Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Memories like a raisin in the sun

I’ve been down this street before. 

That’s what came to mind after taking a long stroll through the neighborhood I called home before moving to Durham, NC to attend graduate school at Duke University.  The journey down memory lane played like rewind. 

Not much has changed.

The feeling of despair that ran me away has settled in like the seconds before a heart attack.  There’s a mood that strips one of their dreams and reminds them to stay in an assigned place.  That ache I felt before leaving came back. It shocked me.  The tears came after I turned right on Worley.  Each step stirred a memory of being broken by the covert racism in Columbia, MO.

Why did they force us to walk to West Jr. High School?  I moaned as flashbacks of cold days walking to school came to mind. Why? Why no bus for us?

That question stirred a deeper frustration related to the gaps that fed inferiority.  The tears poured faster and deeper as the truth emerged to take me back.

I never felt good enough.  I never felt equal to my white peers. I never, I never – the list inflated until I couldn’t take anymore.  I stopped walking, closed my eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and took another step.

What is it about Columbia that robs black people of their dreams?

Langston Hughes asked a similar question. “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Is anyone considering the significance of withering dreams?

The Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence has begun the arduous task of tackling crime in Columbia.  The 13 members have been split into groups - one to talk to people affected by violence; another to analyze police reports and court files; one to talk with nonprofits and social service agencies to measure what they are doing about crime; and the fourth to examine news site and social media accounts for information surrounding previous violent crimes.

The process of reducing crime begins with gauging what is being done.  It’s an important step that must be taken along the way.  Measuring the response of those empowered to prevent, protect and report crime is essential.  Those commissioned to serve must be held accountable when appropriate, and celebrated when successful.  

But, what about those dreams rotting in the sun?

What are the causes of crime?  Are those reasons reflective of broader societal ills, or are there cultural impediments indigenous to Columbia? If so, are we willing to go deeper than the traditional blame game to form strategies to shift that feeling that forced my feet to stop moving after considering the pain in the streets?

Some will say crime in Columbia is the result of an antagonistic police department.  Others will condemn social agencies, churches and other nonprofits. A large group will point a disparaging finger at parents.  There’s a measure of truth in each position, but what about the wilting of dreams?

It took my leaving Columbia to discern that woeful sensation that kept me walking slower than my potential.  Departing freed me from the clutch of internalized inferiority.  The deficiency of black owned and operated businesses, the absence of a who’s who list of blacks from Columbia recognized nationally, and a weak history of blacks elected to serve on the city council, reflect a deep void that withers potential dreams.

Dreams can’t thrive when power isn’t shared. Hope can’t be found when the capacity for more has no role models to lead the way.  Life can’t be found when you are limited to the welfares on your side of the street.

I’m back home after being away for 27 years.  Columbia has grown since I left, but not much has changed on the blocks that made raisins out of dreams.



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