A diversifying hamlet and a problem…life in BGIM’s hood

When I landed in Maine a decade ago, the plan had been to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city but fate intervened and I landed a job immediately that was in a town just south of Portland. Seeing as how we were in a temporary place and I didn’t know how to drive we decided to just move to the town where my job was located…granted this isn’t technically a town, by Maine standards it’s a city. However with a population under 20,000 it’s a town in my mind. Shit back home this town would barely even be a neighborhood.

Now this little town was very white when we first moved here back in 2002, I am talking I could go days and not see another person of color. Note I did not say another Black person, I said another person of color. Pretty much in the early years, we made a lot of trips to Portland so I could hit Starbucks (we didn’t have one of those either when we first arrived here) and so I could see people of color. I can’t lie, the first couple of years here were rough, and there were days I was pretty certain I was just going to lose what mind I had.

In 2004, after my Mom’s passing when it became clear that for better or worse this was going to be home, we bought a house. House hunting was fun; the real estate boom was in full effect and even in a state like Maine that meant housing prices were insane. In the end we settled on a nice old (literal old) Victorian smack in town…what that means is I live near the downtown center. I am in the part of town that is pretty walkable and hey, we even have those fancy things called sidewalks. In town houses are traditionally older and on smaller lots compared to houses more out in the country that tend to come with acres, being us we figured a house on 2 acres was a disaster. Fuck, a house on a quarter acre is a disaster as you still have to maintain that land.

Our house is on a block with only 4 other houses and an apartment complex, over the years there were pretty much no kids on the block and it was pretty quiet. Yet change has come. Sadly due to the real estate downturn, one of my neighbors lost their property to foreclosure some months ago. The building had sat vacant for a while and neighbors took turns making sure the property was taken care of, well the place was bought by a guy who doesn’t live in it and now we have new neighbors. Loud, rude neighbors who like to leave their dog in the yard all day. Mind you they have no fence and just leave poor Fido tied to a rope, maybe Fido isn’t their best friend.  These same neighbors also have a lot of traffic…not that means anything.  Times are a changing indeed!

However the real change is that down at the apartment complex at the end of the block, for the first time in my 8 years here we have kiddos on the block. Lots of kiddos and damn it…they aren’t white! We have Iraqi neighbors, we can’t tell if they are all one family or multiple families since my attempts to speak with the moms haven’t gone too well. The kiddos are great except one problem, they play in the street, they leave toys in the street and they wander all over people’s property in ways that frankly aren’t safe. My own kiddo has befriended a few of the new kids on the block but they are a little younger than her so my attempts at self-direction aren’t too good.

 

I am overjoyed to see diversity in my hamlet; I even have several Black neighbors a block over, so trust me when I say this little town is diversifying. However my concern is safety, frankly the Iraqi kids some as young as 2-3 are outside riding trikes in the street with no adult present, as a neighbor and I commiserated, we are all looking out for the kiddos because it’s the right thing to do but frustrating as fuck since no one can talk to the parents. Sadly social services in my town is nil, instead most folks in my town if they need assistance end up in the town I work in and generally their path leads them to professional BGIM.

I am trying to approach the safety of the kids as a neighbor and not as a professional; the thing is as I observed this afternoon even when the adults are present there seems to be a lack of understanding about respecting property lines. Houses in our area tend not to have fences instead neighbors and subsequently kids know to stay on their property or only going on someone’s property if you have asked permission. I admit, I am known for telling people to get off my property, not in a nasty way but I admit Chicago me thinks if something happens to you on my property I am not trying to get sued.

Side view of BGIM's crib...note no fencing!

Anyhoo, dear readers I am looking for some input, I need ideas on how to deal with the kids in the street and kids just wandering with no adult supervision. I don’t think the kids are neglected in any way, I think what is going on is a cultural difference yet as a friend of mine recently narrowly avoiding hitting one of the kiddos as she left my driveway, I am thinking something must be done.

Note: There are no Arabic translators available in my county and most of the agencies I partner with when I am in professional BGIM mode have no resources to get one.

 

 

Hey Gene! What about the poor white kids?

At a certain point, it gets really tiring having people who have never experienced a moment of poverty pontificate about poverty and how they would deal with it. Of course as a Black woman, I get even more bugged by upper middle class white folks who appear to have the cure for what ails poor brown people. To that I say: Really? Then why haven’t you helped out poor white folks?
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See, if you were a Martian who landed in the United States and turned on the news, you would assume that most of the poor in this country are Black. Never mind that Blacks are still a minority, nope the take away would be “wow those Black folks are sure as shit deficient.” It seems the women can’t find mates, the men are either locked up or having closeted gay encounters, and they don’t have jobs, and on and on it goes. There are bits of truth in that but let’s be clear it’s not the entire truth by a long stretch.
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Yet it’s what creates buzz, as Gene Marks a writer for Forbes this week did with his piece “If I was a Poor Black Kid”, well the internet put the smack down on Mr. Marks and handed him his ass. None of what Marks said was particularly inspired and frankly much of it has been said before; problem is Marks is not a poor Black kid, nor was he a poor White kid and his so-called advice came from a douchebag paternalistic place where in the end anything good turned into that wawa voice from Charlie Brown…just static.
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I don’t want to spend much time on Marks and that piece, what I do want to discuss is, how is it that Marks appears ignorant of the fact there are plenty of poor white kids in the U.S.? See, thanks to being a black girl in Maine who works in social services I see em daily. In fact due to my move here almost a decade ago, I often joke in many ways I have become an ally to poor whites. Not something you expect from someone with an undergraduate degree focused in African American studies whose professional aspirations were to get a Ph.D. in African American Studies and whose major area of interest was media representations of Black women. Not exactly the poster girl for championing poor white issues. Funny thing though the universe moved me to Maine and my eyes were opened wide.
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Turns out many of the behaviors that pundits, sociologists and others ascribe to poor Blacks are identical in poor whites. Down to men who just leave, though one odd twist that I have seen more of in Maine (so not sure how prevalent it is elsewhere) is moms leaving. More than a handful of families have come across my path where it’s dad and kids, or dad and a new lady who is not bio-mom.
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Now schools in rural states like Maine may not rival an inner city school in say my hometown Chicago, but in less moneyed communities the schools don’t have a lot to offer. To be honest the schools aside from say the metal detectors looks identical.
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The thing is why is so much damn time spent on highlighting differences? Why can’t people like Marks look broader and think about poor kids in general? One of my growing pet peeves is how people section off the poor, yes there are some historical differences but in modern times, poor people and especially poor kids need help. They all need access to good schools, healthcare, they need parents who are in good shape and ready to parent. Drugs? Well drug use runs rampant in white communities too, very much like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s…drug of choice in communities that I serve trend towards prescription pills and meth and even the new bath salts. Here in Maine drug stores like CVS and Rite-Aid get robbed on a weekly basis. Yet aside from a few pieces here and there, the spotlight doesn’t shine much on this crisis. As I have said before on this blog the worse part of my job is because this is a predominantly white and rural state, funding for programs like the one I run are harder to come by. Never mind that with each passing year, the numbers of people we serve are on the rise.
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To some degree I believe we are all still stuck in the days of yesterday where it’s easier to see race as a barrier rather than class. We need to start having an honest dialogue and talk about the fact that poverty and its ripple effects are bad for all kids, not just poor Black kids!

Clash of Values…we are all connected

This has been one of those weeks where I have spent entirely too much time in head, which is not always a bad thing though often too much time in my head means I am headed for a crash. The type of crash where it’s easy to get caught up in a spirit of negativity; I suspect the upcoming holiday season is not helping as I am dealing with increased calls for service at the office and of course the means to assist all are simply not there.
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While none of us know where the Occupy movement that is spreading across the globe will take us, as far as actual change, there is no denying that at least it has opened up an honest dialogue about the income inequality that exists. The sad reality is this inequality has been there for years but as a society we are reaching the breaking point. As people who used to be middle class realize the sobering reality that many are no longer middle class, granted they may not be poor as we are currently describe poor, the truth is they are slowly sliding downward and unlike 40-50 years ago, the chances of moving up are dim. You know it’s becoming an issue when articles like this start popping up.
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I find that it seems everyone and his brother has some thoughts on what we can do but as someone whose career has pretty much been focused on working with society’s most vulnerable, too often I find myself scratching my head thinking that we just don’t realize how interconnected we all are on this piece of rock we call planet Earth.
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Consumerism especially in the United States is not only a sport but for some a disease, at various points in my life I have been afflicted and I still struggle with it. Granted a few years of rough financial waters have cured me of consumerism, but she is still a sneaky bitch, so I suspect I will always have to watch out for her. It’s true the winter holiday season brings out the worse in us and on some level the whole idea of saying just don’t shop while it sounds great, can actually end up hurting many. I read this piece that really did a great job of explaining the downside of giving up Black Friday. In the end if all of us with the means to shop stopped shopping, it means many more of our fellow citizens would be in for a world of financial hurt as their employers would simply reduce hours if not out and out fire folks. The larger issue greater than shopping on any day and fueling the consumerism beast is how did we get to the point that we stopped being producers and instead became a culture where survival is based wholly on consuming?
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In recent years, it never fails that as we start to approach the winter holiday season and the Salvation Army starts coming out with their red kettles, that well intentioned folks sound the alarm reminding folks that some of the Salvation Army’s policies are less than pleasant. They have policies that are homophobic, there is no denying that. As they use a strict and literal interpretation of the bible, their policies are reflective of that belief. For many people they rightly do not want to support an organization that discriminates and that’s their right. However outside of large metropolitan hubs, the Salvation Army is the only game when it comes to helping large quantities of people and I say that after almost 10 years in Maine.
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In Maine, the Salvation Army is one of the few agencies with enough capacity to assist hundreds of people in need during the holiday season alone. They also have year round assistance that smaller agencies like mine simply don’t have. Social services has never been a career choice for folks who want a lot of money, but larger agencies like the Salvation Army due to their size can offer a reasonable salary and benefits unlike the agency I head. Name brand recognition goes a long way and even with negativity attached to their name, the fact is outside of urban hubs with a slew of large agencies to assist those in need, Sal’s is the only game in town.
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In states such as mine, the reality is unless folks band together and put their money in smaller places which rarely happens so that we can grow the capacity to assist in larger quantities, when you decide not to give to the Salvation Army, you are hurting someone possibly your neighbors.
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The thing is I can’t imagine that anyone that takes a stand to boycott the Salvation Army because of their homophobic policies wants to hurt anyone, but the reality is if those kettles aren’t getting filled, that’s less help for someone in need. It really is as simple as that.
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We don’t live in a perfect world, instead we live in a world where we are all connected, and where actions have the very real potential to affect someone else negatively even actions committed under a loving guise. I suspect that what we really need is a system overhaul, our very system is corrupt and broken, yet until that time I simply choose to do no harm and weigh my choices, who gets hurt and who gets harmed. I never want to take a stand for injustice only to learn my actions hurt more than they help and are really only about making me feel good.