By Aswad Walker
We live at a time when countless forces are pushing us away from community and into our own separate, individual worlds.
Not too many moons ago, families actually watched TV or movies together. And when we all got in the car, there was one song playing, usually the driver’s choice. And since the driver was most often a parent, their musical tastes ruled for years. Not only that, the only music we had access to was whatever the radio station played at any given moment unless your parents’ ride had an 8track tape player. Still, the grown-ups laid down the musical playlist. One of the cool ramifications of our parents’ tyrannical control of the music was the fact that we got exposed to songs from generations (older and wiser) than our own.
And dinner was a one-size-fits-all affair. There was no complaining or demanding something else if the evening’s meal was not to your liking. It was either eat or stay hungry. And most times, everyone in the home ate at the same time and literally at the same table.
And shopping was a family affair. And though you often entered stores filled with folk you didn’t know, some of the owners and workers in those frequently frequented spots felt like extended family. And every now and then, you’d run into neighbors and friends, whether at the grocery store or Montgomery Wards or wherever.
Disconnected From Community
But literally, everything about our modern tech is moving us further and further away from those moments and further away from each other.
Tell me I’m lyin’.
Your kids get in the car, and they each are jamming their own tunes, not receiving the enlightenment of your back-in-the-day jams. Everyone in the house has their own favorite “shows.” Sitting down together to watch something is a rarity. And as kids get older, they will order their own dinner in a minute.
And those family shopping excursions… they’re an endangered species. Hell, darn near, everyone is doing whatever shopping from the comfort of their own homes, rarely venturing outside to even have a chance of running into friends.
And how many people do you know who don’t know any of their neighbors? I still know all the neighbors we had growing up, and I haven’t lived on Krause Dr. in Briargate in over 30 years.
All these forces, these conveniences, though nice, are pushing us away from one of the most important things in the world, especially for Black people – community.
The word “Ubuntu” basically means “I am because we are and because we are, therefore I am.” A similar phrase states, “We can do more together than we can apart.” One African proverb puts it this way: “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” And the African wisdom imparted in scripture states, “Where two or more are gathered…” You know the rest.
Speaking of scripture. One of the most African of all texts is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother Abel. God strolls in and asks Cain, “Yo, where Abel at?” “Don’t know, playa. Am I my brother’s keeper,” replies Cain. “Yeah, fool. In fact, I already know what’cho did. And because you went all the way “lef” on your own brother, you ain’t got to go home, but you got to get the hell outta here.”
Yes, God banished Cain. But that’s not the super Black part. That part is Cain’s response. And if you don’t remember it, text me your pastor’s name and number. Anyway, Cain tells the Alpha and Omega, “I would rather that you killed me. This punishment is more than I can bear.”
See, for African people, separation from community, from your family, from your people was considered a fate worse than death.
We’re Created for Connection
We were literally created for connection and community. None of us would have learned to walk or talk or anything else had we not been surrounded by people, by the community, as we grew. And contrary to what this backward society would have you believe, just because you’ve gotten older doesn’t mean you need community and connection any less. “I need you, you need me, we need each other” is a phrase my good brother Deloyd Parker is fond of sharing. And it applies regardless of age.
Babies who lack human touch and connection are cheated out of full and necessary mind/body/spirit development. Hospital patients who receive consistent visitors heal faster, are discharged sooner and have a higher survival/recovery rate than those who receive no visitors. The same is true for elders in senior care facilities. At every point in our lives, we need community and connection.
So, as today’s powers and principalities are conceiving of new ways to move us further and further apart and into our own separate and individual silos, we would do well to look for ways to reconnect with and resurrect community.
Ways to Resurrect Community
Join a social organization or civil club. Volunteer at a local community center. Sign up for lifelong learning classes. Join the “Y” and find a group doing the things you like to do. Invest yourself in your faith institution. That means don’t just attend service; join a ministry or some other group. Choose to get out of the house and do your shopping, if not every time, at least some times. Support a Black business not only with your dollars but with your physical presence. Find a book club, and participate. Even if it’s virtual, seeing other faces and interacting (yes, you have to turn on your damn camera), will do wonders for you. Better yet, find a book club that meets face-to-face.
There are countless other ways to revive community. Find the one or ones that work best for you, and get busy. And every now and again, challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and take it a step further. Place yourself in a social setting you’re not used to. You never know; you may find the community that you never knew you needed. But do something, and then encourage folk in your network to do something too… to revive community.
Because it’s good for you. Because it’s essential. Because we can do more together than we can apart. Because I need you, you need me, we need each other. And remember, the world can only change when we each change for the better. And community makes each of us better.