I Need Your Help! … as does our Community of Monroe

I Need Your Help! … as does our Community of Monroe

I will start with a brief story to provide some context and background. For those of you who have not read my memoir, my antiracism journey began in earnest almost ten years ago after decades of being in the dark, unaware (“oblivious” to take from the title of the book) of all that I did, and still do not know, about racism.

In early 2017, after three years of reading, study, attending programs, and most importantly building life-altering relationships, I began reflecting upon the many piece parts of my learning and how best to put them together in a visual sort of way. I thought a picture of some form would help me in speaking the proverbial “1000 words” and I developed a very rough draft utilizing a PowerPoint (PPT) diagram.

My objective was to somehow portray the many components of the Community of Monroe that would demonstrate a coming together in such a way to move towards eradicating the enduring racism and poverty in our midst. You might say how ‘Don Quixote-ish’ I am!

But as it turned out, several circumstances at the time distracted me, the COVID years intervened, and my initial draft diagram was forgotten about although my “work” continued including writing a book.

So, fast forward to now six years later in 2023 where my antiracism learning and awakening has now moved me to an even deeper level of experience and awareness. I began to ask myself the big “so what” question and where this was all taking me similarly to my feelings in 2017. In discussing these thoughts and feelings recently with a key contributor to my book, she brought up several other ideas as to how I might better look at the “work” I am doing.

I left that discussion thinking that I needed to develop a visual aid to assist me in articulating possible next steps needed in the Community and how I might be better able to contribute. After a few weeks of reflecting on the best way to do this, I suddenly recalled that I had previously “drawn a picture”. So, I dug into my files where I found the original PPT draft. This has now been updated with the picture you see at the beginning of the Blog post.

You will note that this is a very “busy” picture but let me draw your attention to a few key items.

First, the “Objective” statement in the middle of the page is purposely central and all the arrows point towards it. There is a key wording change in this statement from my original draft. I now understand that the focus should be on “moving forward” to a position of opportunity, positivity, and potential versus attempting to “move from” something such as the prevailing poverty and racism in our community.

How to move in that direction continues to be incredibly challenging and will take every key sector and each of us in the Monroe Community (g)rowing in sync and harmony. But I would like to particularly highlight three sectors on this diagram: Business, Faith Communities, and Individuals. Why these?

A committed Business sector is essential for anything to happen in the overall Community of Monroe with any degree of sustainability. In my opinion and perhaps arguably, the business sector has in the main and as a whole been very silent and detached from anything close to the work needed for the fulfillment of the “Objective” statement in the PPT. This unfortunately is true as well with its ancient partner organization, the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce (GRCC).

I marvel at the fact that one of the GRCC’s most challenging roles, as well as one of its most distinctive attributes, is in how it attempts to market to the world one of the most segregated and impoverished cities in the country within which also lies one of the most underperforming school districts. To use a distinctly business term of the “bottom line”, a new paradigm is needed and a major antiracism and poverty reduction step-up by the Business community is long overdue. Associated with this is the glaring need for charismatic business leadership like that of Xerox’s Joe Wilson decades ago. Who might these new “Wilson’s” be? (I have some opinions if anyone is interested).

Likewise, Faith Communities for the most part prefer to dwell within their own silos known as parishes, congregations, or assemblies in many faith traditions. As noted in the diagram, ‘Faith Centricity’ I believe provides avenues and opportunities for the development of more empathetic hearts. Unfortunately fear of and reluctance to change on the part of many church leaders and their followers (i.e., the laity) leads to complacency and much unknowingness of the “others” in our midst, most notably our urban neighbors as well as the oft forgotten poor in our suburban communities.

Similar to the Business sector, prophetic leadership, such as that of the recently deceased Rev. Franklin Florence, is also needed. And it is interesting to note that Wilson and Florence joined forces in the 60’s to bring the Community of Monroe together in countering the darkness prevailing after the riots in 1964. Who will be the new church leaders so desperately needed today to encourage, inform, and inspire their flocks? There are a few today (see for one example) … but we need an army.

This leads me to perhaps the most important and where that “army” should come from; i.e., the “third rail” of us as Individuals and citizens can contribute to the ‘Common-Wealth of Monroe’. With intention, I title it this way for it is in the pursuit of the common good that the common wealth (i.e., benefits) for all are attained. And this should not be restrained within what Heather McGhee describes in her book ‘The Sum of Us’ as the ‘zero-sum paradigm’.  

She defines this paradigm as “the idea that the profit of some individuals and groups comes at the expense of others.” McGhee goes on to explain with what she also calls the ‘solidarity dividend’.  As she describes, this “dividend refers to the gains that accrue when people come together to work for the benefit of all involved. This occurs because coalitions can accomplish goals that are in their own interests – such as health care for all or action on climate change – in a way that is not possible when the individual members are divided by racism and the interests of elites.”

Each of us as individuals have much to contribute … and it could be as simple as breaking our silence or overcoming our frozenness to speak up and act individually as well as collectively. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. But just like what Wilson and Florence accomplished for the common good in the 60’s, we do have two other legacy, prophetic leaders as powerful models, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, who lived and are buried here.

Even though they both are rightfully cast as local and national icons, that should not be intimidating to any of us since as individual human beings they demonstrated the power of what one person can do. Their lives model the light to help guide each of us on our common journey today for the betterment of the community we live in.

Some may consider these as exceptional comparisons beyond our grasp to even consider, but the fact of the matter is that what is truly noteworthy are the many barriers of resistance continuing to prevent us from accomplishing sustainable change in the Community of Monroe. Additionally, and perplexedly, the scores of local movements, programs, reports, and on and on developed or written over the decades have not moved the needle much regarding the persistent racist behavior still happening every day; or putting a significant dent in being identified as being one of the most segregated and impoverished communities in the country.

Space and time do not permit me to expand on the other sectors noted in the PPT; namely, the role of Government, Institutions, Non-Profits, Funders, the various Movements & Programs briefly mentioned, or the Media (which includes a very broad range of possibilities). I may have overlooked some others as well but suffice it to say that these are all important contributors as well to the many antiracism needs of today and the potential opportunities in the future.

So, where do we possibly start towards creating the Common-Wealth of Monroe as portrayed and described in the diagram? I will share with you some of my ideas but first another brief story. I recently met with a long-time, local media acquaintance who I have known for many years to discuss his thoughts regarding the draft diagram and its objective. I believe he has read my book as well as other writings and he thoughtfully listened to the backstory of my current work.

Our discussion primarily focused on the “How” outlined at the bottom of the PPT and based on his background and experience, he felt strongly that a new paradigm was required. Said another way, the “same old, same old” or “tried and true” attempts to collaborate are distinctly out of step to encounter the complex, enduring realities of racism and poverty in our community today. He feels that the mold must be broken and that a different approach is needed. Although not denying that the two models referenced in the diagram (i.e., the Minneapolis’ ‘Itaska Project’ or Heather McGhee’s ‘Solidarity Dividend’) are possibilities, he did offer some other suggestions.

Essentially, he felt that any such initiative must be laser focused and move us well beyond good intentions and lofty objectives. I am paraphrasing a bit, but his thinking is that it must be reinforced by understandable, measurable, realistic goals contained within an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and that hopefully have at least a 50/50 chance of being accomplished within a reasonable period. Based on previous projects, programs, commissions, movements, and on and on, this level of probability/possibility would represent a considerable achievement. It also has a related connection to the Business sector mentioned previously in that it could hopefully be drawn upon for guidance and leadership in an area it excels at.

So, to dig even deeper, how do you make this “elephant-sized” task more bite size and manageable? I have some ideas … but this is also where my call for “help” comes into play. Hopefully some of you reading this who have gotten this far will contribute your own.

To lead into this, I have a final personal background story: Although I grew up in Rochester, I have lived in the Fairport/Perinton area for the past 20 years or so. During this time, I either participated in or developed several antiracism programs and initiatives at the parish my wife and I belonged to for most of this period. I also continue to be involved in the community primarily advocating for the poor and the marginalized at all government levels including their respective Boards … School, Town, and Village … and participated and contributed to the recent Comprehensive Plan updates for both the Town and the Village.

That said, and utilizing the diagram as a guide on a more micro, local level, I plan on continuing to focus many of my personal social and racial justice activities in the Fairport/Perinton area in the following ways:

  • I have recently re-read both the Town and Village Comprehensive Plan 2021 updates primarily related to their respective Affordable Housing objectives. One quote from the Town’s plan that speaks to this: “Overall, the housing market in Perinton is facing a shortage, where high occupancy rates and a limited supply keep housing costs high and act as a barrier to entry for younger families and those on a fixed income. Introducing multi-family units into the market would help expand and diversify supply by creating new housing type and price range options that can appeal to a broader range of potential residents.” (pg. 14). My intent: to discuss with them my thoughts on how these objectives can be brought to reality within the aforementioned “entrepreneurial spirit”.
  • Arrange meetings with local financial institutions about their lending and credit policies as related to the local Affordable Housing market and discuss ways these policies can assist in attaining the Town/Village Affordable Housing goals.
  • Pines of Perinton: I have spoken three times this year to the Town Board advocating for the many needs of the approximately 1200 residents who live in this historic, over 50-year old affordable housing complex and will continue to do so. The Town Supervisor recently agreed to meet with me and other resident advocates to discuss further.
  • Regenerate my contacts within the Fairport Central School District leadership in discussing improvements I recommended to them three years ago about the Urban-Suburban program. In addition, I would like to discuss with the District possibilities to expand that program.
  • Additionally, and to quote from the Town’s plan: “Perinton’s historic legacy and resources are important to the Town’s identity, heritage, and character. Preserving and enhancing historic districts and landmarks serves to celebrate Perinton’s past, protect the historic integrity of the Town’s hamlets, foster civic pride, and promote cultural tourism.” (pg. 37). I plan on talking with the Town about ensuring that the community’s rich history associated with the ‘Underground Railroad’ of the 1800’s, Frederick Douglass’ presence in the area about that same time, and the historic Pines of Perinton are each incorporated into our local “historic legacy” in a more visible way.
  • Lastly and following some of the objectives within both the Town and Village Ten Year Comprehensive Plans, discuss ways to actuate the objectives of attracting more diversity within our community. To quote from the Town Plan: “The Town of Perinton is a close-knit, inclusive community which celebrates and preserves its rich historic and agricultural heritage through innovative preservation, sustainability, and land use practices. We envision a diverse resident population with access to a variety of housing options, a connected parks and open space network, and unique natural and scenic resources such as the Erie Canal. Our community is a desirable place to live and work because of our support and attraction of businesses, which contribute to a strong local economy and job opportunities, as well as our excellent public services.” (pg. 62). The achievement of this vision would hopefully lead FAIRport to becoming even more inclusive, diverse, and “fair” per the goals as stated in their respective plans.

So, as the title of this blog post states, “I need your help” and would ask you to forward your own thoughts regarding my plans or your own. Most of you reading this Blog probably live within the Community of Monroe and have access to your own local government boards, businesses, churches, and most importantly colleagues, neighbors, and friends.

A closing aspirational goal then would be to thread any such individual community plans together through collectively discussing them. Said another way in a metaphorical form, each of these would represent a ‘patch’ to the overall ‘quilt’ of the ‘Common-wealth of Monroe’ and then ‘Sewn together’ and brought forward in some form of public forum perhaps via a series of Zoom calls or podcasts.

For some possible inspiration, I offer the following:

  • From Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
  • As an example on how to do this and based on a statement a friend of mine made to me last year: “I know there’s racism, but I don’t believe it.” A suggestion in the event you encounter someone who says something like this: begin a conversation about the first part of this quote (i.e., what they know) and don’t dwell on the second part (what they don’t believe in). This type of approach should open innumerable possibilities for a fruitful conversation.
  • Lastly from the Rochester Beacon’s 3.30.23 edition “What Chat GPT ‘thinks’ about Rochester”:

“Poverty and Inequality: Rochester faces high poverty rates and socio-economic disparities. Solutions include investing in affordable housing, improving access to quality education, and developing job training programs tailored to the needs of the local economy. Additionally, partnerships with community organizations can help create support networks for vulnerable populations and address issues related to mental health and substance abuse.”

I find it amazingly powerful that this relatively simple, ‘Artificial Intelligence’ generated statement is so spot on. Just imagine what solutions can be created by effective utilization of our vast human intelligence capabilities and creativity!

As one example, simply change “Rochester” to wherever you live, similar to what I’m doing with Fairport/Perinton, and see what you can come up with in your own corner of the world.

In closing, a very Happy Easter to you all and a final message: “Our only truly essential human task here ….  is to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood.” (Fr. Richard Rohr, 4.4.23). Said another way, we do not need Artificial Intelligence to solve our problems … our collective human minds, bodies, and souls provide infinite capacity to make the impossible possible!

I hope that the spirit of this season is one filled with promise for each of you, especially those of us who live in the ‘Common-wealth of Monroe’!

Share post:

Comments ( 2 )

Leave A Comment

Your email is safe with us.