/ Changing Direction, Changing the Conversation

Walk 10/16/16

Mike and I were invited to meet and make presentations at Local Church’s on the two previous Sundays so we had not walked in a neighborhood for two weeks until last Sunday Oct 16th 2016.  And oh, what an absolutely beautiful warm day it was!  and it was so great having Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones and Philanthropiece Field Coordinator Jordan Bailey who is a bilingual and very fluent in Spanish accompany us on our walk. It is such a great feeling meeting and talking with the neighbors many who spoke very little English and what a great thing it is that powerful people such as Elise Jones, Mike Butler and Jordan a caring cultural oriented amigo go down in the neighborhood with the people. The neighbors do not have to go to community meetings to City Council meetings to County Commissioner meetings because our great leaders are down in the “hoods” with them! Our neighbors indeed get a true feeling of “Belonging” when caring, high profile people such as Elise, Mike and Jordan are down there meeting and sharing with them in their own neighborhoods I mean it don’t get much better than that!

Mike's Perspective

We walked St. Vrain Mobile Home Park this last Sunday. The weather was stunningly beautiful and people were out and about. Whenever we walk a mobile home park, we find great energy, lots of smiles and people who seem to be very satisfied with their lives. This was the case Sunday. We were very fortunate to have Elise Jones, Boulder County Commissioner and Jordon Bailey from Philanthropiece join us! 

I learned a while ago that if want to change the direction of community, we have to change the conversation. The dominant existing public conversation seems to be more retributive, not restorative. It is void of accountability and soft on commitment. This is true both in conversations played out in the media and in the private conversations occurring in smaller groups. 

The existing public conversation drives us apart; it does not bring us together. The media exploits the wounds of community by over-reporting fear, dramatizing opposition, and headlining retribution. The existing conversation nurtures entitlement and individual rights and not accountability and communal possibilities. 

In our Belonging Revolution, we shift the conversation so that it is aimed at restoration, accountability and a deep sense of belonging. We ask each person to become part owner and part creator in building the social fabric of our community. We ask everyone we meet to be accountable to care for the whole of our community and to act as if the well-being of our community is in their hands. 

Here are a few highlights from those we spoke with.

Jose had a presence that invited us to engage. Jose told us of his three children and how important his family is. Jose told us he would like to be a police officer in Longmont because he believes he could be a good role model for his kids and our Latino community. Of course, I jumped on this and invited him to call me a schedule some time to talk about what he needed to do to prepare for becoming a police officer in Longmont. While I won't print his email address, it was symbolic of his three kids, his wife, Jose and their relationship - sweet! 

We found Itcel leaving her home to relax in a chair. We ask everyone what their experiences have been like(if they have had any) with our police and fire services. Itcel informed us of a time she was arrested several years ago by our police services and her believe that she was not treated well. She stated she had been roughed up by the police officers who arrested her. I thanked her for her feedback.  Notwithstanding her previous experiences with police, she said she now trusts the police and would call us if she needed to. Itcel is raising two small children and lives with her mom and kids. And, Itzel was enthusiastically accepted our invitation to be part of helping out our community.

Jesus was working on replacing a window in his home with his friend, Edgar. Jesus was holding Gabriel in his arms as we approached. He was so proud of his four boys, William(17), Jason(12), Alan(8) and Gabriel(almost 2)! Jesus was also willing to part of future conversations about our community. 

Rudy and Sofia were just amazing. So full of energy and so wanting to be a bigger part of our community. Jordan(who speaks fluent Spanish) and Rudy found common ground in football. For some reason, Rudy is a Green Bay Packers fan and he did not know why - he just was. We had a lot of fun with Rudy and Sofia and their two little girls. Sofia and Rudy will be two great voices to have as we move forward with our continuation in building in our community.

Awilda was a powerhouse!! And Dan and Awilda our familia! Awilda and her son, Cain, were enjoying the outdoors when we met them. Our conversations started with Dan and Awilda giving each other a big hug! Awilda told us of her work as a probation officer and her desire to make a difference in our community! Awilda was so, so enthusiastic to help to create a different future for Longmont!!! I used a lot of exclamation points in my description of our meeting with Awilda and believe me, I did not overuse any of them. 

Our Belonging Revolution embraces a perspective that focuses upon getting people connected with each other and confronting them with their freedom -based on invitation and consent. Our Belonging Revolution believes we should utilize consent to create communities in which accountability replaces entitlement, commitment replaces negotiation, and equal-footing conversations replace persuasion and manipulation. We believe our Belonging Revolution is restorative; it produces new energy, it does not consume it; it offers people choice to be part of a future that they help bring to life!

Elise’s Observations

It was my honor this weekend to participate in my second walk with Mike Butler and Dan Benavidez as part of their Belonging Revolution to cultivate community in Longmont. As before, I was so impressed with Mike and Dan’s commitment to creating connection in this way, one person at a time, through face-to-face conversation and engagement. It’s powerful – and it really seems to work. I found it particularly gratifying to witness the evolution of relationship, watching how the expressions on people’s faces would change from being initially closed and a little suspicious when we would first approach and introduce ourselves (why does the police chief want to talk to me?) to curious and then finally to open smiles when we said goodbye, now newfound friends appreciative of the contact.

This Sunday we were joined by Jordan Bailey of Philanthropiece, a group that “empowers changemakers around the world to co-create resilient communities.” Jordan is an outgoing, Spanish-speaker who created quick rapport with the Latino families we encountered and who did a wonderful job helping Dan out with translating wherever needed (how I wish I spoke Spanish!).

We walked in the St. Vrain Mobile Home Park, to the sounds of leaf blowers and children playing on what was an absolutely gorgeous autumn day. The park had experienced extensive damage in the September 2013 floods and it looked as if most of the trailers had been replaced with new ones. To a person, everyone liked their neighborhood and felt safe and included there, and many gave their names and phone numbers to Mike to volunteer to be engaged in community dialogues in the future.

In our stroll through the mobile home park we met nearly 20 people in two hours, including many wonderfully compelling kids:

--Roberto spoke no English but through Dan and Jordan was easily able to communicate the pride he had for his children, including his straight-A student daughter and his son Abraham, who came out to talk with us about his desire to start a business.

--Phil, a Longmont resident for all of his 62 years, was carefully digging out the weeds in the cracks of the sidewalk per the mobile home park owner’s demands, happy to talk but reluctant to have his picture taken with us.

--Jesus was working on replacing a window in his trailer, with the help of a visiting friend Edgar and his pinwheel-carrying, cute-as-a-button son Gabriel. Jesus talked with pride about his four sons and accepted our compliments on the beautiful flowers he’d planted around his home.

--Itcel was recovering from a recent car accident in Denver, which she felt was too busy and chaotic, greatly preferring Longmont’s peace and quiet. I was impressed by her honesty when she admitted that she had had a run-in with the law when she was 15. She told of how the cops had roughed her up and bruised her face when they arrested her in her home, despite her parents telling the cops to stop. It was the only negative experience anyone mentioned having with the Longmont police, although Itcel was quick to add she didn’t blame them for doing their job. She also talked of how having her two children, now 1 and 3, temporarily delayed her plans to go to college, a dream she still hoped of achieving someday. 

 --Jose, a truck driver, who expressed his desire to be a policeman to be a good role model for his daughters. Although he thought the neighborhood was safe, he planned to install cameras because he was concerned about all the homeless people and transients in the area.

--Awilde knew Dan (so many people do in Longmont!) and came out to say hello, along with her young son Caine. She was familiar with Dan and Mike’s work and had seen a story in the media on the Belonging Revolution, which she thought was a wonderful idea. Awilde spoke passionately about how she loved working on probation and parole cases for Boulder County. She lamented how the new owners of the mobile home park had raised the prices but otherwise loved the area and living in Longmont.

--Juan, a former neighborhood resident, was up visiting his mom. He admitted missing Longmont now that his home is in Greeley where his wife’s family lives. He hoped to return someday.

--Sofia and Rudy were still in their pajamas but happy to talk to us nonetheless, along with their two beautiful young daughters (Dan suggested they might be our future Governor and President someday!). The real connection occurred, however, when Jordan discovered Rudy’s love of American football -- but that the love was for the Green Bay Packers not the Broncos, and much playful heckling ensued. We all were laughing out loud as we said goodbye.

Jordan Bailey Thoughts

First off, it was great to meet you fine people: Dan, Elise and Mike! And thanks for letting me tag along with the 'Belonging Revolution.' 

I approached the 'walk' as an opportunity to learn, get to know my neighbors and hear in their words about their thoughts/concerns in relation to their family, safety and neighborhood. I walked away with so much more than what I had anticipated. I was extremely pleased to see Dan Benavides and Mike Butler REALLY listen to the community members, especially those that have an underrepresented voice. As a community organizer myself with the Philanthropiece Foundation (mainly in Mexico), listening to all is part of what we strive for as an organization. Their strategy of going back to the basics; communicating, listening and working together will lead to stronger and healthier communities. I believe that these 'walks' will unite on so many levels in order to solve the most pressing issues....... As the popular Mexican saying goes, "La unión es poder" (Unity is power). 

My Final thoughts:

The concept of the 'walk' is simple, but the imprint on the community is and will be profound.