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.

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

Building Bridges, Practicing Democracy

“Democracy must be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife.”  John Dewey

How does one learn to be a citizen?  Often by learning from those who have gone before. Both good and bad habits can be passed on. September 21-24 the League of Women Voters will sponsoring the performance of a new play written to help us review, think about, and share what it takes to practice democracy.  Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on September 21-23, and 2:00 p.m. on September 24.  All performances will be held at Missouri United Methodist Church and the League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County plan to host post-performance discussions.

The play is titled “Practicing Democracy” and we interviewed its author, David Webber, to find out more.

1C1C: Tell us briefly what your play is about.
DW:  Practicing Democracy” is a tale of two ambitious young candidates aspiring for the state legislature who meet an elder statesman aspiring to restore democracy. The mix of campaign practices and information technology provide challenges and opportunities affecting the election result.  There are five characters (two candidate, a wise old man, a campaign consultant, and a TV reporter). The play is set in a party primary to make it non-partisan so that it focuses on bigger issues relating to democracy.
1C1C:  Why did you write it?
DW:   I wrote the play to stimulate discussion of the state of American campaigns and to focus attention on how our individual decisions affect our political system. The play is informed by my 40 years of  observations of both campaigns and the college students working on them, as well as and my conversations with long-tome political observers.
1C1C: Can you tell us about some of the observers who influenced you?
DW: The main character, a Mr. Adams, is influenced by my recollections of several of my heroes, particularly Missourian Lt. Governor Harriet Woods and Pachyderm founder George Parker.
1C1C: What do you hope people will take from from the play?
 DW: My hope is that younger citizens will find a Mr or Ms. Adams who they converse with and that us older citizens become a Mr. or Ms. Adams and engage each other in meaningful conversations about our democracy.  I am looking forward to reactions and comments.
1C1C:  Tell us more about how you came to write this play.
DW:  In addition to my academic writing,  I have written op ed essays in the Columbia Missourian and Columbia Daily Tribune since 1994. I like to write essays. In 2015, my first play “A Night at the Shelter” was performed in Columbia (directed by Caryl Bryan).  I had the original idea for the play back in 2001.  I tried to write it in 2010 but the draft was too partisan. In 2016 I realized I could write it about a party primary and so focus on democracy and elections without partisan rancor.
1C1C:  Where can people purchase tickets?
DW:  Tickets can be purchased at our website and we are hoping for a good turn out.
1C1C:  Thank you for your work!

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!