Detroit Without Poor People Isn’t Detroit

treme

HBO is a luxury for me. Actually cable is a luxury, but I was able to catch episodes of HBO’s Treme on Amazon Prime this week. Treme is a drama focusing on a neighborhood in New Orleans after Katrina.  It is a really well written show.  Watching it made me see some commonalities between New Orleans and Detroit. New Orleanians, just like Detroiters, rep their city first. They live and breathe it, even when it hurts like hell.

Something became clear in my readings about Katrina and in watching this show. The struggles of New Orleans were happening way before Katrina hit. Katrina made the struggles more noticeable. The same is true with Detroit. Detroit did not have a natural disaster, but the man-made choices created very similar results; unlivable neighborhoods, lack of opportunities for low-income persons, transportation challenges and gentrification. People leaving a home they do not want to leave in order to make a living. People working hard to make the city wonderful and people getting lost in the change and in the chaos. That is New Orleans. That is Detroit.

There is one episode where a character is singing and  talking about the many people who left New Orleans “cannot get back” because their homes were taken over by the Federal government or were destroyed and could not afford to rebuild.  One line that got my attention was “What make New Orleans is the poor people. New Orleans without poor people is not New Orleans.”

Gentrification is a normal part of cities which is unfortunate. In gentrification many poor are squeezed out of the city because something made their city more attractive to people with resources. What else is squeezed out is the flavor of the city. We tend to blame the poor for all that is bad that happens in cities like the violence, the dirtiness, unkempt homes, but the truth is that innovation, inspiration and creativity in cities tend to start with the poor. Detroit without poor people is not Detroit. Let’s make sure we keep our flavor. So, it is important that a city takes its poor under inconsideration when it is rebuilding and transforming. Poor does not mean trouble. Poor means limited financial and educational opportunity, which can change with opportunities.

New Orleans and Detroit are inclusive cities. I hope Detroit stays true to its inclusive city in its planning and development.

New Detroiters and Native Detroiters, listen and take lessons from New Orleans.

I Get them Mixed Up

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I have gotten Memorial Day and Labor Day mixed up all of my life.  As a kid, I confused them because I didn’t clearly understand them and it seemed that the same thing would happen on both days. You know, a parade with soldiers and bands and flags.  All the family are at home and old war movies play all day. I have a clearer understanding now, especially since I have friends that are vets; people my age that have seen war and lost people to war. That make Memorial Day very clear.

My Dad and his brother are Army Vets. They were in Vietnam. My dad saw action, but I am not sure my uncle did. If he did, he never talked about it. My father, at times would allow stories to slip out. Usually it was when my mom wasn’t around. My mother and my father agreed that my Dad was a little off his rocker when he returned. But I think being a educated man and working with children when he got back kept him from going off of the deep end. I still think my father deals with the change anyone goes through after being in a war, but I am glad that he made it and he is here.  Many didn’t make it. Many aren’t here.  War is senseless and it is maddening to know that beautiful men and women go into the service to serve their country. There is nothing more noble than that; maybe other than motherhood. They go to do this noble thing and yet too many times they are not treated noble. Some come back to no life, no home, no career. That should not ever be the case.  Yet…

So today on Memorial Day 2014 thank the soldiers in your life. All of us got a least one. Thank them for being noble.  Thank them for their service and most importantly, tell them that you love them for what they do, did and who they are.

Shopping Carts

shutterstock_93675577It is a humbling experience to see a homeless brother or sister carry all of their possessions in a shopping cart. But, it was not until I moved to Houston that I saw shopping carts used to take groceries from the grocery store, home. I found this interesting.

I had questions when I saw this. Number one,  “Isn’t that stealing?”  Question number two, “Why don’t they get caught?”  and question 3,  “Why are they taking the carts in the first place?” Living in Third Ward of Houston for over a month answered all of these questions.

Houston’s Third Ward is a lovely neighborhood. Beyond the Montrose area and Galveston beach, it is one of my favorite locales. It has beautiful brick homes, people who say “hi” and “bye” as you pass, kids running around and sidewalks to travel.  What it doesn’t have is grocery stores. Third Ward is a true food desert. Not only aren’t there grocery stores in walking distance,  it lacks farmer’s markets, gardens and even corner stores. Which leads us back to the shopping carts.

The shopping cart phenomena happens because people who live in neighborhoods like Third Ward do not own transportation and at times, do not have the money for public transportation to get to grocery stores or farmer’s markets.  After the long trek to the store you are challenged with getting the groceries back home, which is an almost impossible task without some kind of wheeled support.  A shopping cart makes the impossible possible.

Is using a cart in this way stealing? The straight answer is yes. In my research I learned that some store managers allowed the “borrowing”  of carts because they understood the customer’s struggle. Most aren’t that nice. Some stores, especially in New York provide free home delivery to keep cart theft down.  In most cases, people are taking chances and hope they do not get caught. Those carts aren’t cheap (a little over a hundred bucks each).

Why don’t they get caught? Really, I think police officers have more to do than stop a person with a shopping cart taking groceries home. I am sure if a store owner complained (which some do), the theft would be taken more seriously.

Why are people taking the carts in the first place? Well, that is the real question. Outside of the physical facts I shared, it comes down to economy. We have a lot of families who are struggling all around the world and even here in the most powerful country in the world. And they are struggling because of the imbalance of our economy, the lack of us taking care of us. There is no reason why a grocery store does not exist in a places like Third Ward. There is no reason a person in this country cannot afford to take a bus back and forth to a grocery store. Like everything in life, sometimes a shopping cart is what it is; a shopping cart. But sometimes it is a metal reminder of how much work we still have to do to make existing in this country doable rather alone living in this country.

Homelessness and African Americans

Photo from Black Like Moi

I have been blessed to travel to quite a few cities in the states; and in my travels, I see the complexities of cities that make them so wonderful and amazing. All things aren’t beautiful. A pattern started emerging as I traveled from city to city and I needed statistics to back up what my eyes could clearly see. That pattern is the amount of African Americans that are out on the streets, homeless with no place to go.

After my research was done, I shook my head. Almost half (40%) of homeless on the streets of American are African American. Understand the depths of this number. African Americans make up 11% of the American population but 40% of the homeless population.   Why is this the case?

Several articles give different reasons.  some say that the inequalities that began from slavery to segregation play a part in what we see. Others believe that there are not enough people of color in key places and in key organizations to help change policy on homelessness in America. Economically, African Americans are struggling to stay afloat in this country and these challenges land some of us on the street, faster than maybe our white counter-partners.

Of all the reasons I read of why there are more African Americans homeless; the one that struck me to be most simple and more true is how Americans see homeless and how Americans, at times see African Americans. America has an individualized nature that says you work hard and you take care of your family and you will be successful. If you do not have anything, you didn’t work hard enough for it. You didn’t deserve it. If you are on the streets, then you are lazy. You are not just lazy, you aren’t even human. This kind of thinking allows people to ignore the homeless. This same kind of thinking is what allowed people to be okay with segregation laws and poor treatment people of color. Lazy, no good and not human were words used to describe African Americans for many years in this country so it is very easy to see how this problem is ignored when America doesn’t see it as a country’s problem but an individual problem – a problem of a particular kind of person. America does not see that the inequalities that African Americans dealt with and still deal with opens them up to more poverty, less education and more chances of becoming homeless.

A young man named Noah Ratler walked from Houston to Los Angeles so that he could understand why people ended up on the street and how they are treated. Noah said, as he walked 132 days across the U.S. the problem is clearly lack of education on homelessness and the fact that many people look at the homeless “and do not recognized the humanity in them.”

Other groups that we have dehumanized and are challenged with a large population of homeless are veterans, Native Americans, and LGBT youth. Homelessness can decrease if more of us see these people like the humans they are.

Below are a few resources to read. Learn more about this challenge and find a way to step up to the challenge and irradiate homelessness.

 

 

 

Love III

Love-Overcomes-Hate

What I saw today was wonderful and simple. Two people on a porch, looking each other in the eyes without a care or thought in the world. That was love. It seems the only kind of love that we are  looking for these days is the kind with significant others. The only love that seems to validates us is that which we get from another person. It is beautiful, I know, but if that was all love consist of, many of us may not get a chance to experience it.  This couple struck me because watching them, I felt the love between them and then I felt love within me and I became very aware that the power of love is real. More to the point its power could spread very fast and positively if we expanded our definition and slowed down to enjoy it. Watching that couple gave me the same warmth I feel when listening to and interacting with my nieces and nephews. It is truly the same

Love comes from the way the sun quietly caress us. It is the sound of true laughter. It is an amazingly good meal that you experience two weeks ago and you are still talking about.  Love is a mother that calls you at 6 am and says, “I hadn’t heard from you.”  Love is also her advice and her laughter at your jokes.  Mothers, true mothers, are love aren’t they?

Love is also the feeling of a hot shower and clean sheets.  It is the smiles on children faces who are enjoying a day of play. It is a text from your brother saying, “What’s upper?” Love is cleaning up a home of a dear friend that passed and taking in the things you knew and did not know.

Love is beautiful and it includes but is much more than our life partners, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and significant others. I think that is why too many people disappoint with love. We have limited its reach and its capacity. If we stop and look, Love is all around us , just redefine it and then we all could experience it everyday.