Belonging Revolution: Oct 21, 2018 with Guest Steve Johnson

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Each week Dan Benavidez and Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler invite a guest to join them on their Belonging Revolution Walk. This week the duo were joined by Steve Johnson, who is a retired teacher and community volunteer.

The Belonging Revolution is a program that began about 4 years ago when Butler and Benavidez decided they wanted to connect with the community. Since then, the two have walked in neighborhoods across Longmont letting people know that they belong, no matter who they are, where they are from or where they live. Since neither Butler nor Benavidez knock on doors, the cooler weather forces them to fair-weather walkers.

The following are the accounts of Benavidez, Butler and Johnson, expressing their thoughts and opinions on their recent Belonging Revolution walk.

Dan’s Perception

Walk 10-21-2013

Last week Chief Mike Butler checked the weather for Sunday Oct 21st and called me. “Dan the weather is going to be good and warm so let’s do our neighborhood walk. I will meet you at the corner of 6th and Lashley (which we had walked in before). Dan this is the neighborhood that had a tragic event occur not too long ago.” And I met the chief and our walking companion Steve Johnson at the corner of 6th and Lashley. And was it ever so warm and so very calm and so nice.

And oh, my, how undeniably good I felt after our visit to the Spanish speaking Vida Nueva Spanish Assembly of God Church on 6th Avenue. The pastor invited Mike to speak to the 100% Spanish speaking congregation and how cool it was when a lady in the congregation interpreted for Mike and I observed the smiles on their faces when Mike assured them that they “BELONGED” in Longmont, that the Police and Fire Department were there to serve them.

And it was so very pleasant meeting sharing and talking with the retired police officer, and how totally splendid it was talking to the 3 little girls about 6 to 9 years of age. And I pointed to them and said, “Stay in school and graduate as you are going to be the President of the United States”, and the youngest of them replied “I am going to be a police woman,” and her sister said “I am going to be a Fire Department woman.” Wow, how cool yes totally cool that was. Ahh, another great Sunday in a beautiful Longmont “Hood”!

Chief Mike Butler you da man, going on 5 years practically every Sunday making these great Longmont Neighborhood visits!! You da man for starting a “Belonging Revolution”.

And thank you, Steven Johnson, for accompanying us on our walk.

Thank you

Dan Benavidez

Mike’s Perspective

Dan and I have walked close to 190 neighborhoods and have spoken with close to 3,000 people. In each walk, we hear amazing stories of people’s lives, about the creation of an idea from one person that brought life to a neighborhood, and often about the source of goodness in our neighborhoods. We sometimes hear about divine powers that watch over neighborhoods, or stories of talents, generosity and gifts.

A neighborhood can be built by the stories we tell and what we choose to talk about – the narrative. Storytelling helps neighborhoods become strong when people link their stories to their gifts. You want to know our story? Let us tell you about how six of us came together to build that shelter in the park. Or about how a neighbor who seemed distant relented to the kindness of others and who softened as we got to know them. These stories are the beginnings of myths that memorialize and keep us reminded of the epic nature of our journey together.

Inviting stories into our midst is the single biggest community-building thing we can do, especially when the stories we tell are stories of our gifts, the goodness of others and what worked out.

The stories about our gifts, our kindness, our generosity, our trust, our forgiveness define us and give us meaning – this is where an authentic sense of the identity of our neighborhoods comes from.

The community we have discovered in our Belonging Revolution walks has at its very center two sources of power. The first is that EVERY person has gifts to offer. The second is that people are hungry to share their gifts with the rest of us. Dan and I have talked with thousands of people and we know that for every story told about the one thing that doesn’t go well, there are a thousand things that do go well.

As long as the story is about the one that doesn’t go well, our stories are really fictional in nature. The decisions to tell stories about the one over and over again as if they were defining truths limits our possibility of creating a desired future. Healthy communities, neighborhoods, and people acknowledge the thousand things that go well rather than dwell on the one that doesn’t. The willingness to tell the stories of the thousand is where healing begins and where possibilities about a new future reside.

And while the media can seemingly control the narrative of a community by listing all of the reasons why we should be afraid or by exploiting our fears, we would encourage everyone to walk neighborhoods in your community and talk to those who reside there. What you will find is that there is a ‘WELCOME’ sign at the edge of every neighborhood and that stories you will hear will help you realize that we do live in communities and neighborhoods that are alive and good and safe!

Attached is an article regarding the possibilities of neighborhoods.

The Neighborhood Is the Unit of Change

No, starfish are not saved one by one.

By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

  • Oct. 18, 2018
  • Inline image

Thinking in neighborhood terms means radical transformation in how change is done. Credit Martha Irvine/Associated Press

You’ve probably heard the starfish story. There’s a boy on the beach who finds thousands of starfish washed ashore, dying. He picks one up and throws it back into the ocean. A passer-by asks him what’s the point of that. All these thousands of other starfish are still going to die. “Well,” the boy responds, “I saved that one.”

Many of our social programs are based on that theory of social change. We try to save people one at a time. We pick a promising kid in a neighborhood and give her a scholarship. Social programs and philanthropic efforts cream skim in a thousand ways. Or they mentor one at a time, assuming that the individual is the most important unit of social change.

Obviously it’s possible to do good that way. But you’re not really changing the structures and systems that shape lives. Maybe the pool story is a better metaphor than the starfish story. As a friend of mine puts it, you can’t clean only the part of the pool you’re swimming in.

It could be that the neighborhood, not the individual, is the essential unit of social change. If you’re trying to improve lives, maybe you have to think about changing many elements of a single neighborhood, in a systematic way, at a steady pace.

One of the signature facts of the internet age is that distance is not dead. Place matters as much as ever, and much more than we ever knew.

The typical American adult lives 18 miles from his or her mother. The typical college student enrolls in a college 13 miles from home. A study of Facebook friends nationwide found that 63 percent of the people we friend live within 100 miles. Americans move less these days, not more.

Work by the economist Raj Chetty and others shows that children who grow up in one neighborhood can have drastically different life outcomes than people who grow up in demographically similar neighborhoods nearby. Just take two findings to illustrate a rash of them:

On April 1, 2010, 44 percent of low-income black men from the Watts neighborhood of central Los Angeles were incarcerated. But just 6.2 percent of the men who grew up with similar incomes in central Compton were incarcerated on that day.

Central Compton is 2.3 miles from Watts.

Low-income children who moved at birth from the low upward-mobility area of Seattle’s Central District to the high upward-mobility area of Shoreline earned, at age 35, $9,000 a year more than those who had made this move in their 20s.

Shoreline is 10 miles from the Central District.

In a classic study, the sociologist Eric Klinenberg showed just how important neighborhood is in determining who survives in a crisis. Klinenberg compared deaths in two Chicago neighborhoods during a heat wave in 1995. More than six times as many people died in North Lawndale as in South Lawndale, even though the two places are demographically comparable.

The fact is that human behavior happens in contagious, networked ways. Suicide, obesity and decreasing social mobility spread as contagions.

When you think in neighborhood terms rather than in individual terms you see things previously rendered invisible. For example, Klinenberg found that fewer people died in South Lawndale in great part because there was more social connection there. Klinenberg’s new book, “Palaces for the People,” emphasizes the importance of “social infrastructure,” physical places like libraries where people can gather. What do libraries have to do with deaths in a heat wave? It turns out quite a lot. Libraries nurture relationships among people who check in on one another when crises hit.

Some people say that we have to promote both kinds of change, individual and neighborhood. Of course that’s true, but it’s also what people say when they don’t know how to think in geographic terms and don’t know how to adjust their work to neighborhood realities.

Thinking in neighborhood terms requires a radical realignment in how you see power structures. Does the neighborhood control its own networks of care, or are there service providers coming down from above? Do the local norms of interaction need to be changed? For example, do people feel it’s normal to knock on a neighbor’s door and visit, or would that be considered a dangerous invasion of privacy? Are there forums where the neighborhood can tell its collective story?

Thinking in neighborhood terms means radical transformation in how change is done. It means escaping the tyranny of randomized controlled experiments in which one donor funds one program that tries to isolate one leverage point to have “impact.”

It means adjusting the structures of the state so that the neighborhood is an important structure of self-government, rather than imposing blanket programs willy-nilly across neighborhood lines.

Steve Johnson

Retired Teacher

Community Volunteer

My introduction to walking the Longmont neighborhoods began at our local farmers’ market. I saw Chief Mike Butler and walked over to say hello. He introduced me to Dan Benavidez who immediately invited me to join them on a Sunday walk. I have been volunteering for the Police and Fire Divisions for over a year. I moved to Longmont three years ago and wanted to connect with my new hometown. I have spent many hours driving in volunteer police vehicles, being part of an eyes and ears program. In the Fire Division, I have been at open houses and participated in smoke alarm projects. I thought I had a pretty good feel for the city. I was wrong. There is nothing that matches the experience of being on the sidewalk talking face to face.

If I had been by myself or with a different type of group I don’t think we would have had the level of access to people that we experience with the Chief. Our first contact was at Vida Nueva Spanish Assembly of God. The service had begun at 10:00 we walked in at 10:08 and watched from the back of the church. About five minutes in, Dan quietly asked if the Chief might talk with the group. We did not have an appointment. I was way out of my comfort zone. The word “jefe” was repeated on both sides of a conversation that my very limited Spanish would not allow me to take part in. That in itself is a humbling experience. When you put yourself in the position of being the outsider, trying to understand what is going on, it is a powerful lesson.

 This group was very gracious and listened to the messages that Mike would deliver throughout our walk. He expressed that we are all part of this community. That they are encouraged to seek help from the police, fire, and any of the city services they might need. He wants them to feel safe in their community. At the close we had a group picture and I found myself wanting to stay and listen to the music, so different from the church of my youth.

We sauntered across the street to a park and talked with dog walkers and bicyclists. The questions were the same the listening focused. Business cards were passed, and emails exchanged. Then up and down streets stopping to speak to a father and son having a beer in the warm sun. Three children shared their Nerf Gun game and brought their mom out for a visit. We talked with a couple fixing a SUV and the introduction of the Chief opened the door to each conversation. We were not met with fear or concern. We experienced warmth and openness.

 I look forward to my next walk. Being with the Chief and Dan opens the door to the type of interconnected community that I want Longmont to become.


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