Living up to our principles
I have been quite disheartened to hear about the negative response to the placement of an IFC community kitchen in our downtown. Arguments have ranged from fears for public safety, distaste for the nuisance of loitering and panhandling, and the fear that our downtown will become a mecca for poor, homeless folks. I get the knee jerk reactions, but if we think about it a little more, I think we would be ashamed of ourselves.
Carrboro prides itself on being a progressive town. And yet when it comes to putting our “money where our mouths are,” we really struggle to live up to the principles at the heart of the identity. It’s easy to be progressive when it comes to abstract principles such as equality, justice, even love, but the real test is how we fare when our lived experience butts up against the very real and challenging parts of a society where poverty, racism, drug addiction, etc. are very real things. Not only are they real things, they are inevitable parts of a system that thrives on inequality, unhappiness and exploitation, and ignores, criminalizes and otherwise marginalizes people, many of whom we would do better to treat with health care, compassion, and transformative justice modalities.
If we are serious about being progressives – about being committed to justice – aren’t we obligated to engage with uncomfortable realities, in our own space, in our own town? Locally, we have the opportunity to not do what people around the country do – simply create gentrified white bubbles – we have the opportunity to grow our compassion, face challenging realities, and move from being abstractly committed to noble principles, to actually living them.
I searched all over the country for the Best Small Town USA to raise my children, and in the search I found Carrboro! And it was love at first site.
I wanted to live in a town that that mirrored my values. As some of you know, three years ago I survived a brutal rape by a stranger/predator/neighbor, yet not for one second did I think “I need to get out of this town.” In fact, I thought, thank goodness I live in Carrboro, a place that supports the fragile, the broken, and the suffering. I knew that Carrboro was a place I could heal ... and I did! Then, two years ago I launched a successful business in downtown Carrboro. Carrboro Community Acupuncture continues to thrive and grow. Thank you Carrboro.
Before I launched my business, I started at the beginning. All successful businesses thrive with a strong vision/mission statement. I want to share my vision statement with you because it is simple and it relates to the Food First community Kitchen. “The health of a community is related to the availability of wellness services to its residents.” I am living proof that providing wellness services to my community is good for business.
Since I believe that nutrition is the fundamental building block of health, I am proud to be working side by side (three doors down) with the IFC and their current ambitions to provide a community kitchen. I am a trained observer, and I am well aware of the population that exists in Carrboro in need of food. I see these people needing a place to sit, a place to use the bathroom, and a place to talk to each other. These few things are simple fundamental human rights, and I will be proud of Carrboro when I am able to literally able to see this group of people being fed and cared for.
I know that other business owners have concerns and fears. It is scary to see a hungry person, because that human being is a human, and it strikes a chord because this could be me. Fear is an emotion that fosters protection, and so one keeps working and continues to save and make prudent decisions, because it would be really scary to not know where my next meal is going to come from.
I hope the town will be able to assuage people’s concerns by gathering and disseminating data. Is there data to show that this population is in fact not a harm to society? Is there data to show that marginalizing this population is detrimental to the health of the economy? Perhaps it may be useful to circulate Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?
Bottom Line: We are all in this Together.
Thank you for being intelligent, compassionate, and grounded. Please continue to make me proud to do business in Carrboro, a place to feel free.
Editor’s note: The length limit was waived to allow a fulller discussion of the issues.
I was raised in the South in the middle of the last century and witnessed some of the strife and some of the improvements in race relations. I like to think that I helped with that progress.
Then I saw Mary Carey’s must-read “My View” column (CHN nando.com/2qp). It describes the very different reactions she sees as a white mother when she is out with her black son versus her white son. The list of slights and grievances ranged from sad to appalling.
How could people be so clueless, so hateful after all the “progress” we have seen? Clearly, differences in parenting (suggested by Christopher McQueen’s letter in the same edition, nando.com/2rz)) are not the problem.
Fred Naiden speaks of CHALT as “the group” (N&O, nando.com/2rv). Naiden, a history professor interested in ancient Greece and Rome, is a newer adherent to the group formerly known as anti-business because they frequently said with contempt that any construction or development is “pro-business.” Now they choose “pro-developer” to express the same contempt.
Naiden is free to hold his own opinions, but Chapel Hill does have revenue increases from business taxes, and the approved new mixed-use plans are attracting new businesses to Chapel Hill.
Height and density allow less cost per unit for maintenance, thus make workforce housing more available.
Northside has a Neighborhood Conservation District plan, like other neighborhoods that have felt new construction coming near them. If Chapel Hill is “a Southern segregated part of heaven,” it has been so for decades under the aegis of owners of single-family homes on spacious lots, whose owners placed most CHALT-endorsed candidate signs I saw on their private lawns.
Perhaps Naiden shares a CHALT candidate’s praise for an Asheville complex built to house teachers. Does CHALT want to segregate all teachers, hospital workers, firefighters in such special-designation buildings?
Most construction is done as subdivisions in this area, and it costs tens of millions of dollars to grade land, install utilities, build roads and sidewalks and bus-stop shelters. Incorporating affordable housing in mixed-use density saves greenspace and makes some below-cost sales possible.
This recent Chapel Hill election may prove to residents that those satisfied with feasible growth must get out and vote.
Watching and waiting
Can the healing begin? Let us presume that incoming UNC system President Margaret Spellings is sincere about mending divisions and building bridges, and let us give her doubt’s benefit that through this process she will be a person of good will who knows that she must earn the trust of the sizable communities who view her appointment with some mixture of alarm, disdain and incredulity.
What must she do? To begin, she must never, ever, ever again say the words “those lifestyles” (“UNC’s next chief ready for challenge,” N&O, Oct. 24) when referring to people in the LGBT community. The person who uses such a phrase draws attention to herself as insensitive, naive, bigoted and out-of-touch.
Is this education leader educable? We shall be watching.
William S. Meyer