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The great American storyteller Studs Terkel called one of his last books “Hope Dies Last.” In it he chronicles the great resilience of so many people across our country. White, black, men, women, urban, suburban, rural, educated, uneducated, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters - all who struggle mightily. Through their sometimes unimaginable stress and strain they are able to hang on to their own sense of hope. Just around the corner - maybe tomorrow - they hope that their world will change and their ship will come in. Sadly for many, that happy ending never happens. That dream fades and hope does indeed die.
Having observed for more than 23 years the challenges of the families we serve, I understand. I’ve come to understand that maybe our job, and that of all of our partners, is to ensure that hope stays alive. There is no one thing we can do to ensure this hope. It’s any number of things. We just need to keep working to improve the housing, education, health, jobs, and economic well-being of the 24:1 community and everyone else we serve.
Last week my friend and partner Dr. Charles Pearson, the superintendent of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, told me that at a meeting with his student advisory council a senior at Normandy High School told him ‘hope is back.’ Could there be a better phrase or a better sentiment for a young person in our community? As a senior, this student had seen the worst. Their school not only lost its accreditation but was called the most dangerous in the region. It’s hard to be hopeful when those are the messages you hear as a child.
Dr. Pearson, the new board, and the entire Normandy staff have diligently worked to create a new culture - one of hope, high expectations, caring, and responsibility. Beyond Housing and all our wonderful partners have continued to be there for the students in a more coordinated fashion. There are more supports like school supplies, uniforms, clothes, food, and access to washers and dryers for all our children. Hope alone will not change our community, but as a dear friend and board member told me, hope is the fuel for the engine of change.
Let’s rev up that engine!!! Even better, let’s fuel it up with some high octane hope - The kind of hope Victoria Stafford describes as:
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.”
You can hear Parker Palmer recite this powerful piece here:https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/10/27/victoria-safford-gates-of-hope/
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.