Know your Neighbor

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What does it mean to  “get to know your neighbor”? It is such a common phrase that is thrown around all the time. “Be a good neighbor”. “Get to know your neighbor”. I have come to realize that sometimes the phrase can be understood to mean “Introduce yourself”. “Hi, my name is George and I live at…” However, the buck doesn’t stop there.

Knowing someone is not just knowing their first name, where they are from, and that they enjoy pizza. It’s caring about how you are doing. Caring about how your family is holding up.  I can’t count the amount of times a Northside neighbor has asked me “How’s your mom doing? I know she is ready for summer to come so she can rest and get away from those kids.”.  Knowing your neighbor is being willing, able, ready, and surprisingly organized, to come to your aid if you need support or love in any way. As Ms. Lil says “George, you know I got your back”.  And even though Ms. Lil is in her eighties, she gives the spirit that I have seen in so many black matriarchs. The “Don’t mess with my baby” spirit. A spirit that can knock down a mountain with the faith of a mustard seed.  Communication without the use of words.

That is what the pop-up cookouts were about. Building that block. Building those connections between people who have the blessing to share this place and call it home; even it is your home for less than a year. Building home.

The memories of:

  • Ms. Delores on Graham St. Jumping for joy when someone arrived to her front lawn. “ Welcome to my home. Welcome to Graham St. Hey Neighbor!”
  • Ms. Gina getting so excited to host a party that she finally had a reason to buy a grill she always wanted (especially those hickory chips that gave life to our taste buds).
  • Ms. Kathy opening up her home on Lindsay St. that has been in her family all of her life. Welcoming her neighbors young and old, student and non-student to the street that has been the bedrock, cornerstone, foundation, and roots, of her and her family. Sharing her history. Sharing the street that IS HER HISTORY!
  • Line dancing on McDade St.  to all the classics!

These I will always have.

I took a moment during the cook-out on McDade St. to look at what was happening.  

Ms. Keith Edwards and Ms. Anita Booth (both long term McDade st. residents) rooting on Brentton, neighborhood children, and Ms. Kathy as they moved their hips with the hoola hoops; so much like a family reunion. I could not take my eyes off Ms. Keith and Ms. Anita as they leaned on the railings of Ms. Keith’s porch, surveying the scene as so many elders do at my own family gatherings. Not participating in physical action but fully participating in presence and spirit. An energy that you can feel and know once you have been around it. An energy of wisdom and struggle.  In a simultaneous moment I had been transported back to the Northside I hear long-term residents talk about in memory, while at the same time, feeling like I was catching a glimpse into the beloved future of Northside.  An intergenerational community of multiple races, classes, experiences, and dreams. A place where you are always a neighbor. A connection to this place that goes beyond physical time spent in the geographic area.

The pop-up cookouts were a blessing and a gift from GOD. A series of gatherings rooted in the spirit of this community. Pride! Hope! Joy! Black Joy! Love! Dreams! A snapshot of Peace.  That is what these cookouts were… Peace. It’s crazy (or just how things should be) how in the midst of peace, opposition seems trivial. Why separate when we can thrive together. Learn from the older and be rejuvenated by the younger. Co-exist. Or just exist. 

Welcome to Northside. This is how we get to know each other. So… get to know your neighbor.

– George Barrett

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