“So what do you like about your community?”
If someone were to ask me this question, I would say I love how there are mass amounts of people that surround my everyday life. At 12 and 6pm, I know anywhere from 5 to 25 friends will be eating lunch or dinner in the dining hall on campus. When I enter the Middle House, I know my roommates will be home, ready to discuss the day’s events. Despite recent increases in lack of sleep due to senior projects, I really am happy learning and thriving in an environment where I feel comfortable and safe.
Yes, I am comfortable and safe.
The Middle House girls.
But it’s not hard to feel at ease when you live near the ocean, know your parent’s will still pay for your gas, and are aware that your sole purpose in life right now is to simply “do well” in school. It’s okay to feel content with a situation. Yet, when I visit Newark I am always reminded of the immense amount of blessings in my life… and how agonizing permanent “content-ness” can be.
“So what do you like about your community?” I asked Erica. She was a skinny woman with a mixed ethnicity and a pretty, smooth face. Hanging outside her window in Hyatt Court, she smiled a wide grin, showing her missing teeth.
Two other CNU students and I were down in the projects on our second day in NJ. Our goal was to interview random strangers about what they wanted to see happening in their community. How could Trinity Church help? What were the pros and cons of living in Newark?
My interviewing group with Iain and Kelsey
Erica was the first person that would talk to us. She was the grandmother to a few of the children we knew from the after school program, and was well-respected in Hyatt. But to me, the most prominent feature about Erica were her dazzling green eyes. They looked like pieces of jade marble staring into your mind, and when the sunlight shown on her face I can easily admit they are the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.
“Well our community don’t kill one another like they do up the street,” she said, still talking to us from inside of her first-floor window. A man named Jamal nodded in agreement. “Yeah… there always killing someone.” He stood beside her window, but was outside of the building, positioned near us. He was a mellow man, and persistently nodded throughout the entirety of our conversation.
Erica continued to speak. “But, no… here? We are kinda like family, ya know? Like everyone’s got everyone’s back, you know? You’re not gonna see him killing him and him killing her… No, we got it good in Hyatt. You know, my mother used to manage this place? Yeah, she used to have all these things for the children. Yeah, but it’s hard. But we’re a family.”
I’m not going to lie.
This took me a little bit by surprise. I couldn’t help but egotistically think, “You got it good? You are living in a freaking hellhole! There are rats, and it’s not safe, and maybe you don’t kill each other but there are gangs and sexual abuse…” The list could go on.
But Erica took pride in her home. She went on to talk more about her mother running Hyatt and the renovations that the city had completed. The halls of the projects had been repainted and traps had been set for the rodents. Erica might not have a beach, or a dining hall, but she was proud of what she did have, and found joy in what I would consider squalor.
She reminded me that my socialization is a lucky one and not the standard. She reminded me that my way is not necessarily better and that evil or ignorance can consume any economic class. She reminded me to not only “count my blessings” but be aware of the less desired and marginalized.
And you would think after four years I would remember this. Fail.
I looked into her sparkling green eyes. Tears were forming and she began to profusely thank us for coming to Newark and asking about her community.
“We need you guys. We NEED you,” she kept saying. “Oh… oh we need you,” a fat tear rolled down her face.
Not really sure what to do next, we finished the interview and asked if we could pray for her. Now, if the situation had been different, I would have laughed out loud. Imagine: three white suburban kids, standing in the middle of the projects, holding the hands of a women who is leaning as far out of a window as she can to grab our hands. Not only are we all stretched in odd positions, but it almost looks as if we are pulling Erica out of her window.
“Thank you… thank you. Thank you for coming,” she said, oblivious of the humorous circumstance.
Well green-eyed Erica. I should thank you for the reminder to continue to broaden my perspectives and extend a hand to those who are not “comfortable” or “safe.” I should remember to be happy where I am, knowledgeable and proactive about others' inequalities, and not dread what is to come. Besides, I've always enjoyed a good adventure...
With the future so unsure as graduation approaches, I hope to be as joyful as Erica in any situation thrown my way.
What will I like about my future community?
One thing I do know: I really do not like rats. Can my future please avoid small rodents of any kind? Thanks...
Lovely squalor, isn't it?