In writing the book, “The Kennett Story: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time,” Bob George and I focused on the positive side of our told stories of youth and the town of Kennett’s success. We believe these reflections are genuine and true.
Yet, as everyone knows, there is a shadow side to life that is also part of the total picture. In our community, we have come to observe the shadow side that is expressed through the description of “them” and “us,” which keeps us from reaching our aim of being inclusive.
Diversity is our community’s strong suit! This has been widely recognized and our community has been intentional to include minority groups in our schools, organizations, and businesses. The process goes like this—a minority group is identified as not being represented in a majority circle and attention is given to create avenues for inclusion. This intent is admirable and beyond what many communities do; however, the hard reality is that it many times stops there. The separation of “them” and “us” is now in play. At meeting time, each group moves towards its “own” and the dividing line of differences is marked. Sometimes language barriers is identified as an issue, or lack of understanding of another culture as another. Regardless, the intention of being inclusive is halted.
Another thing you may hear in conversation is the reference to “those people.” This depicts a mindset of separation and sometimes superiority. “We are helping ‘those people’” or “’those people’ need housing.” Have you noticed our talk about “low-income housing” instead of “community housing?” Don’t we all need help from each other? Don’t we all need housing to create a healthy community?
One of the best exercises that a Kennett group went through occurred when we were searching for the name for an afterschool program held on East Linden Street, Kennett. In our thinking, we tried to take out the separation between “student” and “tutor” and find a term that expressed our mutual engagement.
We came up with the name, “Study Buddies,” which still stands strong after twenty years, and I have to admit continues to bring a smile to my face. The reality is that we all need to study and we all need to engage with others in study. With this universal image of our process, many of the tutors still speak about gaining as much from the studying process as the student.
In the past few years, a community training “Bridges Out of Poverty” is being offered to any community member, who would like to attend. Bridges Out of Poverty is a framework for understanding poverty through the lens of economic class and addressing it holistically.
There is no “them” and “us,” but how can we, all sectors of the community - business, nonprofit, education, local governments, etc. come to the table and assure that all of us have what we need to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Our community is so close to our aim of being a peaceful, progressive, inclusive community, and yet so far. I admit that I sometimes think in categories and even compartmentalize, which can lead to thinking in terms of “them” and “us” leading to community exclusion of income groups, age groups and religious groups to name a few.
It is a daily exercise to think in terms of the broader community and intentionally remember that we all have the same color blood, as Leon Spencer has often reflected. Uniqueness exists and yet there is a human core that we all share that is more central to who we are.
Dignity in people is inherent, equally shared, and objective. This is the belief that will lead us to “us.”