Still not convinced about staying

By |

Your comments from last week’s column moved me.

At 12, I needed the social outlet and networking opportunities that some of you have extended.

I just may be a lost cause, but there is another little boy screaming on the inside, suffering from depression, abuse and neglect, seeking some hope from you.

I have been mentally scarred beyond the point of cynicism.

As a young boy, I remember answering the door for one of my male cousins at my grandparents home in Austin.

He stumbled to the living room asking someone to call the ambulance because he had just been shot in the leg. He was moaning in pain lying on the carpeted floor. My grandmother asked him if he knew who shot him, and his body rocked back and forth as he shook his head mumbling no. I watched as the paramedics came in and worked on him.

That’s one of my earliest memories of Austin but there would be many more gun shots to follow, and two more cousins shot.

Some boys arrested in front of one reader’s house believe that prison is their second home, the reader reports.

I am not a homeowner because as a graduate student I cannot afford one. I will probably never dare to own a home in Austin.

The last statistic I read provided by the Westside Health Authority states about 300 ex-felons return to Austin every month. Austin has no central high school but a state-of-the-art police station — where I get my share of diversity.

Drugs and gangs have plagued this neighborhood since I can remember. Now the effects of the foreclosure crisis adds to the blight.

I don’t see the hope.

In 2009, I met Jacqueline Reed, who leads Westside Health Authority, and asked, “Where were you when I was growing up?”

It is my belief that the influence of the culture of poverty is more powerful than the people reading this column. I am not thoroughly convinced that groups like CANA, the Central Austin Neighborhood Association, can turn around the negative traditions that are setting the tone in our young people.

I believe that the problem lies in each organization concentrating on its own agenda.

I do not see the unity between them.

There are countless numbers of churches and nonprofits doing their part to combat poverty, but I probably have never heard of most of them because they stay within the confines of their few-block radius.

Politicians seem to be visible only during elections when they spew the same rhetoric, then go back into hiding. They are quick to address the problem makers, but not the problem solvers.

The Austin community can hold town hall meetings about every problem, and only a fraction of the people who talk about making a difference attend. We have been addressing the same problems for many years with very little progress. I have fought against the same people that I want to help for a very long time.

And I truly am on the brink of giving up on them.

But that doesn’t mean everyone else has to.

3 thoughts on “Still not convinced about staying

  1. This is eloquent and you have pointed out a big problem that I find across Chicago. Somehow, our idea of being part of a shared public has been chipped away by marketers who drill into our heads that we are consumers, and by organizations and agencies that mean well, but in treating us like clients, isolate us from each other, and make us feel as if we have no power and don’t have anything in common with the rest of the public. Thus there are like you say, many groups doing good work, but in narrow ways.

    I’m not sure how we regain our identity as the public, and as citizens with lots of power, as long as we pull together. The way Chicago “works” is that it separates people from their natural common interests by offering material rewards to people who put a small gain in wealth or influence above the common good. That isn’t right and in the long run, it simply impoverishes everyone.

  2. But much of Austin is not poverty stricken. Much of Austin is solidly middle-class. I think there is a media-fueled perception of endemic poverty that is not true. Nearly all of my neighbors work good jobs, many better than mine as a part-time college teacher. We own an apartment building too, and we have pretty strict income requirements–and although some of our units sit vacant waiting for the right tenant for a couple of months sometimes, we get no shortage of people with decent jobs applying to rent them.

    I think there is something quite different than poverty going on and much more insidious and hard to fight. It is the persistence of the media selling a story about the “West Side” or “Austin” (which is the biggest by population neighborhood in the entire city of Chicago) as a high-crime and poor (and black, not incidentally) area that is largely a myth in many parts (and true in some small parts). It is about people believing this myth perpetuation. People need to be empowered to shatter the myth by looking around them and noticing who their neighbors really are, noticing that (at least in my part of Austin) dramatic changes really have happened over the past 8 years. We need to encourage Austin to become more diverse than it already is by dispelling this myth and getting people from all walks of life to live here (both in terms of race and socio-economics). The housing stock is awesome in Austin (huge houses and often huge yards), the public transit incredibly convenient, it is perfectly situated for a driving commute to downtown or a lot of the suburbs.

    City services, churches, block clubs, and not-for-profits can only change so much. The real estate market is really what has driven neighborhood revitalization and/or gentrification in various Chicago neighborhoods. (Although I want revitalization, not gentrification.)

  3. ” . . . the poor will be with you always . . .” source: “The Bible.”

    If Jesus knew that the “poor” will be with you always, them maybe we should listen to him. The “poor” – the part of our community that believes “they owe me,” “i ain’t doing $hit,” “that ain’t my problem” and the infamous “it’s free” will always be there. As will the “broke” people. The “broke” people had jobs, have reduced income, or even no income, but maintained their outlook that things will get better.

    There are so many things that work in Austin for the betterment of the community; they just aren’t publicized in the major newspapers or Chicago’s Television Broadcast Stations. So I don’t rely on these foolish organizations to help out with some words of kindness or even recognized accomplishment in our community. My sense of community comes from what I see everyday. And yes, there are days I stay in my backyard or go to my garage so I won’t have to see some of the mess going on.

    Yet I drive through our neighborhood everyday, speak to nearly the same people, pickup the paper in front of my house and my business. And I notice the people that speak to me, pickup the paper in front of their homes and the business owners that do the same. I feel a real sense of community when I can help someone that really needs help – especially a neighbor.

    Do I get discouraged looking at our young people, acting without a moral compass or a sense of community? Sure, who wouldn’t? I wish I could wave a magic wand and fix them all. But that’s not going to happen. What can happen is that I continue improving what I see and do every, single, day. And encourage my neighbors to do the same.

    Is there a solution to the problems we see in the Austin Community? Yes. Will those solutions outpace the problems that seem to grow from every successful solution? Probably not. Am I going to stop looking for solutions and implementing them, when possible? Absolutely not.

Leave a Reply