Community Is An Idea We Haven’t Figured Out Yet

This post was written by a senior at Battle High School, William Henderson, who has been interning over this last year at The Communications, Center, Inc.  It was shared before the schools closed due to Coronavirus.  Please read through and consider contributing to those in your community who have been hit hard by this pandemic through the links posted at the end.

Columbia is still struggling to become one community and I think the catalyst of this problem is division among the city. There is a clear division between the  Southwest and Northeast sides of town. The Southwest side of Columbia is viewed as the “good” part of Columbia while the Northeast is viewed as the “bad” or “ghetto” side of town. The 2017 redrawing of the district lines only enhanced this narrative by increasing the number of free and reduced lunch students in schools on the Northeast and decreasing the number of these students on the Southwest side of town. This lessened the overall wealth of families of schools on the northeast side of town and in turn decreased the schools’ access to social and economic capital

Coming from the northside things are fundamentally different. We grow up with this chip on your shoulder because everyone makes us out to be somebody that we aren’t at all. Every single person you meet from the Southside or the Westside of the city has these predisposed negative ideas about us, that make us feel as if we are less-than. We have to work extra hard for people to acknowledge us as good hearted people who can contribute to the community because we are seen as troublemakers or hoodlums by everyone that doesn’t live where we live.

Constantly surrounding young boys and girls with the idea that they are lesser versions of a human just because they don’t live on the same side of town as you results in a negative self-image, that in turn causes self-destructive behavior among adolescents growing up in these places that are looked down upon. Surrounding young children who are like sponges; with these hurtful ideas will cause them to believe them to be true. When this happens the kids give into the narrative that is already placed upon them and they become everything that people who know nothing about them, deem them to be.  They live into the expectations pushed on them instead of growing into their potential.

This is where the separation of Columbia happens. When people that live on the North and East sides of town resent the ones living on the South and West sides because they push the narrative that those people on the East and North are the only reason the city has any crime at all. Everyone in Columbia  chooses to isolate themselves because we are afraid. Our fear stems from the lack of accountability that we have as a community, we’re always looking to be able to point a finger, instead of realizing that we have a problem internally and working to fix it. It seems to me that nobody actually wants improvement, they just want their way of thinking to be proven right. We focus too much on what we think everybody else is doing wrong, instead of appreciating them for what they’re doing right. Everybody wants to feel secure and comfortable and stay divided in their own collective groups, but improvement stems from being uncomfortable. We have to stop being scared of each other and find the courage to change if we want to improve on the issues we have as a city.

Community isn’t about what you’re used to, it’s about embracing change in order to improve the lives of those living within it. We will never be able to obtain the goal of a community if we continue to separate ourselves from one another. True cooperation from everyone from every side of town is the only way we will be able to change what is the “norm” for us. Believing in each other is a necessity because trust is the backbone of what we all want to achieve. This idea of coexisting may not be something we’ve quite grasped just yet but we are so close to beginning the creation of a new Columbia, a Columbia where everyone loves one another and isn’t separated by things like location of residency.

One Community, One Columbia.

The Coronavirus has highlighted the deep inequities in our system.  Throughout the country Afican Americans are dying at faster ratesthan others, reflecting the effects of both racial injustice, poverty, and inequalities of access to healthcare. Columbia has set up funds to help your neighbors. Please give as generously as you can.  If you need help try the resources listed here.

Inequities Harm Us All

ColumbiaMODemographics (2)

The need to recognize, and address, inequities in Columbia was one of three themes identified by citizens in the discussions that led up to the development of our community dialogue guide, “Are We An Us?” Significant inequities continue to exist, as illustrated in the infographic above. This infographic was shared with us by Tyree Byndom, a former resident of Columbia and community leader, and has recently returned.  In the time he was away from Columbia, Tyree started a coaching firm and teamed up with a client to co-found a website on black demographics.

As citizens we cannot afford to be indifferent to these inequities or simply assume they will resolve as a result of efforts by city government or various nonprofits. Indifference builds distrust within our community, and erodes community ties.

Although there are have been several projects undertaken by the city and others, particularly in the areas of affordable housing, business development, and neighborhood outreach, these fall well short of a community commitment to fully resolving the inequities that exist. As one participant observed: “There are many, very good initiatives taking place, but no-one has a holistic understanding of all of the efforts. To too many individuals it looks like nothing is happening and no-one cares.”

One thing that would help is more day to day interactions among people who live in different neighborhoods. Consider these comments from past dialogues: “We don’t know our neighbors.” “We get into niches that fit us too well.” “People want to stay in their comfort zone.” “City being divided like St.Louis with north and south.” “De facto segregation here.””People don’t trust other people.” Indifference leads to isolation, and isolation leads to fear and distrust. It also prevents the informal individual relationships that create “social capital”.

What can a concerned citizen do?

  • One you can be aware.
  • Two you can learn more about the systems and history that have led to the inequities illustrated in the infographic above.
  • Three you can take action by asking hard questions, connecting with others, and learning about the programs that are out there (and then using them or referring others).
  • Fourth you can consciously work to meet your neighbors throughout the city. How do you do that? You can plan or attend an event, you can call a contractor listed on the city’s minority business site, you can strike up a conversation when you are out and about, or reach out to a community organization you haven’t yet worked with and invite them to yours.

Keep in mind that social ties are often what drive opportunity. Creating those ties is one of our responsibilities as community members.

In subsequent posts we will interview various community members who are working in this area and present their thoughts on how we got here and how we might go forward together, both to build bridges, and to resolve the systemic inequities that exist in our community.

You are invited to share your own ideas in the comment section below.

How Do We Make Wise Choices?

Several months ago, a group of citizens participating in a class titled “Systems and Citizens’ at MU’s Osher Institute  were discussing many of the difficult issues facing our communities. We discussed how interconnected many of the issues are, and how hard it can be to find a way forward in an atmosphere of extreme partisanship. As the class came to a close, members expressed an interest in continuing to work together and to develop a set of forms that could help us to better evaluate both political candidates (or elected officials) and the policies they propose.  The result was this  citizen’s guide titled “How Do We Make Wise Choices?”  Regardless of your political views, we invite you to download it, use it, discuss it with your friends, and help us to improve it by leaving your thoughts and suggestions in the comment box below.

Join The NAACP On May 22, 2018

Over the last few months, the Columbia NAACP has been leading a series of community engagement meetings on the topics of policing, equity, and civility. In between NAACP leaders have met with the police chief and City Manager for additional dialogue. This Tuesday, May 22, from 7 to 9 pm the NAACP  will again be hosting a forum at Second Missionary Baptist Church (407 E. Broadway).

At Tuesday’s forum you will hear an update on community policing and on the implementation of recommendations from previous meetings.  After the initial presentations, break out groups will discuss and make recommendations on specific community topics including mental health, racial profiling, minority jobs and entrepreneurship, and civility and accountability.

Join in, share your thoughts and help make Columbia a better place!

WHAT:  Community Dialogue
WHEN:  Tuesday May 22, 2018, 7 to 9 pm
WHERE:  Second Missionary Baptist Church, 407 E. Broadway, Columbia, MO

More Dialogue On Safety And Justice

Twenty-nine people, including two police officers, joined us at Battle on May 4, and you can review the notes of the discussion here. As with our prior dialogue, the National Issue Forum guide on Safety and Justice was used to spark conversation, and the dialogue was one of the ones reported for this year’s national “A Public Voice” initiative.  Although there were divergent views on strategies and how to best proceed, some clear and common themes emerged throughout the discussion.  These included the importance of building a sense of community; the need for mutual respect, empathy and compassion; and the importance of clear, ongoing education and dialogue. In the closing portion of the session one of the youth expressed appreciation for the officers sharing their perspective and stated next time he saw an officer in the coffee shop or at a gas station he was going to try saying hi. Several of the adults who were present expressed appreciation for the leadership showed by the youth in arranging for these dialogues. At the end of the evening two of the youth raised with one of the officers the possibility of a joint youth-officer training session on Youth Mental Health First Aid, using a curriculum supported by MU Extension. Winter break was identified as a time that might be possible. We are recording that idea here so it can be picked up and planned for next semester, and not lost over the summer!

Many Conversations, One Community! Join Us, January 17 For The Next Community Commons

The idea that resonated most with those attending the December 20 (Third Tuesday) Community Commons, was bringing dialogue into the community – in homes, in service clubs, through the Neighbor2Neighbor platform, and through “intentional intersectionality” of diverse groups and individuals.

At our January 17 Community Commons, we will provide a free training on how to host a “Conversation Cafe” on your own.  This easy to use format helps to keep even difficult conversations civil, promotes listening and connection, and works well even when people don’t know each other before joining in the conversation.

At today’s Columbia Values Diversity celebration breakfast, keynote speaker Nonombi Naomi Tutu urged all to do more than celebrate diversity.  She urged all to actively work to “build a beloved community.”  We do that work when we connect, listen to one another, and talk together.

Three banners decorated the breakfast hall. As the program explained, these illustrated “a few ways inclusion can be fostered:  in our city’s infrastructure (Build banner), through activism (Inclusive banner), and in our daily lives and hobbies (Community banner).”  These three themes echo those in our community dialogue guide, “Are We An Us?” — collaboration (Citizen-centered planning), care (Addressing Inequities), and connection (Building Bridges).

Download a guide, start a conversation, build a beloved community, join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, January 17, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Stories of Homelessness

You still have time to see “Street Stories – Glimpses of Homelessness“, which opened tonight and will be performed again tomorrow November 19 at 7 pm and Sunday November 1at 3 pm. This  series of short plays interspersed with music, shares stories from our community and was written, produced, and is acted by community members to raise funds for Turning Point, a day shelter, and Room at the Inn, an overnight shelter run by area churches during the winter months. It’s also an effort to build bridges of empathy and compassion between the community and some of its most ignored and neglected members. Turn out for a good cause, and learn more about the struggles of those who are homeless and how you can help.

Street stories – Glimpses of Homelessness
Where:  First Christian Church, 10th and Walnut, Downtown
When:  Saturday November 19 at 7 pm and Sunday November 20 at 3 pm
Tickets available at the door, $10

Join Us November 15!

Our next Community Commons is next Tuesday, November 15 from 7 to 9 pm. We hope you can join us.

Post-election many citizens are asking, how can we find common ground and work together?  The Columbia Tribune’s “Community Commons” aims to help you do just that.

Discussion in September  highlighted several issues related to the themes in our community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?”  Looking at the themes of Inequity and Building Bridges, the October session  explored a wide range of topics, including  the need for more affordable housing, housing for the homeless, creating more economically diverse neighborhoods, bringing neighborhoods together through smaller celebrations and events, and providing more places where people can come together for dialogue.

Those interested in Citizen Centered Planning further explored the difference between “politicians and statesman”, and discussed the possibility of creating an easily accessible public dashboard that shows progress toward public infrastructure projects approved by voters.

Interested in exploring how we can bridge divides, address inequities, and put citizens at the center?  Join us on November 15!

During this session we will also be introducing a new dialogue format called the “Conversation Cafe” that you can easily transfer to your conversations with family, friends, and neighbors.  By talking and working together, we can make a difference

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

You Can Make A Difference

Join us for another Community Commons on October 18 from 7-9 pm at the Tribune offices (enter on Walnut St. between 4th and Providence).

Those who attended the first Community Commons held on September 20, divided into two separate groups for two separate, wide ranging conversations.

In the first, the focus was on building bridges and addressing inequities. Recognizing that inequity/inequality is very difficult to change, the group asked “what could we offer now so our children and grandchildren especially aren’t sitting around talking about this?” Ideas included special zoning to facilitate places where people could gather and interact, more press about activities in the African- American community that is informed by leaders in that community (it was noted those leaders should be identified by the black community and not denominated by those outside), more marketing and diversification of minority owned businesses, and the need for minority communities to also create community among their own members so as to better connect and celebrate accomplishments. The need for more dialogue among all citizens was also emphasized. The group also discussed various types of events that would help break down “taboo” things and locations. Come and contribute your ideas on October 18!

Another group focused on citizen-centered planning. Much of the discussion in this group focused on the stalled transmission line, which was brought up as an example of “broken governance.” Questions asked here included, “Who does council talk to? Just the loudest self interested voices? Experts available to them? Staff?” “How can we better involve citizens at the appropriate best time, not at the last minute?”, “How can we elevate issues to a focus on the public good?” and “How could those harmed or experiencing a monetary loss as a result of a decision made for the common good be compensated?” During the discussions a  distinction was made between “politicians” who are easily swayed by public dissent and “statesmen” who work to understand, translate, and resolve complex issues and move the community forward. Characteristics of “statesmen” that were identified included respecting process, respecting staff, focusing on the common good, and being honest about the hard issues. Participants agreed that citizens needed to be more involved on an ongoing basis as these issues unfolded and that both citizens and leaders needed to be accountable for their actions. What constitutes accountability and how do we achieve it?   Join us on October 18 as we explore this issue further.

We look forward to seeing you on October 18.