Ivanhoe was in a state of disrepair in 1988 when the Youngs had their first daughter. There were no curbs or sidewalks in the neighborhood, most of the streetlights were out, and potholes dotted the roadways. More threatening was the illegal activity – multiple drug houses on each bloc, with buying and selling out in the open, loud parties and music blaring at all times of the day, and regular gunfire.
The couple had to decide whether to stay in the neighborhood they had planned to just pass through. “We were torn between whether or not we should leave – and leaving really meant leaving them,” Yolanda recalls. “Like you were leaving your mother to handle all the problems that were happening.”
Alan credits the family’s Christian values for keeping them in Ivanhoe. They wanted to fight the feeling of hopelessness that was crippling their neighbors. So they met with the residents on their block to pray and discuss the chaos around them. They held prayer vigils outside of drug houses. They scheduled regular neighborhood cleanups.
“We thought, if we could clean up one block, would that perhaps make someone feel better and ignite a sense of hope?”
They also tried to put a face to Ivanhoe, meeting with police and city officials to show that there were families and others living in the neighborhood, not just drug dealers and gang members. “We said, we need you to help us help ourselves,” Alan recalls.
In 1997…the club he had started to organize his neighbors had spurred a network of 30 clubs throughout the 400-block neighborhood. That same year, the Youngs helped restart the local community group, the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, with Alan as president and Yolanda as secretary.
Others started to take notice. A prominent local mortgage broker…offered to help – eventually donating hundreds of thousands of dollars so the neighborhood group could renovate the building that would becomes its hub. The Kauffman Foundation…connected Young with a working group at the University of Kansas, which helped devise a blueprint for Ivanhoe’s future, encompassing the wishes of dozens of residents. The community wrote down nearly 80 goals broken down into four broad categories: beautification; youth, family life, and education; economic development, housing, and jobs; and crime and safety. The Kauffman Foundation aided their efforts with a grant of more than $450,000 over three years.
…after being the most crime-ridden neighborhood in Kansas City, Ivanhoe is no longer in the top 10. And since 2000, it has closed more than 700 drug houses by identifying hotspots in the neighborhood and enlisting residents to keep a watchful eye. …one incident where police moved to close a house, and its owner fled out the back door, stashing drugs on an adjacent roof. A neighbor saw the whole thing and called the council members, who in turn called the cops, and the drugs were recovered.
Ivanhoe has come a long way since the Youngs bought their house in 1986. And although they still feel like there’s more work to be done, it’s hard to argue with their assessment that Ivanhoe residents once again have a sense of community.
“It’s the people in the neighborhood who are engaged and doing the things that good residents need to do that has brought about the progress that we have made… without that, you don’t successfully revitalize a community like this.”
– This Kansas City neighborhood wrote the blueprint for transforming a community, Nikhil Swaminathan, Grist
This is what the Philippines need, in neighborhoods everywhere. For civil society to step up. By civil society, I mean people, not government, voluntarily stepping up to feel that they have some responsibility for the address of community issues hence act in order to help themselves and other people in their communities. Civil society is independent of government and people should not feel they have to always have the “blessing” of the Barangay Captain or the Mayor. Just do.
In a discussion with CBOs and officials in which I spoke of the independence of CBOs and for people in government to honor that, they looked at me like I was talking in Kanjiklubber. In the end though they realized the civic leadership vacuum in their communities. “Who should lead us then?” they asked me. I laughed. “That’s the question of the century,” I replied.
Also, previously, during a relief operation of a local NGO, I had been observing several displaced persons turned away by government workers behind the registration table because accordingly they had no IDs and weren’t in the list (government’s). My blood boiled but not so much as by those manning the registration table who assumed a haughty tone when they spoke to the displaced persons. I stopped myself from going over to people at the table- I was going to remind them again what HUMANITARIAN means. I went instead and spoke to the NGO director who was also at the table. My first words were, “whose operation is this?” To cut the story short, I reminded him of his organization’s independence which is critical for impartial delivery of relief. He watched me like I’d suddenly metamorphosed into Brawl but I guess he did think about what I said because he eventually went over to the government side and talked them into a better system. He avoided me afterward. Fine. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone for the rest of the day anyway (although in a corner of my mind I thought, as I always do in these situations, if he’s a true friend he’d get hurt but he’ll stick with me otherwise…ah, well, at least we’d know who our true friends are) was still burning when he treated us to pizza later that day- how could he just stood there and did nothing while government people talked down on war victims? I almost swallowed the whole pizza order just so there wouldn’t be any for him.
Oh. And, ‘doing’ doesn’t always have to be street demonstrations which has become for us in this country the equivalent of “people power”. How has it that when people are called to demonstrate, say, against anything Marcos they can be relied upon to show up and in style too but when you call on them to help sort the garbage, clean the village streets, donate for hospitalization of a sick neighbor, organize a Christmas party for poor children and the elderly, attend and speak up in community meetings, and the like, nobody shows up? As we can see with the Ivanhoe example, the real transformative power of the people lie in actually getting our knees and hands dirty day after day after day as we diligently face and faithfully solve problems in our neighborhoods.