“If you want to go far, go together. If you want to go fast, go alone.” – African Proverb
One cool morning…
It’s an overcast October day in 2010. It’s a little cool and the clouds are a touch foreboding. I feel a knot of expectant and nervous energy in my stomach. Why? Because it’s our first PromiseFest, a family fun festival put on at the local elementary school by parents and residents. Questions are swirling in my head. How will the volunteers perform? Will people show up to a resident-led event?
Four months earlier…
Four months earlier, I had landed in what is now known as the Lincoln neighborhood. I have invested so much in Lincoln now, and have received so much from in return from a new network of friends, that I consider it home. And here are some of the statistics that people use to describe my neighborhood. It’s a place with a 51.34% poverty rate, a 13% unemployment rate, a 19% vacancy rate, a 42% mobility rate, a 64% rental rate, and a median income for Lincoln is $22,700. Faced with this level of distress, the natural instinct would be to set up programs to increase services FOR residents.
It takes discipline to keep from fulfilling this urge, but for four months I held little cookouts, walked the streets and had conversations with people on their front porches, and visited places where people congregate, like the local grocery story and at parent events at the local school. For four months I worshiped where residents worshiped. For four months I just built relationships with neighbors, listening for passions, talents, interests, experience, and knowledge.
I listened for these attributes because I knew that the statistic that is most critical when describing my neighborhood is the number 4,600. This is how many children, youth, and residents live in my neighborhood, each of them possessing a unique set of aspirations and gifts. Imagine, I said to myself, if we could harness the 4,600 sets of gifts that reside in this 110-block area around the collective aspiration for a place that supports youth and families?
The power of WITH…
That first PromiseFest ended up being a success. It attracted 350 people. Carlton, from down the street, was manning the grill with a sublime and confident smile on his face. Ida, with her servant’s heart, was happy passing out food. The Murphy’s did what they do best, bring joy through music. Denise, who fondly remembered playing jump rope as a child, was in charge of games. Steve was concerned for people in need and headed up a used clothing exchange. Each person gave out of their giftedness and their own power to create the world that they wanted, at least, for now, during a 4-hour span of their first community event.
From these humble beginnings a neighborhood association formed. The association now puts on multiple such events every year, attracting 2,000 people. Slowly, slowly the fabric of the neighborhood is being rebuilt from the inside out. It’s not easy adopting a WITH approach. It takes a kind of internal monitoring of one’s paradigm, of one’s attitude, of one’s internalized belief system. It takes purposefulness and a constant bending of one’s will toward the principle of WITH. It takes dedication and discipline to know that in most circumstances the best thing to do is to take no action and instead to ask the next question. And it takes faith… the ability to believe in people despite evidence to the contrary, the ability to see a future that no one else can yet see. In the end, those that live into this way of being in the world build the capacity for sustained change.
One cool morning…
That unlikely event in 2010 – this neighbor-to-neighbor exchange on behalf of local families and youth – launched something meaningful and unique in Springfield. The reverberations of the choice to kickstart an initiative in the spirit of WITH continues to today. That first PromiseFest became the signpost that we would need to look back to on future gray and overcast days and remind ourselves of the simple truth of the old African proverb, “To go far, go together.” I pray and hope that you, to, have been able to experience the richer, fuller, more abundant life (both personal and collective) that is made possible through the power of WITH.
By: Eric Smith
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