Thursday, April 18, 2013

Community Circles
-How The Mighty Have Fallen-
Our Communities are not destroyed for lack of knowledge. People know what's wrong, especially those of us who live within the Community, that confront these problems each and every day. Our Communities are apathetically destroyed for lack of sacrifice. Many of us are simply unwilling to look out for one another, even our own children, in order to secure personal possessions and creature comforts for ourselves.

My father, Philip Frank, is a Painter by trade and an Artist/Musician at heart. As a teenager he played the bass in a group called The El Moroccos. It was my father’s influence where I developed a great love for music, nature, and culture. In second grade when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I told my teacher Mrs. Smith, “A Zoologist!” My favorite animal was a ‘jaguarundi’ and my father, my twin brothers, and myself would watch animal/nature programs religiously. Whether it was National Geographic, Wild America, Nova, Wild Wild World of Animals, and etc., if it was on, we saw it. My father also collected African art and taught us about our classical civilizations and cultural traditions prior to slavery. Recognizing the Dinka tribe from the Masai tribe, learning the story of General Hannibal, and understanding our story in America was common knowledge in our household. I also learned that I am the great-great-great grandson of Josiah Henson; forerunner of the Underground Railroad, founder of a Community of fugitive slaves in Dresden, Ontario Canada and the British-American Vocational Institute. It was through my father that I gained my cultural consciousness and developed my interpersonal relationship with the Planet.

My mother, Lois Frank, was a Psychologist/Sociologist by trade. One of my earliest memories of her is being gathering up on rainy days with a few of my siblings and put into our Pontiac Grand Safari to go look for "our buddies". She'd drive us around the city until we found our buddies and once we saw them she would tell us to wave, and we would return home. Our buddies were a group of four homeless people who sought shelter from the rain underneath an overpass. Over time, my siblings and I began to initiate these outings by asking our mother could we go look for our buddies when it rained. With that simple gesture, our mother successfully taught us to identify with others and a social condition synonymous with rain. Years later I would implement the same Parenting techniques by taking my school age daughters to "the lunch place". Nine years later my eldest daughter, Asiyah, would write about these experiences, the people she met, and how this positively shaped her life on College entry essays. All this time she never knew that the lunch place was the Community Soup Kitchen. Asiyah is now graduating High School and will be pursuing a career in Forensic Psychology at Howard University in our Nation's Capitol. It was through my mother that I gained my social consciousness and developed my interpersonal relationship to the World.

Along my journey there are many who have added onto and reinforced the foundation my parents have laid. Those people who have played and often still play the most significant roles in my growth and development have been people who understood the meaning of sacrifice. From my eldest sibling Brad Frank who would invest his own money and get resources to train my peers and I in the summer for the upcoming football season, to Rev. Kenneth James who kept his office, church, and home open to us who were seeking guidance and support in becoming boys to men. There were business owners like Carmen Jones, Mr. Brown, Beechie, Mr. Williamson, Arthur Ray, Howard, Ms. Theresa, Ms. Price, and etc., Youth Advocates like Knuckles, Virgil, Greg Lewis, Reggie McCreary, Hamp, Garth and various others too numerous to mention who took ownership of our neighborhoods and sacrificed their personal time and finances to insure that my present generation would be here today. It was through their collective work, responsibility, and examples that I understand what Community is about, and I actively build upon this legacy with the things that I do.

One thing that I've found in common with all of the people that I mentioned above was their sense of sacrifice. As Business Owners it was never about making themselves rich off of the support from the Community. It was about providing a service and  reciprocating the money the Community paid for these services by supporting other Businesses, Organizations, and Institutions within our Community; Beechy would buy groceries at Mr. Brown's store down the block, and Mr. Brown would get his hair cut at Beechie's Barbershop. Our dollar circulated a few times before leaving our Community and this type of support for one another strengthened the socioeconomic integrity of our families and thus our Community as a whole. We sacrificed personal gains to ensure that we collectively prospered.

I was  recently asked, "What type of vision do I have for our Community?" My answer is that is, I have the same vision as those who came before me. The same vision I benefited from that I share with my own children and our present generation: our greatest natural resource and Ambassadors of the future. I see people taking more pride in our Community because they're home owners. I see people who were once discriminated against because of a non-violent offense they committed fifteen years ago being business owners, employed, and providing a service to a neighborhood they once took from. I see Sunday no longer being the most segregated day of the week because our Religious Community is now working as a Community; collectively supporting, protecting, and providing programs and activities for the most vulnerable elements of our Society: women, children, seniors, the poor/unemployed, and the handicapped. I see our Community no longer relying on an underfunded, understaffed police force to resolve all our problems and keep our neighborhoods safe from ourselves. I see us policing ourselves, as guardian angels, who have taken an active stance against crime, juvenile delinquency, and family dysfunction. I see our Community investing in our youth by supporting the cultural arts, recreation centers, entertainment, and educational opportunities that encourage their positive growth & development. Lastly and most importantly, I see our Community as ours; a place our ancestors migrated to with goals of building, supporting, and perpetuating a better life for each other.

The decline of any Community is marked by its members unwillingness and inability to protect and provide for its most vulnerable elements: women, children, seniors, the poor/unemployed, and the handicapped. Establishing resources to protect and provide for these family elements builds the compound called a Community. In order to restore this place, we must be willing and able to sacrifice the "I" for "We", the "Mine" for "Ours", and the "Me & You" for "Us". If we all do a little, no one needs to do a lot. In the rebuilding process one of our greatest enemies is apathy; the lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern for each other and rebuilding our Community. Many of our Politicians, Religious Leaders, Parents, Businesses, and Organizations are apathetic. It's impossible for a Community to deteriorate, on the watch of those who care. When we care we're concerned. Concern means we're able to relate and when we're able to relate we can establish relationships; the intimate glue that holds our families, neighborhoods, and Communities together. This is a rebuilding process that doesn't happen over night. It's a long term investment in each other, and more specifically our children. It's the type of posture that inspires, empowers, and educates our children to develop a relationship with our Community. It's also the type of posture that encourages our children to take ownership of our Community when we are no longer here. I am the result of this posture and learned, through the sacrifice of others, my role, relationship and responsibility to our Community. After studying Therapeutic/Recreation at Central State University in Wilberforce, OH, I returned to WNY and have diligently worked as a Youth Mentor for over a decade. I have authored/published several books on the subject of Social Commentary, worked as a Program Consultant for an episode of the History Channel Series 'Gangland', started a Prison Correspondence Project, created/financed various other Community Initiatives/Youth Programs, and have partnered with many Institutions that advocate for the same common Community causes. While many have praised me for these efforts I constantly remind them that I am because we are. I am the result of many others, known and unknown, who have sacrificed their time, finances, and lives to pave the way for me to have these opportunities to contribute to a rich ancestral legacy. I am not apathetic because I saw many who cared and demonstrated their love for one another.

When a Community doesn't function as a circle-like Ecosystem of positive human resources, it simply becomes a negative, vicious, parasitic cycle amongst its members. If we, as members of our Community, are apathetic about the process of building it, we are the very elements that bring about its destruction. In conclusion, I leave you all with this question: What type of vision do you have for our Community, and what sacrifices are you willing/able to make to help bring this vision to life?


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