Each month, we pose a question to the OneLISC family, and share the responses reflecting our diverse range of voices and backgrounds. We hope these Reflections from the Field will be a source of inspiration and insight for us all. This month's question is:
America has a fraught relationship with its history of public spaces.
The erection of permanent stone statues dedicated to slave-holders and abusers is part of that.
The arrogant civilian-led policing of whether Black kids have a permit to sell lemonade on a neighborhood sidewalk or of the presence of Black families having a picnic in a park is part of that.
The invasion of other countries under the guise of “spreading freedom” is part of that.
Maybe it’s all those years of teaching Manifest Destiny to a bunch of 10-year-olds that makes Americans feel entitled to every space that’s not theirs.
Now public space is being “invaded” for the greater good in wide-spread protests and public space being “denied” for the greater good in shut-downs to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Public space has turned political. But maybe it always has been.
Mask on. Mask off.
To roam aimlessly.
The outdoors do not belong to me.
I cannot jog in a neighborhood that isn’t my own.
I cannot enjoy nature in a park.
No picnicking. No barbecuing. No birdwatching for me.
I do not have the luxury of spontaneity.
Every move that I make must be calculated to ensure my safety.
I must be home before dark.
Lest I risk being strung up in a Sundown town.
White supremacist violence necessitated a Green guidebook.
For Black travelers to move around.
Black and Brown bodies have been policed for 400+ years.
Strange fruit swinging from trees. Wounded Knee. Trail of Tears.
To be Black or Brown in this land requires a constant awareness of one’s body.
How it moves. Where it wanders. Whom it might offend.
Is it taking up too much space? Can you even comprehend why…
There is a public outcry for help as today’s public space is currently being erased and redefined by global circumstances.
We as community leaders need to answer the call for help by showing the real need and purpose of public space! We must not condone ill-fated behaviors. We must promote the efforts to respect and beautify public spaces. Public Space is needed as a form of un-confinement from private space for all people. Public spaces should not have to face the consequence of destruction or mayhem as a result of anger and hate. The total respect and up-keeping of public spaces is the main focus of the community needing to discover new and inspired ways to re-use, re-establish and re-invent the space with the efforts of rejuvenating our communities for a sustainable future. Community Leaders must now answer the public “outcry” for help, in order to save our public spaces.
These photos are from my neighborhood park, Lincoln Park. You may have heard of it recently because of the controversy over the Emancipation Statue.
It’s caused heated public discourse, some of which is captured in the messages hung on a fence surrounding concrete barriers that were recently erected around the statue, which is also guarded by the federal Park Police.
This statue has always haunted me because I see symbols of white supremacy. But many African-American scholars and elders have defended its importance as a historical artifact. It was paid for by former slaves, and dedicated by Frederick Douglass in 1876.
What should be done with this statute? Read what my neighbors think.
I reflect back to the LISC AmeriCorps National Conference 2020. When I left the conference, I felt Charged, Challenged and Changed. We often forget about the people we are serving and how what we do makes them feel. I do have a space in my heart that will propel me to work harder, be more empathetic/sympathetic and do better. No more waiting on someone else or blaming someone because it didn’t get done. The time for change is now, we should take hold and make changes on our space happen.
We must take advantage of this change that is sweeping our nation. The space in my mind helps me to understand the need to study more history about my community, to teach the youth about our past and how it will affect us in the future. If we do not remember, learn and work together toward our future, we will be destined to repeat some of our past mistakes. These are just a few of the thoughts I left the conference with. I am encouraged to do my part. As a seasoned Americorps/LISC community coordinator, I will work hard to make a valued difference in my community.