Many of our African-American communities are suffering, lacking the basic necessities to thrive and navigate through tough economic challenges. They’re battling high truancy rates, closing of schools, increase of crime, lack of employment opportunities, and the abandonment of many of its young adults that seek residence in neighborhoods that suit their careers and education.
If we who have excelled in the pursuit of our education and careers do not reinvest in our communities, then what future is there? If we take and never give back then we are depleting our communities—that help to shape us—handicapping their ability for growth and development.
I am guilty of being one of such who’d left with no intentions of looking back. The many heart-wrenching events I witnessed while growing up caused me to strive that much harder to escape the reality that I had seen fall upon many of my peers in the neighborhood I grew up in. I did not want the same fate.
My family placed high emphasis on education. It was understood at an early age that education would be the key to open doors and new opportunities. Yes; I wanted the opened doors and opportunities that I knew an education would bring. However, what I wanted most was to leave.
I had no intention of returning home after graduation. However, life has a funny way of making its purpose known. Upon returning, I surmised that much had remained the same, and much had also changed. I began working with my mentor, Robert L. Fox, a community activist who believed in giving back to the community, and raising the awareness of African Americans. He, too, believed that education was paramount in making a change. But he also believed in reciprocity. He often stated: “You must give back to the earth that which you take out. Every farmer knows that if you expect another harvest, you must plant more seeds.”
Most of the community programs that I had taken advantage of while growing up were now non-existent. Either funding had stopped, or those running the programs had moved on with no one to take their place. It dawned on me for the first time just how pivotal these programs were in my life. Who would be there now for the next generation? Who would help to teach and to inspire and even feed those that stood in need? Without these programs, there was a gaping hole in the community.
Often times in our pursuit of attaining success, and a life that is better than our parents, we forget the very basics of giving back from what we’ve received. I understood for certain that what I had received as a teenager was far more than what many of my peers had received. It was more than what most were receiving now. I had the support of both my parents and family, as well as teachers and mentors that invested in my future. They spoke positive affirmations over my life and encouraged me to dream and to set goals. They taught me how to take opposition and turn it into an opportunity.
Reinvesting in one’s community is not just about giving financially. Giving by way of one’s time, through mentoring, teaching and volunteering are all ways one can reinvest. There are pockets of communities that have taken the initiative to fight for themselves and their neighbors. They are no longer allowing their community to become another statistic. Committees and organizations are being formed to educate their residents—teaching them how to navigate the current socioeconomic problems they face. They are also reaching out to former residents, asking them to consider reinvesting in the very place that gave them their start in life; to become mentors to the next generation, providing them the encouragement needed to succeed in life also.
I realized that there were many who were just like me growing up, but did not have the knowledge or skills it took to take the first step in securing their future. They didn’t even believe that they could hope or dream for more than what they’d seen around them. When things around you appear hopeless day in and day out, it is easy to adopt a hopeless mentality if there is no one to speak otherwise. Proverbs 29:18a states: “Where there is no vision the people perish…”
Sometimes people just need to see that they are not forgotten. That their lives are worth the effort and investment. And, that there is somebody willing to take a chance on them; especially when it is your own that has returned home.
I’m proud of the work that those in my childhood neighborhood are doing. I am proud to be apart of the efforts to breathe new life and to reinvest in the community that helped shape who I am. Many of my peers have opened businesses and are hiring from within the community. Some have created not-for-profit organizations that are bringing educational opportunities not just to students, but their parents also. We have made the decision to not let our community fall by the wayside. To, not allow another child’s life be taken because there is no vision. We are reinvesting hope, time, love, and vision into our communities.