Neighborhood Opportunity Network

Supporting one another in a time of crisis

The Long Branch village raises its first child

Posted by sebastianbrown on November 1, 2010

Have you ever heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Even if you’d agree that it sounds like a nice idea you’ve probably questioned if it’s still possible in a society where fear and individualism have taken priority over exchange and community? While we’d be kidding ourselves if we said that we proved it possible in our third “Thursday Together” held last night, I think we took a huge leap forward. After holding two mutual support nights where folks have rallied around one another in helping neighbors get connected to jobs and various services, we decided that last night’s ought to focus on providing support to Alicia, who welcomed her granddaughter Scarlet into the world–and into the Long Branch village–this past Sunday.

The lady of the hour (or two) next to our newest Network Guide Isaac

 

For nearly two hours, 18 community members, many of whom have only met each other once before, channeled all their energy into brainstorming what they could offer Alicia and her family to ensure that Scarlet grows up in the most loving and thriving environment possible.

To get folks in the mood, everyone was asked to check in with a fond childhood memory. Kenny, the head of the Nob Hill YMCA, remembered being made fun of by his older sister for frequently eating dirt–many times with a spoon! Jose, the pastor of a local home based Baptist congregation, explained the heartache it gave him when he returned to the Amazonian village he grew up in only to find it totally paved over and redeveloped with tourist attractions.  Habibatha, originally from the Ivory Coast, explained how since she grew up speaking her local dialect at home, on her first day of school she didn’t know how to respond to the teacher when she first greeted her. Instead, she chose to repeat her teacher’s every word. She said that it worked up until her teacher asked her “How old are you?” and Habibatha could only respond with “How old are you?”

Hibret writes 'hello' in his native Amharic

Naturally, nearly every person’s memory was in someway tied to the natural, physical or social environment–or community–that surrounded them. So we posed the question to the group: what can we do right now to construct an environment that is most conducive to Scarlet having similarly wonderful memories? While at first the folks offered up more material gifts–clothes, books, crib…etc.–Solomon interjected and said he was committed to being Scarlet’s “uncle.” He explained that where he grew up in Botswana every elder was every child’s uncle or aunt. He’s always yearned to return the favor. It then sparked Barbara to promise to watch after Scarlet anytime Alicia or her daughter Emma wanted some time away from dirty diapers and endless crying. Paul, head of Takoma Park’s Dept. for Community Planning and Development, offered parenting advice.

OJO: Check out the old school bunny ears Paul's laying over Solomon

After most folks had spoken, Genet requested that Alicia give us a sense of her “wish list” for support. I suppose moved by the overwhelming love and compassion so present in the room–as well as the amazing financial struggles she’s facing right now amidst this wonderful moment–Alicia broke into tears. As the group rushed en masse to her side to calm her down and physically embrace her, Paul turned to me and explained that he’d never been in a ‘meeting’ like this before. He went onto say that it makes him realize how much of the human piece of development ‘planning folks’ often miss, even though it’s what ought to be at the core of creating physical spaces where people are creating many of the memories we had just shared.

After the group settled down, Barbara was struck with an idea: why don’t we organize a community baby shower for Alicia and her daughter where we can continue to rally around her and offer support? The group loved the idea and agreed to hold it in two Thursdays. I imagine we’ll spend the following week working out baby shower details…

After much begging, the kids finally get Barbara to tell them a story

While just a first step, it was an amazing expression of this community or village’s commitment to raising this child TOGETHER. Why have Alicia and her family do it alone when there’s not only a community willing, but totally able to pitch in however they can?! I think we answered that question last night.

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