I am the 1%.
Well, not really- but I come from it. It is my community. And let me tell you; that is a scary thing to admit to these days, especially in the work I am currently being drawn towards. I know that there is a lot of anger towards my community- some justified, some not. I feel shame for the actions of my community; actions that have, knowingly and often unknowingly, contributed to the systems that have led to so much inequality and suffering. I feel shame for the selfish and short-sighted ways in which many from my community seem to behave.
So I hide this part of me. I separate myself. I feel anger at those who are perpetuating a culture of “me” instead of “we.” I feel frustration at those who would rather throw a $500,000 black-tie charity ball than take the time to really LEARN about ways that their help is needed and how they can best serve. I feel impotence in trying to even consider how I would talk to my friends and family about these difficult issues.
I give up on my community.
This week, through the Empowered Youth Initiative, we have had the opportunity to meet and listen to so many inspirational people. Today, we had the honor to attend the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the LA gang peace treaty, in the Watts neighborhood of South Central LA. This was a true gathering of heroes- people whose actions have saved thousands of lives on a very real and tangible level. We met many people from the community who were pioneers in the peace process, as well as many who were actively working to keep the peace alive and continue the work to improve their community. We listened to hours of panel discussions, with topics ranging from the role of faith in the community to “planting seeds” for future success. The participants- both on the panel and in the audience- were passionate, committed, and hopeful.
Hearing their words was an inspiration to me. If they refuse to give up on their community, how can I? How can I be so scared of rocking the boat that I miss the opportunity to shed light on topics that my community might simply not be aware of? How can I not have faith in my community’s ability to be open to new ways of doing things? How can I deny my community the opportunity to learn, grow, and deal with its own wounds? In the words of Seane- how DARE I?
One of the things we heard often this week is that we are ALL “at risk” in our own ways. The present and former gang members from Watts may be at risk of gun violence, poverty, and incarceration, but I have seen more than my fair share of hurt in my community too: drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, mental disease, physical and mental abuse. EVERY community is hurting in its own way. It is through this common experience that we may ultimately find connection. And if the courageous members of Watts can stand up and do what needs to be done to help their community reach its full potential, then so can I.
I am PROUD of my community. They have the ability to do amazing things with their vast resources and their big hearts. I want to do my part to bring them to the table, where they can start to work with the members of other communities to help overcome this sense of division and injustice.
The T-shirts that the members of the Watts community wore said “No one can stop this war but us.” I believe that is true on a larger scale as well. If I want to bridge the divide between my community and communities like Watts, to help us all see that we are united in our common humanity, then I have to be willing to be a part of that solution. I can NOT give up on my community. No one can stop this war but ME. And you.
Let’s get out there.
By: Alex Newell
Alex was a participant of the Empowered Youth Initiative 2012: Los Angeles
Empowered Youth Initiative San Francisco/Oakland April 21-28 2013