NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Saturday November 18th 2017

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Introduction to The Alley’s New Series: STORIES FROM OUR BACK YARD

Inside of the area called the “Backyard”, there are 15,000 households. Inside of each of those homes or apartments are stories waiting to be told. There are stories of kids getting good grades at school, friendly gestures between strangers, overcoming addictions, stories of incredible hope amidst despair.

This month’s story is written by Khusba Seka from the Backyard’s Anchor Family CHAT (Community Health Action Team). She tells us of what her life has been like on her block. 

Tell us YOUR story or a story about a neighbor, your block, or a family member. Stories help heal. Stories have power. They teach us about each other. Email editor@alleynews.org or call 612-990-4022 for support and assistance. 

“I am headed out, do you need anything?”

By Khusaba Seka

When I am asked, “What are Anchor Families?” there are two things that I think of: my sons’ description of our neighborhood and my neighbors who make me feel like I am part of their family.

When asked where they live, my sons have often said “We live by the Cultural Wellness Center, near the bread store, up the street from the blue park, on the block where the dog always barks.” The dog that always barked was Ms. Betty’s “Tidbit”—her very small dog with the very fast loud bark. Now as the kids turn into teenagers, it’s the name of the intersections and the houses’ descriptions that are used. Instead of neighborhood landmarks, I hear “We live off of Lake and Bloomington.” Still every now and again I hear, “I miss Ms. Betty and Tidbit.” Ms. Betty and Tidbit passed away two years ago. She had lived on the block for 30 years. She was one of two Ms. Bettys: Ms. Betty Billington was my son’s Ms. Betty. He would walk with her while she walked her dog and even got to walk the dog without her as he got older. A number of my neighbors have always tried to keep my youngest son busy, knowing that if we didn’t, there would be meltdowns. They wanted to support us how they could. That’s what anchoring families are about: the act of welcoming new neighbors and giving neighbors a send off when they move away. And doing more than just waving. It’s neighboring in the truest sense of the word: taking the time to stop and listen, asking “Why were the police at your house? Are you ok?” Sitting with someone who’s grieving. Acts as simple as acknowledging another person’s birthday and knowing all the names of the kids on your block.

For me, this is also a way of practicing my cultural heritage. It takes a village to raise a child. I have had the village experience and want to give the same experience to everyone I live with on my block.

This May it will be 14 years ago that I bought my house. I was the first homeowner in my family and am the youngest in my whole family to own my home. When I moved into my house, I came with my two children which then grew to be three. I had struggled to get off the system only to find myself needing to be back on and off it again. Many times it felt like my neighbors instinctively knew when I was on again. Maybe it was my van that was sitting idly on the front curb or that there were fewer trips to the bread store for treats? Lo and behold someone would come to the door with a bag or a box or something less obvious like a store bought cake. How could I not want to give this care—this love—back? How could I sit still in shame of being on public assistance or in fear of a group of young people I didn’t know? My bank account might have been empty but my heart wasn’t.

I didn’t want to be a community organizer. I was in the same boat as everyone else. I just wanted to be. I couldn’t sit still and lick my own wounds while others had needs too. Needs like missing their adult children, teenagers running away, spouses with dementia, family members in and out the hospital, sons returning to jail, kids that just couldn’t control their own confusing emotions, foreclosures, traumatic experiences with health care providers, or something as simple as just needing a hug. Since becoming a part of the Anchor Families CHAT I have been reminded of why I became a community organizer/activist in the first place. I just wanted to love on people and feel the reciprocity but a lot of the time what I got was bureaucracy instead. Now working with the Anchoring Families, all the statistics that have and sometime still do describe parts of my life don’t feel like a juxtaposition—they are just a simple byproduct of where our society is. And even when I have to go without or I feel empty or like my family is too fragile to be an Anchor Family, I am gently reminded that I have a lot to give.

Now my daughter and her family of three live across the street from me and on a nice warm day, if the window is open, I can hear my grandson shout my name, “Ye Ye!” with excitement as I pull up to my home. What I have to offer cannot be measured by a paycheck or a timesheet, but it can be seen in the work my daughter does in garden installations, the things my sons say over a microphone when we come together to claim our park as a community. It can be heard as my oldest son flyers the block and gets to introduce himself to a neighbor he wasn’t expecting to be at home, and you can see it a few blocks away in the seniors’ apartment complex when my dad of 76 years knocks on the doors of his neighbors before taking the bus to the store for himself saying, “I am headed out, do you need anything?” With all that, I am ready to receive all that the village has to offer. I am proud to say that I am a part of a system that is in place and growing; that is being passed on, recognized, and is becoming our nature. It is a quiet but strong movement and as you stand with your neighbor and listen, you can feel it.

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