Where's Your Sense of Community?
My dad and I have our share of socially conscious, philosophical discussions about everything and nothing at the same time. He’s one of the most entertaining people I know, but nothing gets him in serious Frederick Douglass mode like the discussion of knowing your history and your people. While making sure our generation does everything we can to get to family reunions, something the old heads think we tend to slack on, our latest discussion went beyond the bloodline and into the community.
My father is from a small town outside of Birmingham, Ala., called Adamsville. He is one of nine children. My grandmother was a stay-at-home mom, and my grandfather held one of the coveted ‘good’ jobs for African-American men at the time – a coal miner. Growing up near a city pivotal in the Civil Rights movement, dad shared how communities banded together and took care of one another. We talked about how common it was for one of the local farmers to kill a hog, goat or whatever, grill it up and section it off to send to neighbors who were going through tough times. No one was offended when they received, and no one bragged about it when they gave. It was part of the culture that sustained many families through hardships.
As he reminisced about the goodness in the midst of one of the most tumultuous times in our country, I thought about my own community experiences. Dad and I often debate that with increased creature comforts, my generation’s sense of community has changed from yesteryear. He is old school, and is always impressed that I can chat with friends across the street or on the other side of the world. We agree that communities are now pockets of commonalities. I belong to a community of Christians, activists, moms, runners, volunteers, writers, techies, foodies, bloggers, music lovers, Disney lovers and more. Technology and social media make it easy for us to connect, mobilize, fundraise and yes sometimes march. Our idea of sending slabs of meat to neighbors is in the GoFundMe app where we usually don’t know the people we’re donating to, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
I proposed that perhaps our generation is a product of what his generation poured into us. The recent box office success of Black Panther alone was the perfect example of community only now community reaches beyond the cross streets and across the continent. It’s more inclusive, more organized and still needed in our world. While I’m hopeful to see people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures and area codes come together to make the world better, it doesn’t fall short on me that our local communities can strike a powerful blow in our own backyards.
My most cherished community moment happened when I left to attend the University of Georgia. When I came back to my hometown, everywhere I went someone was coming up to me pressing their balled up fist in my hand. That’s how older adults would give you money. Put their tight fist in your hand and pressed it into your palm to make sure you didn’t drop it. Often, people gave me money not because they knew me, but because they knew my uncle or my grandmother or because their prayers had been answered to see the next generation go to college, the military or start their own business.
As long as I live, I will never forget the senior ladies from my hometown church. Most of them were widowed and on fixed incomes, but no matter when I came home, they gave from what they had to make sure I had enough money for gas or as they said to eat because I was too skinny. I will never forget those moments, and I wasn’t the only recipient. Those who didn’t have the money kept the prayer line lit up. That’s the community I know, and my kids will know it, and their kids better know it.
My dad is right; it’s critical to know your history and your people. I believe today’s community landscape has changed, but the heart of community remains. The beauty in it now is that our people may not live next door, they may be of different faiths, and they are likely not in your family tree, but somehow in this grand design, they are your people. They are part of your history. They are your community.