My first memory of a “safe space” was the stoop that led up to my family’s apartment building in the Bronx, New York.
I have fond memories of that stoop, my grandfather sitting and chatting with his friends. They sometimes played dominos there, and I was always allowed to sit and watch, as long as I was quiet.
My mother sitting and watching the children play up and down our street, Tremont Avenue.
Our apartment was on the first floor and the window from my grandparents’ bedroom opened onto the street, within view of those cold concrete steps that still inspire me with such warm memories.
When I was school age I was allowed to walk home after the bell. My mother, a teacher’s aide, always saw me out of the school building and watched until I drifted from her view. Within moments, this little city boy would be within eyesight of my waiting grandmother. As soon as our eyes met, she would wave and I’d run back to the safety of that stoop.
Things are certainly very different now. Children are not always safe on city stoops. They don’t all have grandmas that live with them.
Drive-by shootings, kidnappings, drug sales, gangs – these are just a few of the dangers on today’s streets. But back in the late ’60s, stoops were an extension of your neighborhood, and your neighborhood a reflection of your people, your tribe. And what is safer than your tribe?
I guess the earliest safe space most would agree we share would have been our mother’s womb: an introduction to our family, our intended tribe.
In a healthy and loving environment our family would have given us the needed leg up to reach the next step on our journey.
Each level providing us with new spaces to feel at home and to flourish.
Each new space exposing us to education and to new friends, to love and wisdom and to possibilities of families of our own.
With each addition our tribe grows and we find ourselves feeling safer and safer nearly anywhere life takes us.
I bring up safe spaces because of the recent attacks in Orlando. Many people could not understand why a club or bar would have been considered a safe place for all the souls that inhabited it that fateful evening.
But consider that for many minorities the spaces we come to trust and love and truly feel safe in stay small. Society does not often welcome all of its people just anywhere they would like. It funnels them into less visible, more easily tolerated pockets.
My husband and I move here to Durham to try to add to our safe spaces. As a gay couple and transracial family raising children of color it is not often that easy to feel safe; that is our reality.
Here we expanded our circle with loving and accepting friends, many whose families look like ours and many more that just love us as we are.
We also recently found a larger space to feel safe in when we joined the beautiful people that make up Durham’s Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, or ERUUF as many call it.
The point is we all need to feel safe, from the womb to all the spaces that have followed; we have all done nothing more than to try to join and feel welcomed in the larger universal tribe we call humanity.
When you question how a little bar in Orlando could have become a safe space for so many I ask you to also question why that is so. Why are the marginalized relegated to the outer limits? Why are we so forced to find solace and safety in small places? For many, the mere fact of who we love was cause enough to be exiled. The leg up was denied us, and so we were forced to find safety elsewhere. We are wired for survival, after all.
At ERUUF I was recently asked to push myself out of my comfort zone by taking the time to say hello to a stranger each and every day. That simple act and what follows might very well be that person’s leg up. When multiplied by the many of us that I now invite to join me in that challenge, the need for a safe space might one day be a thing of the past.
You can reach Henry Amador-Batten at firstname.lastname@example.org