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I post this as an Irish-American who grew up in one of the toughest ghettos in the country, in Richmond, California.

This post is about people I dearly love, people who are hurting, people who need our prayers.

I am speaking, of course, of our brothers and sisters in our nation’s ghettos.

I grew up in such a place, and can say from personal experience that these places are beset by violence, and despair is a constant temptation when you are immersed in such a place.

And yet, I also know with St Paul that “where sin abounds, Grace abounds even more.” There is a kinship and instinctive sense of community in the old hood that I’ve not experienced in other places I’ve lived. People look out for one another. And more than that, these places bring forth a saintly response to the ongoing crisis from the people who live there.

A few years ago, I met a woman named Hope in a support group for survivors of violent crime. A year before, she had lost one grandson to murder, and almost exactly a year later, she had lost her remaining grandson in the same manner, and he had bled out on almost the exact same patch of street as his brother.

I held her hand as she wept for her lost children, and pain came off of her in waves. It was as if the skin of her face was floating on an ocean of tears. She had loved those two children with fierce, maternal love, and losing them was like living a nightmare.

But she took up the cross of her grief, and reached out to the kids in the neighborhood, doing the best she could to prevent another mother’s or grandmother’s heart from breaking as hers had. She prayed, she worked, she filled her days with service. She is a saint. She needs your prayers.

But there is not only tragedy and violence in those places. There are also human treasures there. Many, many of them.

I remember an older kid who lived 5 houses down the block from me. He had had polio, and so had those braces on his legs, and eventually ended up in a wheelchair, but his heart was big and loving and more generous to me than I deserved. His immobility made him a keen observer of the goings-on in the neighborhood. I remember sitting on his porch on summer afternoons while he shared his concern for a family across the way who had hit a rough patch, his excitement at the college prospects of the high-school aged boy of the family next to them, and why Mean Mrs. Warner was such a bitter old lady – her late husband had drunk a lot, and she had put up with a lot from him. I don’t think my wheelchair-bound friend ever saw himself as a mentor – he just enjoyed my company, and I his – but I learned an immense amount from him about seeing without judging, and about taking whatever situation God puts you in and making the best of it.

Mr Pender, a retired man who lived next door with his wife, had a real tenderness toward animals. There were stray cats all over the neighborhood, and he would take them in and make sure they found proper homes. His wife had had a stroke, and so he would carry tenderly her out to his car sometimes when they went off to church. Mrs. Pender had a sixth sense about when the streets were getting rough, and would take me in and feed me hot chocolate on rainy winter afternoons, and made a point of telling me that she just knew I was going to grow into a very special young man.

If America is to be truly a Christian nation, we must realize our fundamental kinship with all who share our shores. The ongoing emergency in our Ghettos is our greatest moral scandal. The grinding poverty, the un-consoled victims and relatives whose bodies and minds have been wounded by violence, the economic and political abandonment of the people in these places by those with the means to give them truly substantive help, have made them virtually forgotten people – People Who Don’t Matter. This separation is deeply wounding for people on both sides of the divide.

The only difference between my childhood neighbors and everyone else in this country is miles, money, luck, and the lingering echoes of an unspeakably sad history.

People in our ghettos are our brothers and sisters. They are truly Us. And more than that: I look at Hope, and at the older kid from down the block, and at my dear neighbor Mrs. Pender, and I see the Face of Christ.

We must be reconciled with them as our brothers and sisters. I pray that we will find one another across the desolating separation, and I believe that this is possible. When we do, the streets will resound with the aching joy of reunion, and we will embrace our brothers and sisters with gratitude.

Originally posted to mftalbot on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 01:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. -Bertrand Russell

    by mftalbot on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 01:19:16 PM PDT

  •  Thank you (4+ / 0-)

    I worked 10 years for Head Start in communities that my neighbors in the suburbs do not truly know. I say communities. People looking from the outside in think of these places as the projects, subsidized housing, the ghetto. I think it makes it easier for them to not have to think about the fact that there are real people and families living there.

    I'll always grateful for Miss Rose and her wisdom. She was a woman who lived where she taught. Her husband was a pastor at the Baptist church. She modeled love and care for people. I learned from her and did likewise.

    There was a co-worker that finally became pregnant after years. She was thrilled, but scared for the baby to come. Her baby was a boy. She was afraid for him, knowing how tough his life might be growing up in a world not friendly to Black men.

    There was the dad who was grateful for his chance to live in a place many would never choose to live. He'd worked himself off drugs and been given custody of his 2 boys. He was glad for the 2nd chance and worked hard to keep his boys on the straight and narrow.

    There was the teen mom with tears in her eyes as she began to truly comprehend the extent of her little one's delays. And then her resolve and tireless work to work with her little guy and to finish high school.

    There was the mom that welcomed me in her home, so I could work with her daughter each week. She always offered a cup of coffee and love.

    There was an older Grandma that was raising 2 of her Grandbabies. She watched out for me and warned me if there were police in the neighborhood, as that usually meant trouble would follow.

    There were so many people and families that I remember with love.

    But, I had the chance to get to know people, not statistics. I got the chance to share in lives, not socio-economic groups.

    I will always treasure the relationships.

    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 01:57:57 PM PDT

    •  That's a lovely comment, enjoyed reading it. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mftalbot, mapamp

      Reminds me of Republicans who hate abortions, yet when women have the babies "out of wedlock" they are criticized for doing so without being married, plus they want to make birth control harder to get! I applaud women for taking on the difficult task of single parenthood, no matter what the circumstances.

      "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

      by Gorette on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 03:17:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Beautiful. And I'm just getting over hearing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mftalbot, mapamp, Lorinda Pike

    you use the word "ghetto." I have not seen it here, used it once myself in a comment in recent memory. Seems to have disappeared from usage. Now they say "urban" which covers the whole spectrum I guess that is because of the general dislike for even mentioning "poverty." Better to simply ignore the whole subject, right?

    You've written a wonderful diary, don't be discouraged if you don't get a lot of attention in this holiday weekend and political season. Write about poverty, about the real lives and difficulties of real people. That's what we are missing. But the positive aspects of community you talk about are so good to hear. Thanks!

    I loved these statements:

    People in our ghettos are our brothers and sisters. They are truly Us.
    We must be reconciled with them as our brothers and sisters.
    It's not easy to get people to realize that without more connection, without seeing the lives and humanity of the people you are talking about. Mostly they are just ignored.

    I don't actually want us to be a "Christian nation," in the sense that right wing evangelicals do because their Christianity has many problems with following Christ, imo. But following Christian principles as regards to compassion and dealing with the poor and with workers would be fantastic.

    Unlike you I don't have a lot of faith in all that happening in my lifetime since I'm getting old. But you keep up your hope, it's better when you have it.

    I'd love to know what city this involves.

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 03:12:27 PM PDT

  •  Never had a community myself (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mapamp, mftalbot, SchuylerH

    and never saw the face of Jesus. But I taught in communities like those you describe, and encountered the amazing grace.  But also the despair, anger, addiction, crookedness, child abuse, sickness, danger, and hate.  So many people born into harm's way. And in light of that, I get beyond impatient with the dismissive and judgmental who just have no idea.

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