Many times, it is very difficult for me to feel like I make a real difference in lives by writing. Are words are what people need the most? Don’t they need action?
Well, action is what they got out of me these past two weekends. On the weekend of April 20-21, 2013, a project that had been sitting under some dust, the Pop-Up Promenade came together in Greensboro. A partnership between Action Greensboro, Downtown Greensboro, Inc.,the City of Greensboro, and several community partners, February One Place will become a place in the truest sense of the word every Friday and Saturday from 6-10 p.m. throughout the months of May and June. Food trucks, musicians and who knows what else will show up and ignite this alleyway right in the heart of downtown Greensboro.
One of the centerpieces of this project is a street mural pattern created by graphic designer Nadia Hassan. Half-homage to the lunch counter seats of the Greensboro Four and half-octagonal M.C. Escher memorial, the street itself gets to put on a nice costume and be more than the place where we put our feet and drive our cars. Due to the complicated nature of the design, the city asked that volunteers come out and paint the street. I picked up a paintbrush on April 21 and helped with the first leg of the project. Yesterday (4/26/2013), other volunteers came out and finished the project. While the paint is semi-permanent, we all hope that this paint will last a very long time. I am also excited that this project has been on major local news stations and our city manager has filmed a video to encourage people to the painted street. I can only imagine what our weekends will be like this summer, with lots of people engaging the street and not just from the sidewalk.
Personally, it took me back to drawing Escher-esque patterns in grade school, doing volunteer work as a student leader in undergrad, and back to the basic core of why I’m a community advocate and placemaker. It’s fun to make something beautiful of out of a place. Plus,there’s a pride in doing something with your hands that changes the physical space. I’m not a formal planner or even a full-time community developer and getting a chance to do just that, even for just a few hours on the weekend, was priceless.
The city of Durham is one step ahead of us in Greensboro though. I spent this past Saturday (4/27) afternoon helping put on Durham’s Longest Dinner Table and Block Party, a Build a Better Block initiative put on by the City of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services and Marry Durham. The goal was to block off the street and create the longest communal dinner table ever in Durham. The table was a good 1/8 to 1/4 a mile long and there was wonderful food and music all up and down the street. According to the event organizers, 669 people showed up, including a man dressed as Jesus. How’s that for divine intervention. The diversity of people was brilliant. And to think, the City of Durham took the lead, then the community organizations followed. Oh, and the neighborhood is in transition, but holding on to it’s mixture of people and income levels ever so slightly.
There were several personal tugs here.Durham was the first city I completely legally resided in, outside of Greensboro (my years in Raleigh were campus years, in which I only registered to vote and did not establish a permanent household of my own). I learned how to drive on my own in Durham. I rented my first apartment there. I worked my first full-time job there as well. However, I never really got a chance to learn and love Durham. The name of it being the cesspool of the Triangle region lingered so heavy, I was not surprised when I was mugged in my own apartment parking lot in August of 2008. My job fell through and so did several subsequent efforts to find employment in the region. I came home to Greensboro, climbed under a proverbial rock and didn’t go out at dark for months. The streets stopped being my friend.
Yet, here I was, back on a Durham street, eating a nice lunch and chatting with a variety of positive folks. What really touched me was talking to an 11-year-old. Outside of my younger cousins, talking to children doesn’t come easy to me. Yet, as I was telling another table mate about where I lived in Durham and how much of the city I missed while I was there, the young man and I were able to chat about living in and around the same place. I also told him about this page, so hopefully he’s reading this. I also hope that he gets the chance to know that I really enjoyed talking with him and was honored that this page might have some interest to someone his age, who clearly has an aptitude for learning why the world is the way it is. I have no doubt he will do great things in his life if he keeps up his love for learning.
As I bring this to a close, I look forward to great times at the Pop-Up Promenade and look forward to next year’s Longest Food Table. I also feel better about the action of the pen/keyboard. I wouldn’t have known about either event had I not started writing this blog and had I not had a will to be a public servant in some form.
Sometimes actions and words speak at the same volume.