The Erie Voice: Rebuilding Community
Since my retirement in 2004, I have been involved in activities and organizations whose established goals were to make our city better for all inhabitants regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, neighborhood, or status. Concern for the community you inhabit and the people who inhabit it with you is an indication that a community has empathy and concern for its life and well-being. Of course, no community is perfect, but strives constantly, cooperatively, and cohesively to establish a community as noted by Erie Together where all can "work, live and strive". This statement may seem utopian but its essence is the foundation of community.
In my forty-six years in Erie as a citizen, an African American citizen, I have pondered over and had many sleepless nights dealing with what community is and should be. No definition that I encountered defined community in the perspective that I sought but one came extremely close and stated: Community, a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. I would like to add that community building is at its most dynamic phase in social settings where interaction, communication, and emoting of feelings are at the forefront of discussion and dialogue. It is in public discourse where the community is shaped and built.
Thinking deeply and putting community more in an internal construct rather than an eternal one, does removing blight, building new structures, having a myriad of entertainment functions make us more of a community? Why? These are not the foundational bricks in building community but are merely icing on the cake that hides what lies inside. You see icing hides whether the cake is white, marbled, or chocolate in bakery terms.
One then may ask how do we build community? Many feel that an accumulation of empirical data and the implementation of best practices are the proven and scientific ways of building community. I prefer to differ with that approach.
Community building in its basic form is merely meaningful and constructive communication that involves Christian tenets that we vehemently say we all live by. Loving your neighbor as yourself is the foundation of community building. Esteeming others higher than yourself is community building. Supplying and aiding your neighbor in times of hardship and distress is community building. Inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity is community building but more importantly the ability to empathize and not judge. These are the anchors of community building. Bobby Vinton's song in 1969, "To Know You is to Love You" in today's society should resonate with us all.
Communities from their inward core are built on trust, hope, aspirations, equality, opportunity, and love which may be expressed in external and material manifestations but first must be manifested inside the heart, mind, and soul of each individual.
Our community currently suffers from a lack of knowing each other. We see each other and seldom speak. We draw biased opinions about each other. We are quick to pull the trigger (in old West terms) without fully analyzing and assessing situations and circumstances. In essence, we are quick to judge. Scripture gives us the mandate for community building, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry". For every action and reaction, there is a causative effect and a resulting consequence.
David says in Psalm 11:3 "if the foundations (of the community) be destroyed, what can the righteous (community) do"?
The Erie Voice - Johnny Johnson is an author, teacher, and historian. He is one of the founding members of the Harry T. Burleigh Society, has participated in numerous historical programs, and is the author of Erie African Americans in the 1880s.