lot of changes since we’ve lived here. I was actually thinking last night as I was walking home from the CTA that I hadn’t had to call 911 on any loiterers or drug dealers in a long time. Now that may change when it warms up again, but every year it gets a little bit better.

  2. Linda Boyd sent this note, which we wanted to share with everyone:

    John,

    I really enjoyed your article and can relate to your constant question of wanting to leave Austin.

    I live on the 5700 block of Huron, my husband and I bought this house almost five years ago for a good price and while it needed/needs a lot of work it was the only way we could afford a house in the then overpriced housing market. I knew little to nothing about the area and soon found that my neighbors
    were all very friendly and open.

    But alas, there are times when I just want to not listen to constant sirens and loud music that at times wins over a movie we are watching. Just last Fridaywe had cops searching through our yard looking for a gun and kids that looked like they were still in Junior High getting arrested in front of our house. I remember the first summer we lived here I called 911 for every gun shot I heard, now I’m ashamed to admit I only call if it sounds close by.

    When we first moved in I was part of a block club and arranged a clean up day that was successful, but then people stopped showing up to meetings and soon after so did I. I grew up in a small rural town on the border of Wisconsin and am quite proud of where I have ended up, it has opened my mind in so many ways and it makes it almost impossible to even communicate to people that I
    went to school with that never moved from my home town. I do love Austin and I see it changing in small ways, such as the public garden and your blog.

    Now that our house is worth half of what we paid for it, moving is not even an option and even then the place I’m now interested in moving to is Detroit. What can I say I like a challenge.

    I was recently laid off and worked in technical support so if you need any help I would be interested in doing what I can to help improve Austin even more.

    Best Regards,

  3. Linda
    We have an organization for you with your name on it. We invite you to join us on our quest to revitalize Austin 16 blocks at a time. We are CANA, the Central Austin Neighborhood Association. Our website is http://www.cana16.com. Please visit our website and pick one of our initiatives that are having a positive impact on our community. Come join us.

    John
    There is positive change taking place in Austin. I am encouraged by the contacts I’ve made with others who are willing to volunteer to make a difference.

  4. I decided to stay a long time ago. Our blood runs deep in the street here, death and incarceration. I rised my family here. My wife and I have been in this community since 1973 or 38 yrs. We must stay, with out us it definitely will not get better. The grass is not greener on the other side. Sincerely, MAD DADS CHGO CHAPTER…

  5. The inference in your title, “should I stay or should I go” indicates you still have a choice. Many homeowners in the Austin community do not have a choice and are financially trapped becoming prisoners in their own homes. If you are civilly active and determined to restore law & order in your community for the next 10 years then, God bless you and best wishes. Otherwise, enhancing your environment to a location where residents know how to live in harmony among property owners does not make you a selfish or bad person and, it’s actually healthier for the heart and soul. As a matter of fact I applaud the fact you have resources to make any kind of move during these times.

    If you sincerely have the resources to move to a quieter and safer community I would aggressively capitalize on that option.
    Remember your home lost value BUT, so did the new home your about to buy.

    It’s not about the grass being greener on the other side; it’s about being able to cut your grass without fear for your life!

    Warmly,
    Mom

  6. My wife and I have lived in Austin on Central Avenue for almost three decades. We’ve had the usual run-ins with drug-dealing thugs, as well as rogue police officers. Yet, we know and are friends with hundreds of neighbors within a half mile radius. You will not find that camaraderie in many places in America. We also like to occasionally escape to the quiet of my brother-in-law’s farm in Wisconsin. My first reaction is always “Where are the thugs on the corners?” My second reaction, upon meeting the locals (not my brother-in-law), is that “I’d better keep my liberal, anti-racist views to myself.”

    My guess is that the percentage of rotten Austin residents is exactly the same as the percentage of rotten police officers – both extremely low; but it is the bad apples from both groups that most vividly color our experiences and threaten our lives. They seem to have a symbiotic relationship. There are only a few other places in the City, generally low income and powerless, where the police and politicians allow thugs to openly ply their trade in front of our homes and businesses.

    I try civil rights cases in federal court, generally representing young African American men in front of all white juries, because there are seldom any blacks, or even City residents, in the jury pool. Although I try to pick the most liberal jurors, my biggest challenge is communicating to the jury that all young black men are not drug dealers and all police officers are not Officer Friendly. I’ve had jurors tell me that they were offended that I even suggested that race might be an issue in the case. One even said “That’s so over; that’s so 60’s.” My response – get on a crowded bus with me at rush hour at Central and Chicago, and there will be two white men on the bus. This distorted view of our society is what your “dominant mainstream culture deems as normal or acceptable.”

    I hope your comment “If I go, then who stands up?” was simply rhetorical. There are thousands in our community standing up in diverse ways, contributing their own particular talents to our youth, our businesses, our schools, our gardens, our block clubs, our safety, and our culture. We need everyone to stay, including you.

  7. Dear Mr. Fountain III:

    Perhaps, you should go. It is your decision and you must do what is right for you and your family. If you decide to physically move, all I ask is that you pray for us and continue to offer rsources to make Austin a better community. Unlike most, I do not believe diversity is the answer and nor will it ever be.

    However, I do believe in the power of Black people as my grandmother taught me. She taught me to fiercely love our people because we live in a country that tells us why we should hate everyting about ourselves and that we should believe in our inferiorty. Unfortunately many of our own poor, professional, educated, uneducated, weathly millionaires/billionaires have subscribed to the inferiority belief. I know my words are a bit strong for some. It is not with anger that I make these statements. It is with total love and respect for Black history and our many accomplishments inspite of, what must have seemed like insurmountable odds . When enough right-thinking Black residents in the community seriously stand up and when enough fomer right-thinking residents of the community seriously give back, all of the nonsense, crime, illiteracy, substance abuse, out -of- wedlock births, and so on will cease.

    I believe in self-reliance, and we must be accountable for our behavior and actions. We must make it right. However, let us never forget our history with this city, state and country, but always remember our ancestors’ struggle to overcome.

    Hotep,
    Pamela

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