We hear week-in and week-out about all the stuff wrong with the world. Most of it gives you the sense that we're pretty much screwed as a species: economic collapse, "choose the lesser evil" political campaigns, pollution, poverty ... cannibalism!? Seriously depressing, right? (I often wonder why no one seems to consider this as one of the potential symptoms "causing" depression for so many folks. But I digress.)
On the flip-side, there are great innovations going on: local movements for sustainability, national shifts toward better rights for the GLBTQ community and green technology are the first that come to mind.
Despite all this, I think there’s a pervasive sense that we regular folks can't do that much to change things. We care, but so little of what we're told we can "do" gives us that hands-on satisfaction from "making a difference," and most of us don't feel like being heroes/leaders/martyrs who seem to carry the weight of building or maintaining an organization around the thing they're most passionate about. We have jobs, families and the beach and other fun stuff vying for our time and resources.
Well, I'm pretty sure I've found the most exciting thing for ME to be doing; what's more, the other week I had an amazing experience that validated my long-held suspicion that other people can be wild about this too: neighborhood roving --- or “HoodRoving,” as I like to call it. If you read my "Neighborhood Love Story" article, you know that that I am on this mission to discover all the great things about it --- people, restaurants, beautiful spots, etc. --- and celebrate them like crazy. I also want to connect neighbors with each other through this celebration, helping us all realize that we’re surrounded by assets and gifted, talented people, and that we ourselves are talented, gifted and worthy of celebration. I cannot claim this as an original strategy in any way --- I've lent links to what inspired me below, in case you’re interested --- but I can create an original story myself as I practice three kinds of behavior these other folks have taught me:
- Listen for gifts, treasures and assets.
- “Invite, Invite, Invite” others to discover them too.
- Celebrate what you find.
This installment of “HoodRoving” is a story of how adventures of epic proportions can unfold from following these three basic behaviors. Here’s what happened:
Three weeks ago, I was doing laundry in our laundry room in Gillespie Park. I thought I heard my name, but then thought I was crazy and ignored it. Then, all of a sudden, my eight-year-old neighbor Victor Junior appeared at the back door.
This was all very serendipitous, because I had been planning to track little Victor down to enlist his unparalleled roving instincts. So I made a pitch based on a treasure I’d already discovered in my hood: “Hey Victor, did you know that there’s a guy in our neighborhood who makes chocolate ... at his house?”
Victor’s eyes grew huge. “Really?!”
“Yeah!” I said. “Wanna go with me to meet him?”
We made a date for that Friday at 9:30 a.m. As I tend to do, I then blurted out my excitement on Facebook, adding, “Anyone want to join us?”
Within about 20 minutes, five people said “yes” --- at which point I called said chocolatier and confirmed that this was okay. More than okay --- he was excited.
Over the next couple days, it became even more of a production: Of those five people, talented local photographer Jenny Acheson volunteered to bring her camera, and guerrilla filmmaker Da lee Woodman asked if he could bring his.
Friday morning came, and I re-learned the valuable wisdom that it’s always good to confirm an appointment ahead of time, in case the other party can’t come: no Victor Junior! But we were a crew: me, Jenny, Da lee, my friend and co-rover Mary Butler and her daughter Tiffany.
Jenny describes the day:
I answered April's Facebook message --- an invite to friends to visit her chocolate-making neighbor --- because it appealed to my exploratory nature that comes from being a traveler and a photographer. When I go to a new place I look for people of interest, people who will take you into their hearts and homes, show you their nature and share their culture, even for a moment.
Our neighborly visit shone a spotlight on a simple, honest and humble operation run by a simple, honest and humble couple, Leo and Andrea, out of their home in Gillespie Park. I was fascinated to witness how Leo's passion and knowledge allowed him to make something so pleasurable (delicious yummy chocolate of all tastes and sizes) for potentially so many people, but out of his tiny spare bedroom.We gave him our attention; he opened up slowly to tell his story with Andrea and her cheeky son curiously looking on. We filmed, talked, tasted --- carefully, with intent and admiration.
My dream as a travel photographer has always been to connect with a like-minded writer. April wanting to go over to Leo's to discover, explore, record and ultimately write an article is exactly what I do, have always done, with my camera. Our combined interest, enthusiasm and excitement made us want more. “I want to keep going!” I think I squealed as we left.
We did carry on “roving” the neighborhood, first with a visit to the WSLR radio station where we were graciously welcomed despite arriving out of the blue. Then on to Tango Man Albert Rombold on Lemon and 6th. We listened to his thick German accent in talk of "submission" and "going with the flow," put on some funked-up tango music and tried our hand. I marveled at April’s newly-acquired dance moves and surprised myself with mine. Not only did I cycle back to my studio with some wonderful visual stories in my digital bag, but with an experience of physical achievement to boot.
Da lee commented:
What I came away with from this adventure in HoodRoving was an even stronger belief in the power of those three simple acts of "Listen," "Invite" and "Celebrate" when they are based upon a belief in community abundance and a true curiosity about the place where one lives.
I also came away with a sense that I can make a difference in my neighborhood, and have fun doing it. Because I simply paid attention, invited others to come enjoy what I'd found and celebrated (this article is one way of celebrating), something has shifted. It's a little difficult to explain in the space I have here all the ways in which I see this shift having occurred, but it boils down to a couple of main points:
- Studies have shown the link between connectedness (or "social capital") and better health, economic growth, educational achievement and other good things. By Listening, Inviting and Celebrating, I increased the social capital of eight people and three organizations/businesses --- and because each person has a myriad of social connections, this effect multiplies.
- Knowing the assets/talents/resources we already have in our community, but usually ignore, is a major step away from the dis-empowering norm of thinking that we have very little and that we need experts, programs and institutions to come and fix our communities and our neighborhoods (and that we need more funding for these already strapped programs and institutions). These entities certainly have a role, but I suggest that what we need most right now is each other, and to realize what amazing gifts and assets we and others have already, both within and around us. When we begin to connect with neighbors around learning, celebrating and using those assets in the place where we live, we create fertile ground for even greater creativity and abundance to emerge.
It feels amazing to make a difference in a way that I can see, feel and taste, and in a way that came naturally to me. I wrote no checks. I sat through no painful meetings. Rather than toot my own horn here, I hope to convey that "making a difference" can be as simple as putting on a different lens for looking at the place where you live, then inviting others and celebrating what you find there. You don't need a degree or expert help; use your own unique talents to do this --- mine happen to be knowing a lot of people on Facebook and writing for TWIS.
What will result? It can't be mapped on a two- or five-year plan. Heck, my plan flew out the window when the original co-rover didn't show. Rather than predictable, the outcomes will be magical and unexpected.
I'll close with my articulate friend Jenny's words:
For me, this is how life, art and work blend together. With my photographs I can illustrate stories, something I do best, and even if I am not paid to do it, the images are to be shared. Taking the photos also allows me to dive into the place, wherever I happen to be, to discover it, to grow in it and to learn to love it. As Peter Block said [in his blog "The Point is the Place"], “The reason people come together is because they care about the place.” I’m still new to Sarasota, with a feeling of displacement as if traveling, yet I live in a neighborhood that thrills me just as Gillespie Park thrills April. Who can I reach out to here? What similarities are there between us all? Let’s keep going, April!
* * *
Come explore & enjoy my hood!
- Porcelana Artisan Chocolate will host a Chocolate Tasting on Friday, June 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the micro-factory on 6th St. Click here for details.
- WSLR 96.5 FM will host a "Very Merry Jerry" Concert with musicians paying and playing tribute to the Grateful Dead at the station's inspiring space at 525 Kumquat. See other events and local radio programs on WSLR at www.wslr.org.
- You can go meet Albert Rombold and check out his magic tango-teaching skills any weekday between 1 and 9 p.m. at Tango & Salsa Dance Studio, or check out his website for more details and contact info. He has amazing rates!
Sources for my inspiration around HoodRoving and an asset-based lens on community include the following:
- One of my favorite speeches ever: "Community Capacities and Community Necessities" by John McKnight.
- The Asset-Based Community Development Institute ~ philosophical overview, published items and workbooks on building community from the inside out.
- The Abundant Community ~ inspiring and provocative articles, blogs and stories.
- The Zawadi Exchange at Broadway United Methodist Church (Indianapolis, Indiana).
- Neighbors Gathering (North Port)
- SCOPE (Sarasota)