Saturday, August 1, 2009

Playing in the street

At last, I find myself on the other side of an event I'd been dreading: last Friday evening's B'Ball on the Block. At work we sponsor a heroic program where on six consecutive Friday evenings, we cordon off a troubled street so kids can play basketball, have their faces painted, eat free hot dogs and apples, and generally find an alternative to trouble.

Last Friday's game was held on the block where we've slated our next affordable-housing development. The opposition to that project has been both strategic and virulent, so we wanted to create something that shows what we're about. We pulled out all the stops. Not just basketball, but a tumbling group, a youth spoken-word initiative, arroz con gandules made by one of the local residents, dancing, a jumping jack, and a goofy clown (played by none other than the head of our construction office) who only made a single baby cry.

It was a beautiful night. The event went seamlessly, and even members of the opposition joined the effort, one of them offering to referee, another providing electricity for our sound system, several setting up a candy raffle and using our sound system to announce the winners, and still others applauding as a teen spoken-word group 'spit' (their word) about HIV, relationship abuse, the dangers of drugs and premature sex, and the value of a good education, despite the crumbling quality of their public schools.

I'm a little sick this week and maybe it's making me soft, but I left the event feeling like much was possible here, including good neighborly relations with even the folks involved with the campaign against the project. I sensed both common ground and good will that weren't there before. Debates are good and important -- but I'm thinking the best conversation may be demonstration. What we demonstrated there is our something that goes beyond philosophy or divisive polarity. We showed our human faces, and we saw human faces in return.

As we left the game two open-air drug deals were happening just beside our van. This speaks more loudly than anything else about the need for an event like this. And especially for the need for additional eyes on this street, which well-managed residential development will inevitably bring, as it's brought to so many communities throughout Chicago. It does a heart good to be a part of that effort, even with hefty roadblocks along the way.


leslie said...

Congratulations! It's nice to see genuine efforts paid with genuine reward.

(+ Those kids playing basketball are darling.)

Rosemary said...

Congratulations, indeed. That was a hard-earned and well-deserved win for you, Christy!

Christy said...

Can't claim much credit, but certainly plenty of glee. Wish y'all could've been there. A lovely evening I won't soon forget.

tracy said...

A beautifully written account, and what heart-warming work! I hope the affordable housing project goes forward smoothly.