Written by: Justine Collum
Last week, I attended another Shaw Community Conversation. The topic was—as the title of this post indicates—Shaw’s Past, Present, and Future. These Conversations are always complicated for me because I have a complicated relationship with Shaw. This discussion, however, was particularly fraught with emotion for me, because right now, my future in Shaw is uncertain. With the sale of my building, there’s a good chance that I will be forced to move; with rents now being as high as they are in Shaw, I might not be able to afford to rent another place in the neighborhood. This leaves me in a strange mental place to have a conversation about where I see Shaw in the future, since I don’t necessarily see myself as part of that picture.
That aspect aside, I’m so glad I went. I was happy to see a mix of old faces, new faces, and people who I knew, but hadn’t seen at a Conversation before. Lots of people gave differing opinions and views but it wasn’t argumentative or tense, just a great, free dialogue. People asked questions. People listened and wanted to help solve problems. It was a good group.
About Shaw’s past, I learned a lot about the history of the neighborhood from longtime residents, like how the building of my favorite highway (I-44) altered the landscape of the neighborhood and the lives of the people, especially north of the highway in what is no longer part of Shaw. We also discussed what I think was a super shady project to place concrete planters underneath the highway to block streets. I even heard about how women starting to work outside the home changed Shaw. I have always known this was an old neighborhood, but it seemed so abstract. To hear about historical events and how they shaped the lives of real people… it’s mind-boggling—and this is after the last Conversation where I heard about cross burnings in Shaw.
I also met a woman who has lived in the neighborhood for decades and was a friend of Sr. Pat Kelley, who founded the nonprofit where I work. Our office was actually located in Shaw, and that’s where Sr. Pat died. There are lots of weird coincidences and connections between me and Sr. Pat that I won’t digress into here, but it was neat to meet a friend of hers, and also someone who has been a renter—a traditionally marginalized group in Shaw—for over three times as long as I have, who definitely sympathized with my plight of finding affordable rent in the neighborhood.
Then to the present. We talked about VonDerrit. We talked about Salamah’s. We talked about the new community center. We talked about the theft of some bikes by neighborhood kids and what to do about it. Restorative justice. Changes in the racial makeup of the neighborhood from 1970-present. Public schools. South Grand.
And what of the future? People had lots of great ideas. As I said, my time in Shaw may well be coming to an end, who knows. But after nine years here, nine years of often rapidly cycling between love and hate for the neighborhood I call home, I think I’ve finally figured out how I really feel. I love Shaw. I have a great life here. I have an amazing support network of people I can count on in an emergency or just day to day. I have businesses I like to support and feel comfortable in. I feel safe walking the streets. MY experience of Shaw is mostly good.
What I hate about Shaw, is that not everyone has the same experience of Shaw that I do. That idyllic Shaw with the friends, hangouts, and safety is not accessible to everyone who lives near me. Not everyone feels like a part of the community or like this is truly a home for them. That’s the partI want to change. I want everyone in this neighborhood to have the access, opportunity, and privilege I do to enjoy Shaw the way I do. Then, it will be the Shaw of the Future, the one I can truly love with abandon.
One thing I personally took away tonight was a new conviction to stay in Shaw. Several people said really wonderful things to me tonight that made me feel good, wanted, and a part of this community. People offered to keep an eye out and help me find a place, or suggested alternate solutions I hadn’t considered. I feel that this community has offered me a lot, and that I have a lot that I can continue to offer back to it. I don’t want to start from scratch somewhere new, and then face the same problem five to ten years down the road. I want to fight for my home. Wish me luck.
I hope that any of my neighbors who are reading this and haven’t had the opportunity or motivation to attend a Shaw Community Conversation will do so next month. I really think it’s worth it.