Wednesday, February 6, 2008

School is in session on Skid Row

Five o'clock on Skid Row. It has been a pretty amazing day. The emotions from yesterday carried into today for me and for the Skid Row community.

Last night I talked to my good buddy, Don Garza. We lamented about the elections that took place. Indeed, they were special and we talked about the mood of the country. Don and I began to talk about Skid Row.

I always listen to Don when he talks about this place because he is one of the true legends of Skid Row. I told him that there was something magical about this place.
Sure, Skid Row has alot of problems but there is something about it that grows on you. Candice Ballou was the first to bring it to my attention when she said to me that Skid Row was in her blood and that she had to always be a part of it. In many ways I felt the same way.

Don began to speak. There was a lightness in his voice, void of any burdens. He talked of the side of Skid Row that few people know about. It is a side that I have experienced this past two weeks in amazing quantity and quality. It is the side of unending love and support, and the confirmation that I was doing the right things, good things.

I survived many of the land mines that people encounter while down here. They come two, three, four at a time and it is a miracle that I never stepped on one. They can be fatal in ways a person would never know unless they have been in this kind of environment.

Don talked about the good side of people that he has experienced. A burden had been lifted from him earlier in the day and I know that it had weighed on him for months.

"Walter, you know that saying that misery loves company. Well, it is not true down here, all of the time. Not even most of the time". It is true. People down here, the ones who want to improve their lives are beyond that "crabs in a barrel mentality". They will help you as much as they can. They do not have money. Material resources are scarce. but they have an endless reservoir of spirit that propels you to the next level. It nourishes your soul and keeps you fighting.

There has not been one news report or documentary that has been done that has captured the essence of the "Skid Row Spirit". It is strong, it is pliable, and it is enduring. It is a powerful force that springs up and grabs you in and braces you in its bosom.

I have been fortunate in meeting practically every major person who impacts Skid Row one way or the other. The people I met all know Skid Row. They all know what is good about Skid Row.

People do not know about the good things that are here. I have experienced them.
They do not know about the patience that people, who have problems of there own, extend to others and enthusiastically give of themselves. In order to know what is bad about Skid Row you have to know what is good about Skid Row. People talk about the missions. Indeed they play a part, a vital part. However it must be made clear that the missions are only a small factor in the "Skid Row Spirit." The Missions have money and donors. The people on the street have no money but the have hearts of gold and a treasure chest of spirit that spills over like water in a well.

This morning, the nicelady saw me with my teeth. We were talking and then she gasped."Oh my God, Oh my God." She lunged against the counter gasping for breath.
She could barely get the words out of her mouth again, "OH my God, Oh my God. They look so good. They look like they are yours. "

Skid Row stays in a persons heart like a wayward student stays in the heart of a teacher when they go home. They worry about the student. They search their minds to find ways to help that student so he can turn the corner and begin to grow.
Many spouses have heard the pleas and frustrations of their mates when they come home from a day on Skid Row. Skid Row is the student and they are the concerned teacher.

As Chief Bratton refers to Skid Row as the patient. It is an analogy but he has to look at it from a very unemotional point of view. He is arms distance from it.

However his Police Officers are up close and personal. It is they who try to help those get off of the streets. It is they who have to deal with seeing a woman one day and see her beaten up the next. It is not clinical to them. It is personal. They have invested time and their hearts and, in turn, they have a vested interest in the well being of the people and the environment that extends far beyond their professional duties.

Those that live in Skid Row put their hearts and souls into encouraging others and do so without saving a reserve so they can cheerlead themselves on to the next
water stop.

A teacher wants things more than the student does because they see things in the student and they know things the student does not know. I taught kids tennis and they had so much talent. I wanted them to develop more than they did.
There are people of Skid Row who want the people to improve their lives more than some of the people do and they go home at night but they do not leave Skid Row at night. Skid Row is in them. It is in them to stay. It touches the core of your soul and it drives your every move. I know a little about teachers. My father was one. He was one of the best. He was also an educator. There is a big difference.
If you understand the difference you understand Skid Row.

At least 50 people asked me if they could come to court tomorrow to give me support. I could not believe it. In my year in this neighborhood I have not heard or seen anything like it. While writing this blog, I received a call from a police officer who said he and another City official are going to be there to give me support.

All I can do is say thank you. All I could do is say thank you, very much.

An email just came in and the person congradulated me on the end of my first year here on Skid Row. It is surprising to me that these voices of support keep coming in.

Every one talks about what is wrong about Skid Row. Those that talk about it spend very little time here to understand it. They see the heroin needles. They see the crack pipes. I sit here and say today, after one year on Skid Row, that the drugs are not the major problem of Skid Row. The drugs are the symptoms of the problems that exist in not only Skid Row but in America at large. If you do not understand that, you understand nothing. If you understand nothing you can not fix anything.

People who help eachother on Skid Row have a bond. I meet more of them every day.
A man relapsed. He could not understand why. He poured his heart out to me and leaned on me for strength. I few months ago, I would ask him to listen to me everyday. He did so patiently. He had not done the self monitoring that I did. He did not know how. No one taught him to do that. l I was taught how to do that when I took volumnous notes during my swim training as a kid on a top flight AAU team. That same year I learned how to go through the total process of conducting an experiment. I had to learn how to take observations and conclusions. I learned how to develop theories and see if they worked through experiments.

I was lucky I had a father who taught me how to educate myself and a school that was advanced in every way in academics.

It was my turn to listen and be patient. Sure I let him know I was worried about this week and he rose to the occasion and told me I had nothing to worry about.

It is not just the residents who help eachother. Residents help police. Residents help other officials gain insight as to the complex dynamics of the environment. Many times they do not have all of the pieces to a puzzle and just one more piece could unravel a mystery and solve many questions.

These are the people who are changing Skid Row. Roles are not clearly marked by black lines. The boundaries can not be rigid. They must overlap. There is a symbiotic relationship that exists in Skid Row and those that understand it are exploiting it and a synergistic energy is beginning to take place.

It is not You vs them. it is "US". We stand together in this. We are working together to learn and explore ways to get to the core of the Skid Row interchange where all things are tied together.

To do so every one is getting out of their offices, getting out of their student seats. The students become the teachers and the teachers become the students. Together a curriculum and strategy of progress is slowly developing.

Those who know about it know. Those that do not. Do not. They will report the same things and each day it is clear that they know less and less about the subject matter they report.

Yes Don Garza talked about Skid Row tonight. And yes he has been a great professor. I have enjoyed his class. I believe that people need to take it.

People in Skid Row are giving classes. Will the powers that be attend?

1 comment:

Dallas Cowboys said...

Walter, you have a come a long way in a year. Keep up the good work and let's see were you are next year at this time.

Stay focused, your friend and supporter!