August 24, 2010

I came across this neighborhood kind of accidentally the other day. I was driving home, but not really paying too much attention to where I was going. I got on one of those streets that you think is east/west or north/south, but is actually an angled street. And since I don't really bother to use maps, I ended up in South Central instead of on the Westside. However, these kinds of neighborhoods don't bother me the way they seem to bother other people. I think I learned this early on in my social work career, during which I worked in several "bad" neighborhoods. One of the most important lessons I learned during those jobs is that you don't need to be afraid. You don't need to be afraid of the poor, of trash, of blighted neighborhoods, or of people who look or act differently than you do. When you grow up not poor, you are subtly (or maybe not so subtly) fed this message. Stay away from "those" neighborhoods, be careful, lock your doors, etc. Of course I'm not saying that you shouldn't be aware of your surroundings and alert to real risks in unknown places. But we should certainly do away with this prejudicial fear that so many of us are taught. So, before I start writing a whole essay on this topic (which I could), the point is I kind of like driving through neighborhoods like these because I think it always brings helpful perspective. I think this is part of why we (meaning the non-poor) need those who are poor. To help us look at our own lives differently. To help us examine our priorities and think about what really matters in life.

Before you think that this is now turning into a social worker blog, here is my artistic observation. One thing I find interesting is that in the midst of blight, there always seem to be bright colors and some form of artistic expression going on. Someday I think it would be so cool to work on a community mural project in a blighted area. Color and pleasing images bring hope to people. Actually, a friend of mine in Chicago does this regularly. He is an artist and muralist and frequently paints beautiful murals over graffitied walls, with the help of those in the community. What's cool about this is that engaging in art-making is good for everyone involved. I saw this often at many of the shelters I worked at. Women's affects and demeanor would always change (for the better) while working on a shelter art project. There is something affirming and life-giving about the process that fed into these women's souls. Like I've said before, art really does have the potential to be a gift, both to those who receive it and those who create it.

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