A View From The Mesa: Unifying community costs everything, nothing

A few weeks ago I was in Jackson, Miss., participating in dialogues on reconciliation.

About 30 leaders from different states, races and Christian denominations spent one day touring different sites of significance from the Civil Rights movement with a family that was heavily involved with integration in the 1960s and '70s.

The brother and sister told stories of integration when they attended primary school. They recounted the fear they felt going to school each day and the shame that accompanied their dad's arrest.

We listened attentively as they shared about staying up all night to prepare for marches while their dad was being beaten in jail. They vulnerably talked about the toll their fight for justice took on their family. We sat in the courthouse where their father was tried and attempted to identify with what they must have felt in that place not so long ago.

When we gathered to debrief our experience, there was a tangible recognition that we were able to gather together in this way because of the sacrifices and great price paid by those who went before us. The cost of freedom and equality was so high, and as our understanding of the cost increased, so did our gratitude.

As we talked throughout the day, blacks, Anglos, Latinos and Native Americans, we were faced with our own tendencies to be comfortable. We looked at each other and asked what we were willing to do to continue working toward equality in our communities. In that moment the work of true reconciliation seemed so hard and the price of energy, reputation, family, misunderstanding, time and pain seemed so high.

The day after I got home, I met with six Latino neighborhood leaders to evaluate a community event we had put on. We evaluated what went well and what needed improvement. We reflected on how joyfully people responded to being invited.

One of the men commented that all the hard work and preparation seemed worth the effort to see people from different parts of the city, different socio-economic levels and backgrounds working and laughing together. He said that his favorite part was the sense of unity we experienced during the event.

Then I asked all the leaders why they were involved. What makes them give so much time and energy to serving their neighbors?

A neighborhood leader from Shalimar responded first, "It doesn't cost anything to help others."

Her comment struck me in light of the experience I was coming off of in Mississippi.

"It costs everything!" I thought.

My neighbor went on to explain how she receives such satisfaction from listening to her neighbors and connecting them to each other and resources. She has personally invested in helping two neighbors launch small businesses and is talented at helping others to strategize. She explained how rich her life is from the friendships she has developed with volunteers from other backgrounds and experiences.

"What I get from serving and being connected to others, is more than it costs me to help," she said in summing up.

I sat stunned in the beauty of the reality of a cost that is everything and nothing all at the same time. I know what my neighbor has sacrificed to help others — money, time, moments with her family, reputation in the community — and yet she so eloquently articulated the benefit of the sacrifice.

She so clearly sees more joyful neighbors and a more unified community and the cost feels like nothing to her. I was, and still am, challenged by her joy and commitment. In her life and those of other neighborhood leaders, I see the same willingness to pay a price for equality and with that comes more than just sacrifice, there is satisfaction and joy.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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