Inside out transformation...
Jesse Jackson lives an ordinary life. He works 2nd shift, raises a family, goes to church, and has lived in his house for 18 years. But two years ago, he was asked to step in as president of Continental Park’s neighborhood association, a job he wasn’t sure he was fit for. But the former neighborhood president saw something in him, a commitment and a drive to keep his home and neighborhood beautified, despite how busy he is. Jesse’s motivation to keep his transitioning neighborhood homey and welcoming made him the perfect person to take lead as president.
Jesse’s initial hesitation to the call of leadership is probably reflective of what keeps most of us in our comfort zones as well. He didn’t want the responsibility of being the champion of the entire neighborhood or other people’s issues. Isn’t that sometimes why we avoid leadership positions where we’d have to help? The responsibility of issues we don’t feel equipped or ready to handle. Instead of shying away from it, though, Jesse stepped into it. And his approach, the way that he saw it, was that it was his turn to take responsibility and his time to step up. "Why would I expect someone else to step up if I wasn't willing to do it myself," he said. He didn’t want someone from the outside to come in and change his neighborhood, if it was going to be restored, it would be from the inside out, starting with him.
Not only was he willing to take on the role, but it had to start with him. It had to start with somebody the people could trust, someone who lived alongside them. The challenge was, there wasn't a lot of trust from neighbors. They didn't see a lot of effort nor was there a lot of transparency or communication coming from the association. People only knew the little they knew, which usually causes us to think the worst or at least think no one seems to care. I've learned over the years, it doesn't take much disconnection for people to feel isolated, forgotten, or to stop extending beyond their own worlds. We hunker down, go into defense mode, and rarely extend beyond what we can take care of ourselves. When this happens, skepticism increases and trust declines. The good news is that it only takes some small, visible actions by one person to disrupt this isolated behavior and rebuilt trust. If someone does what the group is saying needs done or addresses the visible brokenness that's no one's responsibility, then people start coming around.
This is where Jesse started when he took it upon himself to develop a plan to rebuild the brick column sign holders that mark the entrances of his neighborhood. They were deteriorating badly, needed repaired, and were the topic for much complaining by neighbors. So, Jesse grabbed his sledge hammer and began knocking them down to be rebuilt over a couple of days. He got in a bit over his head when he realized how expensive it was to rebuild them, but he didn't let it stop him. He leveraged his network, asked some favors, and asked neighbors to contribute to covering the cost of materials. By the end of it, he had successfully gotten those signs rebuilt. Today, the neighborhood engagement is rebounding and neighbors are showing signs of excitement and collective effort again. Jesse would say it's a journey and it's just getting started, but we know it's always a journey and there really isn't a destination anyway.
Jesse has what I think is the key to effective neighborhood transformation, which is transparency, honesty, and trust. Jesse recognized though that offering those things to neighbors who have been hurt and let down in the past takes time and patience. I think sometimes we want things to be better instantaneously, and we forget that even as neighbors, we can get wounded when we feel left behind or forgotten, not taken care of.
Jesse’s story brings up an interesting idea that maybe if we’re willing, we can create the change we keep hoping for in our neighborhoods and city. Jesse’s strong-held belief of inside out transformation is one of the core mindsets of neighboring. Sometimes we sit idle, look at the issues and brokenness around us we want fixed, and wait for someone else to come in and fix it. What if we didn’t look to blame or wait on others, but were willing to be the fixers? Right in our own neighborhoods?