9 years ago we settled in West Charlotte. By choice. Most people are surprised by that fact. West Charlotte doesn’t have the best perception. It wasn’t a mistake that we landed on Effingham Dr. (although that street name alone almost made me back out.)
We moved there because of our desire to be planted in a economic challenged area similar to what our students would be in. We did this so that our perspective would be clearer and more layered as we navigated teaching to their various needs.
We also moved to simply be good neighbors. It just made sense. We didn’t come to flip a neighborhood or to start some big non-profit (although I admit my daydreams included just that). We just wanted to love our neighbors well and be a part of building change or at least relational depth to those different than our “comfort zone.”
I quickly realized my husband’s ability to navigate conversations with the guys in our neighborhood were easy and natural but it was harder for me to do. So there were many nights in those early days where I’d be alone in the house and he’d be out talking until late in the evening. Years past and I found my footing with the kids nearby and building relationships with a grandma. And we learned we had it all wrong. We thought we were coming to be a blessing and we realized that the blessings were in their faces and what they were teaching us.
Poverty is messy though and living here has had its share of challenges. We’ve heard more gunshots than I’d like to announce and we’ve seen how cycles get passed down by teenage moms and kids that can’t finish school. We’ve been interrupted and inconvenienced but also deeply cared for. Truly deeply cared for.
Then we had kids.
Part of me was ready to run and to be honest there are times I still feel it well up inside me. I had a childhood where I could run to a neighbor’s house, walk to a nearby park or 7-11 store, play in the backyard without needing an adult back there, and I could ride my bike up and down the sidewalks.
There aren’t any sidewalks on Effingham.
I sometimes want my childhood for my two daughters.
But then tonight my husband gives me a tiny break and takes the girls outside. 4 neighborhood kids instantly attach to his side because guess what, they don’t have parents that play with them or a dad in the picture.
And I watch.
I watch my girls playing in the middle of the road with their buddies. They are different than them in so many ways but they are more similar than many of our Charlotteans would think. And my hope is as the girls grow they continue to be exposed to people not like them and then realize they are learning from each other. I hope they also see the injustice that our segregated city brings and I hope it breaks their heart too.
Maybe this will fuel them as it has their daddy and I. Maybe they’ll start that non-profit we might never do or they will become a voice of the broken and silent. Maybe they’ll grasp that perceptions aren’t reality and that reality is beautiful, messy, and sad all at the same time. Maybe us staying put will start a ripple of change that actually becomes a huge wave from our girls.
And that hope is better than the sidewalks they might never have.