I guess God meant for service to work this way, but as I serve others (besides my family), I am learning a lot about myself. Today I learned that I am still incredibly naive and judgmental.
As the sun began its trek across the sky, I made my way to the downtown area that is commonly referred to as West End. Located across the river and the railroad tracks, down the hill (Tuscaloosa is literally a city on a hill), and just past the county jail, West End is not winning any All-American Neighborhood awards. And, yes, as a young white woman making her way to the soup kitchen all alone in the moments before dawn, I was a little uncomfortable.
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Thursday night, I watched the televised city council meeting. After the scheduled business of approving this zone and that construction permit and discussing the city planning and development, the mayor asked if anyone wanted to address the council before they closed. A small black woman wearing a tattered red shawl took her stand at the podium. But when she opened her mouth she was anything but small.
She said she was glad the council was doing all their development for the city. She listed a few projects the city is so proud of beginning: the amphitheater, the riverwalk development, the new Midtown Center. But then she asked, “When are you going to take care of West End?” She said a few things that made me think speaking before the council on behalf of her community is something she does regularly. She said, and this is not a direct quote, Y’all hate seeing me, you probably want me dead, but until you do right by the West End I’m gone keep coming. God will take care of me.
I know those councilmen visit West End when it comes to campaigning. The woman at the podium reminded them of the last time they visited her neighborhood: how they made promises to the community, how they knocked on doors, how they campaigned and secured the votes they needed to be put in office. And now they seem to have forgotten about West End.
She continued for several minutes, offering a few ideas like cleaning up the run-off mess from downtown construction (apparently, it just runs down to West End), sidewalks…not much. But the mayor just smiled at her like what she was doing was so cute. They patronized her and thanked her for coming, said they’d look into it.
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I parked my car around the side to keep the doorway from being so crowded. As I turned the key, I thought that I should probably park in the front in an effort to minimize the chances of a break in. Even though I’ve been robbed in this area of town before, I fumed at myself for such negative, judgmental thinking. After all, 15 feet can’t make that much of a difference and I was there to do good.