A couple of years ago I lived for one month in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. I was helping a friend research the viability of opening a community kitchen in the area. As an attorney perfectly comfortable in her means, she had chosen to live in this place that many in her position would avoid. To her, this place is comfortable. It has been her home for more than seven years and during that month of my residency I discovered why.
Each night after dinner she and I would head to the front stoop. Sitting a few steps from the top, she with her cigarette and I with my ice cream sandwich, we would sit. Watching. Saying hello to each person as they walked by. Inevitably, each night, someone would stop a little longer. We’d say hello and chat about the goings on.
“Hey. How’s your mom?”
“Good. Good. She was givin’ me a hard time the other day so she’s got be be feelin’ better. Did you ever get that thing fixed out back?”
“Yeah the landlord came by and fixed it. Hey, yeah, I haven’t seen Darrell in a while. You seen him?”
“Yeah. He went away for a minute. He was at that party where somebody got shot.”
“Yeah. He won’t be around for a while.” “Did he?”
“Nah. But he’s got to figure some shit out. He shouldn’t have been there.”
After a few minutes of this and the passer-by would continue to pass. We would go back inside and go about our evening. As the weeks passed, that stoop became a part of me. A little over an hour and I’d know all the news there was.
The stoop kept me connected to this place and to my neighbors. If it wasn’t for the stoop, I would be the lone white girl who got off at the wrong stop on the C train. The evenings on the stoop made me feel like a part of the community and invested in the quality of life there; the lives of my neighbors. I felt like we were all in it together. Doing our own thing. In our own way. Keeping the world spinning. Each thread in the net held its place and when one went missing it was up to the rest to fill it in and hold that place till the person came back to reclaim it.
I left Bed-Stuy to pursue my degree on the West coast, but have strived to keep that feeling of the ol’ neighborhood. Its one of the main drivers in why I do the work that I do. Hundreds of thousands of my neighbors are imprisoned every year. When they return from being away, they need to know that we have kept their seat on the stoop warm for them. As not much of a baker, I rarely have a cup of sugar to share, but I do have my knowledge and experience to help people make the most of their rightful claim on the step.
Without our neighbors, who will keep our spot warm? An individual does not a neighborhood make. Only a “we” makes a neighborhood. How are you engaging the power of “we” to strengthen your neighborhood? How are you keeping your spot on the stoop warm?
A Social Ignition Press
- Sonja Skvarla and A Social Ignition featured on the Supergivers Podcast with Jesse Johnson -March, 2018
- The latest on Jason Buckley here and here, a graduate starting the business he developed in The Ignition Option.
- FYI – A Social Ignition – Public Libraries Online (podcast) -June 6, 2016
- Man leaves behind criminal past to start food cart – Portland Tribune–Jun 2, 2015
- This Portlander’s crowdfunding campaign seeks to turn a life around Portland Business Journal (blog)–May 22, 2015
- Entrepreneurs on the inside: Inmates learn ‘the power of choice‘ – Street Roots-Dec 10, 2015
- Sunday Conversation: A Social Ignition Founder, Sonja Skvarla – Oregon Public Broadcasting (radio)-Nov 29, 2015
- Teaching entrepreneurshi
p in prison: Learning how to run a business from behind bars – GeekWire (blog)-Nov 5, 2015
- Leveraging Entrepreneurship to Initiate Social Change – The Startup Sessions (podcast)-December 12, 2014