* My Neighborhood - Part 1

This is the first of many attempts on my part to flesh out my thoughts on my neighborhood and my place in it, and how to create a community that benefits everyone in it. Please feel free to point out my erroneous assumptions, biases, and character flaws.

I live in a low-income neighborhood. In this smallish college town, a low-income neighborhood is characterized by homes that are not owner-occupied but rentals, and furthermore are rented mostly to Section 8 tenants as opposed to college students. There are some other white people in my neighborhood (my next door neighbors are white) but none of them have children living at home. As far as I can tell, my children are the only white kids in the neighborhood. However, Hercules isn't exactly white, since he's half Hispanic (my stepkids are white as white can be), but since he's been raised around white people and pretty much removed from Hispanic culture (he's never seen his biological father), he's pretty white for a brown kid.

There is another boy of mixed race that used to come around fairly often. His mom is white and his father is black, but the father is in jail in another state(for pointing a gun at his mother's head - an announcement that created an awkward silence in our house). She's single but she has a black boyfriend. I met her at a school function and we talked for a while about the neighborhood and certain kids. That was last year sometime. Since then, I've had some problems with her son and he doesn't come around much anymore. But he's also much older than Hercules and I prefer that he spends time with kids closer to his age, in hopes that they might be less likely to pressure him into activities I don't approve of. I haven't approached that boy's mother regarding any of the problems I've had with him, just because I know she has her hands full already (she also has a 2-year old boy) and she gets a lot of bad reports from school. I know just what that's like and it really doesn't help to have one more person come around to tell you how rude and disrespectful your child is, can't you do something with that boy?

Drugs are also prevalent in my neighborhood. Not so much on my block, but the next block over has a lot of visible dealers that hang around. One man approached me in a car one day and offered me some ice. Hercules was standing right behind me. He was middle-aged and driving a nice car (which means: newer and nicer than mine) with a rosary hanging from the mirror. I was so shocked I didn't even know what to say.

My neighborhood is about one mile from downtown and just a few blocks away from at least two public housing projects, as well as the interstate - prime real estate for poor folks like me. We bought our house in 2004, and it's the first home I ever owned. I work near downtown on campus, and it was very important to me to be able to walk to work every day. That way I don't have to pay for parking ($18/mo they would take out of my paycheck) or gas, so it saves me money, it's good for the environment, provides daily exercise and lots of photo opportunities. It's not much of a house but the price was right. I'm afraid it was a short-sighted purchase, though, because we're already busting at the seams. Three bedrooms and 6 kids makes things pretty cozy. And I'll never buy another house without a basement. But I digress . . .

Both the houses on either side of me are owner occupied, as is the one across the street. The rest are mostly rentals. My neighbors to the west are an older white couple. They're sweet but a bit eccentric. At least, that's my judgment based on the three wooden crosses lit with track lighting in the front yard. But I'll give her credit - she's been very kind and generous to our family, having given us some furniture and a couple of really cool vintage bicycles. However, she's also the person most likely to call the cops on someone in the neighborhood and she has been known to alienate some people because of it. I've also learned that she and her husband are both very involved in various volunteer efforts to help the poor. They have a strong service ethic and I respect that aspect of their religion very much.

My other next door neighbor is a black lesbian single mother of two teenage kids, a girl and a boy. I believe her son just started college recently and is a very successful football player. She and my other next door neighbor are friends. She interests me quite a bit, but she's not very approachable. I've been told by a couple of people that she takes a long time to warm up to people, so I've tried not to take her cold shoulder personally or force myself on her. But judging by her bumper stickers, she and I have common political beliefs and I hope to get to know her better. I sometimes wonder if maybe she's like me in that she really doesn't know how to approach people she doesn't know, so she waits for people to come to her. I'm very much that way, and if she is too then we, or at least I, may have to work at it if we're going to become friends. This is an area I'd like to work on in myself. It is probably my biggest handicap when it comes to becoming involved in the local community and my neighborhood in particular.

The couple across the street from us who also own their home are black, but their children are all grown. They have at least one daughter with children who visits frequently. Their grandchildren are there often on weekends and Hercules has tried several times to befriend them, but he's been discouraged. This doesn't bother me because I think I understand their reasons (though I am assuming a lot). For one, their kids are younger and smaller than Hercules and they obviously prefer that their kids remain in their yard (which is fenced in), a policy I'm very sympathetic to. And since the kids don't leave the yard, Hercules would have to play with them over there, and they don't seem too keen on that idea, either, and frankly I can't blame them. I suspect that many of my neighbors are more than a little wary of my wild pack of unruly boys. I know for a fact that the white lady next door is because she often tells me how she's never been around boy children before and although their antics shock and terrify her, she's being educated. It took her a long time to get used to the fact that Hercules' favorite spot is high up in the tree out front. She's convinced he's going to meet his death on the sidewalk below.

So that's a pretty basic overview of my neighborhood. Next time I'll talk more about the kids that come around, and some that I don't want to come around, and my interactions with them. Stay tuned.

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