I grew up in Palo Alto in the '70s and '80s. I think there were three students out of a graduating class of 300 that weren't going to a 4-year college. I'm not sure I knew a single person who was joining the military. There was one publicly known homeless resident in the town, whom nobody actually believed was homeless (word around town was that he was a writer doing research for his next novel). And there were maybe ten African Americans in my entire high school.
I moved to La Jolla for college (Palo Alto by the ocean) and later to Boulder, CO for grad school (Palo Alto by the mountains).
I remember people talking about how "diverse" Boulder was. They must've meant that form of diversity that referenced the notion that there were all kinds of upper middle-class whites there. Hippies, trust funders, techies, ultra-athletes, hicks. At the "international" festival on the Pearl Street Mall, there were all kinds of white people making sushi.
There was liberalism and diversity and acceptance and tolerance, but it was only in theory...not really in practice. My parents fit this mold, too, though they had grown up in Brooklyn in the '40s and '50s where the Jews and Italians, and later African Americans, wrestled from opposite sides of Ocean Parkway. They talked with me and my brother about compassion and equality and justice. It was mostly talk. As a result, I was mostly talk.
Then at the urging of my wife, who grew up in Baltimore and went to a public high school that was somewhere around 95% African American, we moved to Denver.
And while I had lived in some other places along the way, this was really the first time I had lived in a community in which I could actually confront diversity and difference in this way.
The neighborhood that we moved into was the home of Keyes v. School District No. 1, the first school-desegregation case from “a major city outside of the South” to reach the United States Supreme Court. Many of the elderly interracial couples in Denver live in this neighborhood because it was the only place where it was safe to live.
We have a Facebook page for our neighborhood. There are the occasional postings about a dresser for sale or a fox sighting or reminders to move your cars for leaf-sweeping day, but most of the dialogue revolves around crime in the area. Park Hill, the neighborhood I live in, includes North Park Hill. There is a line, at once both imaginary (and moving) and real, as designated (as it is in most cities) by the moniker: Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The line for many designates where it is safe versus where is it not. Where the gangs are versus where they are not.
Just two months ago, a community anti-gang activist who years ago broke out of the gang culture himself, shot a young man in the chest multiple times at a peace rally that he, himself, had helped organize.
And a few years ago there was a drive-by shooting in front of our house in the middle of the night. From my front window, I watched a boy drag his bloody leg across the street. Afterwards, all the neighbors sat on the curb in front of my house at 3am. We were the only ones who had called 9-1-1. They all thought that someone else would do it.
Sometimes the people on the Facebook page say that they're moving. That they can't take it anymore. Sometimes they post, "There was a suspicious looking black man walking down Cherry and 26th today. Be on the lookout."
Many of us respond, and in a variety of ways, but one woman usually responds with reminders. Reminders of what this neighborhood was built on...a community of people coming together to fight for justice...and not just justice for people like her, but for people not like her. I've always appreciated the depth of her belief...and of her fight.
When I ran the first All Together Now workshop in Denver, back in October, she showed up. I was to learn that she always shows up.
Maybe here's why:
This Saturday we're running our second All Together Now workshop in Denver.
It will be a time for us to all show up, and to cement our experience, our witnessing, our acts and our failures to act, so that when next presented with the reality of injustice we can show up in another way, not just in theory, and take a stand.