Upfront: Recognizing the Good and the Positive
Cory Vaillancourt's eating some Arby's. He's also pondering ways to focus on the positive things in our community. One of the two of these is more important than the other.
Lately, it seems that some of us around here have been chewing on a big ol' salty ol' negativity sandwich. Like Arby's, negativity is quick, easy, popular, cheap, and inevitably leads to poor health. And, it makes you look stupid. But we all still do it. Hell, I am doing it right now, and I just got some of that cheese on my keyboard.
What is neither quick, nor easy, nor popular, nor cheap, is to recognize the positive things that happen in our little community. These positive things are easily overlooked—like communicating effectively together to solve problems, growing meaningful relationships, and working together to avoid suspicion and misunderstanding.
Most of all, these positive things help us remember that lashing out like juveniles at one another only augments the differences between us, instead of accentuating the similarities we share. This is why I found myself, on a sunny, beautiful Saturday afternoon, at the "Stop the Violence Community Rally and Block Party."
Organized by Marcus Atkinson, Richard Clark, and the Little Italy Neighborhood Watch, the rally featured speakers, music, food, sports, and poetry. They couldn't have asked for a nicer Saturday in Erie, and they couldn't have chosen a better cause for their efforts. I stood around for a few minutes talking to Marcus, who helped me understand why this event had already drawn a decent crowd just five minutes after its 3 p.m. commencement. We stood, apart from the crowd, near the center of Columbus Park, located at 16th and Poplar. Behind the old Columbus School, this park sits nestled in a little out-of-the-way neighborhood just south of the tracks. The basketball courts were packed, despite the pleasant, persistent breeze forcing longer jump shots off their mark. A large, colorful plastic playground was also getting some good use with several toddlers climbing and jumping around with little regard for personal safety. A virtual ceiling of tree cover shaded most of the area, aforementioned breeze also helping to moderate the heat of the mid-day sunshine and making for an overall pleasant setting. In the southwestern corner of the park, screened-in canopies flanked the food. Dozens of people, old and young, black and white and green (OK I made that last one up) congregated. Marcus begins.
"There's a lot of different things going on in the community [and] we want to come together as a community. That's the general consensus everywhere we go," he tells me. "We should come together and start working together, where crime is concerned, where education is concerned. This is the start to that process."
People unifying across racial, economic, political, and geographical lines to work together in betterment of their community sounds like a positive thing to me. Effective communication is the first step to problem solving.
Marcus continues. "We wanted to bring people together on a twofold mission, A, to bring across the point, and B, to recreate as a community so we can get back to the process of getting to know one another." Getting to know one another creates a relationship that needs to be nurtured and grown. Once grown, often blossoming and maturing, the fruit delivered of these relationships is that we become a sum greater than the individual factors that contribute to that sum; we become a factor able to make change instead of a bunch of isolated idealists all headed in the same direction but at different times, in different places, and in different ways.
"Even the way this whole morning transpired, was to me, a perfect microcosm of what it is we're trying to create," he says. "Different individuals came together, by word of mouth… Many of us were introducing ourselves to each other as we were setting up. This person bought ice, this person bought the tents…someone else brought their pickup truck…and these are all, for the most part, people who were just meeting this morning in a unified effort to even get this thing kicked off. So that's what we're looking for on a larger scale in Erie – a unified effort. Everybody doing whatever it is that they're impassioned to do or talented to do, and putting it together in a collective effort. "
Or, as I see it, working together to avoid suspicion and misunderstanding. This collective effort Marcus is talking about hopes to bring positivity from negativity and accelerate the pace of community transformation. That effort obviously involves a change of some sort. And how does Marcus Atkinson think that change will come?
"I think it can change by making people realize it all starts with them. We've got into this nasty habit of, 'oh, if we just had tougher legislation, oh if we just had a slicker politician who had all the right things to say,' when really, anytime you've ever looked at history, when things change, it changes because people, everyday people, decide, 'we've had enough, let's come together as individuals collectively and do something that we all believe in.' That is what I'm hoping that this will kind of jump-start again. Not that people aren't already feeling that way, but I think again, they're thinking that in their own personal space, as opposed to coming together and saying it."
And there it is - neither quick, nor easy, nor popular, nor cheap, although it is comforting to know that there are individuals and organizations out there attempting to address the negativity in our community, trying to transform it into something positive. Lemons into Vodka Lemonades, I like to say. It sure beats the hell out of constantly eating Arby's.
Did you attend this event? If so, why? I'd like to hear from you on this. Drop me a line and let me know what you think constitutes that Arby's cheese.
Cory Vaillancourt is a brilliant writer/complete hack and can be complimented/heckled at cVaillancourt@ErieReader.com.