The KC Star has a great article today about Joey the barber on Indiana Ave who cuts hair and runs a foundation to work to keep kids out of trouble. His own journey to where he is today is very compelling. The story spells out the hurdles, triumphs, and realities of eastside living. The comments made so far this morning on the Star site are all about how wonderful the story is - as if a fairy tale - because people on the westside, southside, northside, and suburbs rarely see a story like this.
What struck me is that life on the eastside is very different than all the other parts of KC. The eastside has more violence every day. People on the eastside have to negotiate that violence. There is poverty, homelessness, blight, an entirely different retail landscape, and sometimes desperation and hopelessness. But I also know that people live their lives every day on the eastside, just like the rest of Kansas City does. And I don't think the KC experience is any different than any other city in the US. I see the exact same scenario in Camden with the suburbs looking askance at the city.
People outside of the 'hood look at it like it is some kind of foreign space. This is because the media generally sensationalizes the problems as if it is the sum total of eastside daily life. Because the violence and poverty is so very different from all the other parts of the city, it is seen as exceptional - not good exceptional, but different exceptional. It is that exceptional quality that makes it a curiosity and thus, newsworthy. This conversation needs to change.
If people outside of the 'hood understood the good things that go on - the people like Joey the barber - that are dealing with reality and not exceptions, then perhaps the people outside the 'hood would begin to grasp the gravity of the situation and be able to deal with it, instead of just ogling it.
Right now the good people of KC peer into the eastside as voyeurs through the window of tv news and the newspaper. Their perception is based on an assumption that because it is so very different from their lives, they can't possibly deal with it. They dismiss it as animals, thugs, people who don't deserve our help, and worse.
If the good people of KC were allies of the eastside, they would not be voyeurs and would have a more realistic understanding of what goes on and how to help. That is what is needed.