I want to share a story about our neighborhood. It could be about me and how I feel but it's really about how I'm constantly reminded that, while that is important, it's about so much more. It's about who we are are as neighbors and about what I do and probably about how/why I can do it.
God works through each one of us to make sure the message that we are responsible to each other is repeated through every experience until it's heard loud and clear.
By giving and (being open to) receiving love each day we are taking care of ourselves... and each other. Often art and creative process is the vehicle that allows me openness to this reciprocal process.
The morning began heavy. It was with the realization as I turned the corner that the apartment building across the street from our building and plaza project on Avis and Elsmere suffered significant damage from a fire last night that continued to reignite throughout the morning.
The fire tore through the third floor stripping the building of its roof.
Our project has worked together with neighbors, youth, and artists to have input in the design and programming that will rebuild the corner. The neighbors we worked with included neighbors from in the apartment building and from surrounding homes among others.
As you can imagine there aren’t always natural connections between ALL neighbors in the community. I feel we have done a decent job in general at bridging some of those gaps through the process. In some cases we have seen amazing results as relationships blossom between groups of neighbors that were otherwise satisfied to believe they had nothing in common with other groups of neighbors.
The interaction between these various groups is one of the features of the rejuvenated corner we are most looking forward to. The absence of the apartment building impacts (but doesn’t destroy, of course) the function of our space and programming and its ability to bring groups together.
I carried this heaviness with me throughout the morning.
I began to think about the weight of the work we do sometimes and how I had invested emotionally in the density and diversity that was natural to our corner in the neighborhood. I thought about systems and how those impact us in ways big and small. I thought about our corners, our street signs, infrastructure, people that animate them all, and the messages we receive from the neighborhood.
I thought about how the impending change on this corner would impact the dynamics of this system of messages we receive from our community.
I know that the ups and down are all part of our commitment to our community (people IN place) but I was just really feeling this one. I left the neighborhood feeling burdened as I headed to a meeting downtown.
Before my meeting I decided to grab a coffee downtown near my meeting. On my walk I came across a painted piano… I’ve seen these around the city but I was drawn to this one. Maybe it was its location or its decoration.
It read “Detroit” across the top. What a loaded word. Nuanced. There the piano sat. Inanimate. Quiet.
The building I got my coffee from was beautifully restored. It was adorned with modern furniture and signage throughout.
One large sign inside read, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop.” I was taken aback by the stark difference in the messages here and its incompatibility with the narrative spoken daily by the community I just left.
On my way back to my meeting I passed the piano again. This time it was being beat into performing a familiar tune. The man struggling to get the untuned piano to sing for us all was intent.
He became comfortable with its dizziness and seemed to enjoy every off-key note it produced so long as its message was legible. It was beautiful. It was improv. It was an unsanitized message and spoke truths to me I needed to hear in the midst of the heaviness of the morning.
I struck up a conversation with the man. “You mind if I film from above a little while you play?” “For sure man, go ahead.” His hands plugged the keys with the message “Detroit” hung above them. This is music.
I thanked him for being an artist that shares. And for a message I needed to hear… and that, while I was surprised at its perfect timing, I was not surprised that it was an artist that composed and delivered it to me. Its depth was boundless. It was from him and for everybody. But they walked past and I accepted and received it. It was for me.
Off to the side I told his companion about the morning and what I appreciated about the piano being animated by her friend after I stared at its silence on my way through the first time. She told me he was from Southwest Detroit too.
He stopped playing and we started talking some more. “Where in the neighborhood are you from?” he asked me. “Around Vernor and Springwells. I grew up on Carson but now I live near Avis and Elsmere.” He looked surprised, “Oh really, I used to live right on the corner there in an apartment building.” “Oh no, was it in this building?” I showed him the photo. “Yeah man… I lived on the third floor.”
Of course he did. His message was being developed since his time in the neighborhood. I wasn’t ready for it until it came through the piano today. Everything about it and our conversation was magic.
I walked away with an appreciation for my city, for my neighborhood, and for fraternity with creatives who make it their business to (on purpose or not) meet our needs with assets we already have between us. THAT is community.
Whoever said that money buys happiness is occupied with a community’s makeup, not its heart.