Tonight we sat on Luis's patio on metal folding chairs, eating pizza off paper plates.
There wasn't a big group of us, just about a dozen or so. A blue tarp blocked the breeze that has taken on a chill as of late.
We talked about the kids being back in school, and how it's starting to get dark earlier. A few more people arrived, and as they settled in, the conversation turned.
We sat up straighter. We set down our plates. We turned our attention to a simple easel with a flip chart on it.
And we began to dream.
Earlier that evening, when I first stepped onto the patio divided as half meeting space, half storage unit, I didn't feel particularly inspired. The space was lighted by work lamps plugged into extension cords and the noise from the living room TV made it hard for me to concentrate.
But then the dreaming began.
"When you walk to the Neighborhood Action Committee meeting 10 years from now, what will you see? What do you hear? Who is there? What do you smell? What are the things you are celebrating?"
We sat with our eyes closed envisioning our future and then it began to spill out of us.
"I am celebrating my son's graduation."
"I see children playing."
"I see my home filled with friends. I'm not alone, like other old people I know."
"I walk in the alley without smelling filth."
"I hear us speaking English."
"I feel a sincere friendship with my neighbors."
"I have plenty of work."
On and on, the dreams poured out. The work lights didn't feel so glaring, but rather warm. Hearing my neighbors' desired future overpowered the buzz of the TV. I was inspired.
We spent the rest of the meeting talking about the current reality of our community. We took comfort in the strength of communication among neighbors and how we have grown closer and more trusting of each other.
We discussed the reality of gangs still recruiting kids, and neighbors who do not want to participate in working together. We looked at how our fear and unwillingness to speak up keeps us isolated sometimes and talked about how overwhelming life can be.
Then we looked at the dreams again. In the end, we each committed to working together toward the dream. Even in light of the reality, we chose to go for it.
Together we have enough going for us to believe we will live the dream of a safe, respectful, prosperous community. We know it will take hard work because that kind of change does not just happen without intention. Tonight we committed together as a community to do what it takes to reach our goals.
As my neighbors said good night, I looked around at the patio again. Our community-identified values hung on the wall. The 10-year dream hung next to them. Our host folded the chairs as the leaders talked about the action plan for next week's meeting. Next week they will strategize the steps to get to the dream.
When I think about the places we strategize change I think of board rooms and chambers, of smoky backrooms and offices. When I think of places that I dream, I think of long empty beaches and winding mountain trails.
Dreaming places have always been encountered on road trips with good friends and away from the real world. But tonight I found a dreaming place off an asphalt alley that despite its rough exterior proved to be a place of inspiration, not because of how it looked but because of who was there.
Tonight the dreams for our city came not from places of power and prestige but from commitment and community, from pizza and the patio.
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.