Regards: Fear.

As the advent season peaks, I’ve been deep in thought about fear. There are so many examples of fear in the bible including Mary being fearful of the angel that appeared to her which in reality you would think would be a really awesome awe-inspiring experience. But no, she was scared. It makes her human, and that to me is important. I think about my own fear. I think about my doubt, my insecurities, and what happens when we finally conquer these fears.

For Daniel and David, it’s courage. But what was this courage? How did they get it? How did they find it? How did it come to them? Because however they did it, I want that. Was it a vision? Was it a physical sign like a billboard reading, “take thy sword and slayeth this lion!”-God. Because that would be an awesome billboard. And poor Mary. In her fear, she was instilled with more fear and the onset of anxiety brought on by motherhood.

But the joy! Think of the joy! The Christmas season asks us to remember this joy! The joy in conquering our fears! The strength we have gained when we have conquered our battles, the things we have learned. When we abandon our fear, when we conquer it, this I believe to be where work (real, true, honest, dedicated work) gets done. This is where we are truly the closest to God when we live without fear. I would like to share with you all some of my hopes, fears, and battles for the upcoming months in a project I am beginning work on with Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida.

The Partners in Progress Initiative is a group of various non-profit, for-profit, and community stakeholders working together in a total revitalization effort of the Northwest 79th St Corridor. The eastern boundary being I-95 running about 40 blocks west to the tri-rail/metro-rail transfer station. The corridor was once the thriving center of “black” Miami pre-integration. As integration occurred, people began to leave the area heading to Miami Beach, Hialeah to the west and Broward County to the north for shopping, living, and entertainment leaving most of the corridor empty.

Of course, to the greater Miami community, the corridor holds a poor reputation. But I want to stop looking at and entertaining this poor reputation. I look one block past 79th St, I look at 81st St, I look at 78th St, and it’s just a neighborhood. Well kept lawns, neighbors interacting with each other, families, and people who are employed. In this, I see opportunity. The greater goal of the PIP Initiative is to create jobs and a thriving safe place of economic opportunity and that the 79th St corridor is a place of choice for residents to live. This has included construction of affordable housing options and new businesses bringing jobs. Wal-Mart (yes, Wal-Mart) is even part of this revitalization simply because it brings people and jobs to the area. Here there is a need to bring people to the area—to once again make the area thrive.

Under the supervision of my boss, I’ve been assigned the task of Community Engagement for the Initiative. After extensive research on the area as well as various community projects that have “worked,” I made my project proposal on Wednesday. I proposed that we simply post fliers on three different blocks that read, “Do you talk to your neighbor?” and a tear away portion some that say “yes,” and others that say, “no.” Our number is on the part of the sign that the person can pull off so that they can get more information about our work as an organization and how they too can engage their neighbor. The piece is a grassroots piece based on the work of Boston based community organizer, Tim Devin. You can read more about this and some of his other projects on his website. I highly recommend his work for anyone looking for an artistic community project.

The second aspect of the project is to connect recent graduates of our Miami Community Leadership Institute with residents of these three blocks that we identified to encourage civic engagement among residents as well as establishing connection between residents and the initiative. To me, this is what I identified as the most important aspect of civic engagement. We want residents to feel that their voices are being heard and that the initiative is keeping residents in tune with what is happening.

My fears are that it won’t work. That it won’t happen. That no one will listen. That voices will be silenced, that people will feel like they’re not being heard. That our outcome of a self-expanding project is an unrealistic one. But if I don’t find the courage, if I don’t take the first step. If I don’t listen for the angel, if I can’t find my courage, if I walk away then I’ll always live in regret that I never stood up.

Fear feels temporary. It feels like it can always be conquered even when you see no light at the end of the path. The hardest part of the journey is the first step. Lord, in your mercy, at least grant me that—the courage to take the first step.

The GATE Program

Last Friday’s Community Day was one of the best we have had thus far. We worked with a program called GATE, whose exact acronym escapes me, but is a gun violence prevention program run through Jackson Memorial Hospital here in Miami. Mimi (the director/former brain surgeon/visonary) in her words, “got tired of seeing so much trauma caused by gun violence in Miami.”

So, she did something about it. GATE serves as a program for young men caught with guns at school. The program is court ordered and is not a class as much as it is a community. The program focuses on the logistics of the body after it experiences trauma. This includes a tour of the ICU where students learn the logistics of comas, the morgue and the process of claimed and unclaimed bodies. Finally, the kids visit a funeral home where they learn the logistics of casket, burial, cremation, and funeral and its expenses that many families can not afford. Each of the men is to write their eulogy. As Mimi put it, she has never seen anyone wanting to be remembered as, “thug” or “gangbanger.” Finally, the children learn from their “Peer Mentors” (who have previously graduated from the course) topics of anti-bullying, friendship, and anger management. Most of the men graduate successfully from the program and continue to stay in touch with the program as either Peer Mentors or visitors.

Recently in a coalition meeting led by, “Gangs Alternative, Inc,” a few people cited young men as a hindrance to moving forward in race, gender, sexuality, and class relations. In light of recent events (Lord, in your mercy!), it brings up these issues, again. Who’s empowering young men in our society? Who’s telling them it’s no okay to steal, cheat, or lie? Who is telling kids it’s okay to be “nerdy” or to be passionate about a school subject and that you should pursue that love?

I don’t think I can be a leader in the black community, but I always will consider myself an ally. Over and over I hear, “well our leaders [in schools, gov’t, etc] don’t look like us [re: black].” And that may be true. But that won’t stop me from talking to my neighbor, saying hello as I pass you on the street, greet you and ask you how your day is going, and continue and have feelings from stories told to me about forgotten “black” Miami. As well as continue honest discussions about our differences.

I’d like to close on a note about bullying as this was identified by the Peer Mentors at GATE as our number one source of violence among young men. If you think for a second that bullying transcends race, class, gender, and sexuality you are absolutely incorrect. And if you think for a second that you have not ever been bullied, think harder. You have. Somehow. Somehow you have been oppressed, put into a box, and told to think or act a certain way.

The GATE programs begin to dissect some of these bigger questions, stereotypes, and issues. The GATE program is not the answer to all of Miami’s issues. It’s not the final solution, but it’s a start. And Mimi is a visionary. When I think about the leader inside and who I am becoming, I’ll carry a piece of Mimi and the Peer Leaders at GATE. They’re on the frontline and I want to be with them.

As I begin to see the vision and the direction of my life, I ask these questions. I ask them openly. I ask them honestly.  And I hope that you will ask them with me, too.