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

Our Infrastructure: Why So Little Energy For Moving Forward?

Despite the release last month of the Ameren report on the proposed alternate transmission line route known as Option E, we are far from resolving the problems with our electric infrastructure.  Despite some public comments to the contrary, the Ameren report does not suggest that “Option E” is a viable alternative to the transmission line route which was previously approved by both the Council and voters, and then “paused” late in 2015.   The Ameren report did not analyze Columbia’s electric service needs, nor the cost of the alternatives. It simply reviewed whether Columbia could build a line adjacent to one owned by Ameren on the north side of town rather than on the south where load growth is occurring.  That growth has led to overloading of the the existing substations.  This overloading affects service in the south and also in the central city. As representatives of the citizen led Water & Light Advisory Board recently noted, the alternate option does not address that overloading, although the original, now paused route, did.

As city leaders struggle to find the political will to move forward,  we received an email, quoted below, from a resident of Columbia who has lived here for several years and has now decided to leave.  Why?  Frustration with inadequate electric service:

I have lived in Columbia for a number of years and I live in the first ward. I have lived within a few miles of downtown most of my life. I have owned by home for about ten years and, until recently, I was strongly dedicated to this city.

I was excited to see downtown growing, with more options and more people starting to make it really vibrant. I was excited to see housing growth because vacancy rates in the area are so low that renters pay more than they should. 2,000 people a year have been moving into Columbia for several years now. We knew this was coming! Meeting after meeting touched on concerns about impending growth. We knew our infrastructure wasn’t ready and it still isn’t.

I have never had sewer problems as I am far enough uphill from the creek, my problems are electrical. I now experience full power outages once or twice a month and experience brownouts on really hot days. The City of Columbia is incapable of delivering me electricity, so I am leaving the city behind and I may very well never return.

I thought our power problem was going to get fixed when I voted on a bond issue years ago. I thought it was going to get fixed when they started building the lines that I voted for them to build. Instead, this project was scuttled by the complaints of a small group of wealthy people. City Council is more concerned about the complaints of a few rich people than they are with delivering power to my entire neighborhood.

Does the city even plan to fix the problem? I don’t think they do.

Our city leaders have not provided much information since pausing the planned line on the costs and consequences of delay.  We need to have an open and honest discussion, informed by all of the facts on the options before us. We also need to talk about the equities. More than one member of the public has asked why the council would cite health concerns when looking at putting a 161 kv transmission line in a wealthy area that is driving electric demand, but not express much concern about placing an additional 161 kv line next to an existing 345 kv line through residential areas in a less affluent part of town.

We can do better than we have to date on this issue in furthering the city’s stated mission:  “To serve the public through democratic, transparent, and efficient government.”

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!

Safety And Justice: Join The Dialogue

Next dialogue online:  April 24 from 5 to 6 pm. Link to join will be posted Monday on the Trib’s website.

We continued our dialogue  on April 18, using the “Safety and Justice” dialogue guide created by the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forum for this year’s “A Public Voice” effort. We were joined by a very thoughtful group of students from Battle High, who will be leading their own dialogue on May 4 from 4:30 to 7 pm.  The public is welcome.

Several areas of agreement emerged from our inter-generational, economically and racially diverse group.  The primary theme was that everyone wants to feel safe in their own neighborhood. With regard to the “working together” option in the dialogue guide, the key sentiment was that police and citizens need to first come together as fellow human-beings and get to know each other. Besides future dialogues, ideas for “coming together” included barbecues, sports, ride-a-longs, and mentoring opportunities. Another emphasis was the need to build bridges between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods.

To address inequities in the system, another option in the guide, the observation was made that in order to do that people need to first know what is going on and that means having citizens who are willing to ask the hard questions and knowing where to report.  It also means having leaders who are willing to answer those questions as the Supreme Court is now trying to do with municipal court reform.  We generated several ideas – including simply posting an 800 number for comments and concerns on courtroom doors — that might help in this effort.  As with the prior on-line discussion, there was also support within the group for focusing police resources on serious and violent crime rather than minor drug or traffic offenses.

The third option,  providing training in de-escalating violence to police and citizens, was supported by the group, which also wondered how to establish a community culture that rewards de-escalation.  A final theme was mutual respect, both in the sharing of experiences and being willing to listen and accept another’s perspective on their own experience.

This dialogue will continue on-line on April 24th from 5 to 6 pm – the link for joining will be posted Monday on the Trib website.  You can review the “Safety and Justice” dialogue guide or watch this video or simply join in.

Your voice matters!  Join us on-line on April 24th from 5 to 6 pm or on May 4 at Battle High from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Safety and Justice; Inequities and Bridges

This month you can join in both a local and national conversation on public safety beginning with our monthly Community Commons. We will use the recently released “Safety & Justice” guide produced for this year’s “A Public Voice” effort to focus our dialogue. A Public Voice is a collaboration between the Kettering Foundation and National Issues Forums to engage citizens from across the country in deliberative forums on a current issue. It occurs annually, and insights from the forums are presented to policymakers in Washington, D.C.

In addition to our monthly Community Commons on April 18 from 7 to 9 pm, there will be an on-line dialogue on April 24 from 5 to 6 pm, and another in person dialogue using the “World Cafe” format at Battle High School on May 4 from 4 to 7 pm. Details of how to join those will appear in the Trib and on this blog. After each forum you also will have an opportunity to send your thoughts to the Foundation through an on-line survey.

This last Monday we had a diverse, inter-generational group participate in an on-line pilot dialogue using the Common Ground platform.  Of the 15 actions listed in the guide, the group initially gravitated towards community policing as their top option. As the discussion unfolded, however, although community policing remained in the top 5, this  group identified 4 other options where ultimately there was an even stronger consensus to act.  These were

  • limiting the use of traffic stops and “stop and frisk” by police officers and review other practices where racial profiling might come into play;
  • increasing investment in mental health programs;
  • reducing rates of arrest for minor drug and other nonviolent crimes, and address disparities in sentencing for people of color; and
  • requiring implicit bias training for police and court officers.

These actions align with the themes of Addressing Inequities and Building Bridges identified in our community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?”.

How do we build a stronger community with safety and justice for all?  Join us in one of the upcoming dialogues and share your views.

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, April 18, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Building Bridges – Continue The Dialogue

The student led Wake-Up! Campaign at Battle High School hosted an energized and productive “Neighbor2Neighbor” dialogue on February 7. Approximately 50 people attended, including a contingent from Hickman High.  Several ideas were generated for bridging a number of divides in our community – geographic, racial, economic and generational. The Tribune over this last week also ran a series of articles looking at poverty and its effects here in our Columbia community. You can review those articles in the links below.  Next week these conversations continue at our Community Commons, Tuesday February 21 from 7 to 9 pm at the Tribune offices.  Come and work with others in the community to turn talk into action as we consider how we can better support one another in our community.

Community Commons
Tuesday, February 21, 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.