Updated: May 16, 2020
Last Thursday early in the morning, I walked down the street to the donut shop. As I came around the corner to the alley that separates the small shopping center from the neighboring apartments, I saw five news vans parked, cameras lined up ready to capture footage of the alley behind my complex, and the remnants of police tape around a sign post. My heart sunk. What happened last night while I slept?
I approached one of the camera men and asked what was going on. During the night, a 26 year old man had been shot a block away, ran to my alley, and died. Unfortunately, this didn’t come as a huge shock to me because this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in our neighborhood. Some version of this story has occurred many times over in the decade that I’ve lived here. But it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.
After the camera man gave me the few details that he knew, he asked, “Is it pretty bad around here?” The words rang in my ears. Pretty bad? Is that how you describe my neighborhood?
There are many people like this camera man who only hear anything of my neighborhood when tragedy strikes. When they only have headlines on which to base their view, they really don’t have a clear picture of what this community is like.
I see what they don’t see. Yes, this neighborhood is no stranger to tragedy, but this neighborhood is also so much more than that. Once all the camera crews are gone, I see the neighbors hugging on the street. I see the whole neighborhood come together to make and sell food to raise money for funeral costs. I see the flowers and candles that will remain indefinitely and be replaced often – a sign that the pain and the life lost will not be forgotten.
On a normal day, I see kids playing in the courtyards up and down the street. I see friends stopping to say hello as they walk down the sidewalk. I see students making their way to the community center to do their homework. I see parents coming home from a hard day of manual labor and those who have started their own small businesses, each one of them showing grit and determination as they strive to provide for their families. I talk to moms who express the desire for their children to go to college and chase their dreams, knowing that their personal sacrifice was worth any opportunities for a brighter future for their kids.
My neighborhood has its issues, and they might not be as well hidden as in other more polished neighborhoods, but my neighborhood also has its beauty. Love, hospitality, and generosity abide in my neighborhood.
I grieve with my neighbors over another life that was cut short. But I won’t let that define my community. We will hold the tension of the pain and the beauty.