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?