Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stuck in Good Friday, waiting on Easter, Singing Alleluias Anyway

There is much that will be happening at the community center and in our projects, reopening the center, working on community health projects, on the food pantry, on the computer center, on our monthly diversity movie night, on Easter gatherings, on the community association meeting this Tuesday at 7 pm at OBrien Park Recreation Center, on the new monthly neighborhood safety group meetings at our Center on the last Thursdays of the month at 6:30 pm, about mission trips with people from out of state coming in to work with us and our partners, and on our many beautification projects around the area at OBrien Park and the trail and of course the big news that you will be reading about soon in the Tulsa World about our national efforts to bring a 40 tree fruit orchard to our developing community park on North Johnstown at a time when so many parks and community centers are being closed by public officials. To help us win the orchard go vote for us at www.communitiestakeroot.com/Plant/Index/. Go to list of states scroll to Oklahoma and we are the only place in the state in the running for the orchard. We were in or close to fifth place out of 120 communities when I checked recently. You can vote everyday.

But, As I write this its only a few hours away from Easter morning, and here we seem stuck in Good Friday. This past week we found out that the Post Office is making plans to close our 74126 zip code postal office in all likelihood, and of course the shock and outrage continues over the unexplained decision still by authorities on closing Cherokee School and now Alcott School in our service area. Both by the way are sites where community members have been active especially in trying to make inroads on community gardening and outdoor classrooms to help bring back foundational skills to combat our continued lowest life expectancy difference in the Tulsa area, to give skills that will help families take care of their food needs without reliance on the powers to be to invest in our area, to take care of their health needs without resorting first to emergency rooms in other parts of the town or to rely on primary care clinics that come and go.

We have been expecting the post office decision for some time and have been collecting signatures on petitions; this will need to increase. They are going to meet with residents here on Thursday May 5 noon to 2 pm. The government is wanting to close a post office in the part of town where people have the fewest resources to get four miles to the nearest post office, where cars are few and reliable cars are few, and where there is a high percentage of those older or those who can't afford computers and email though they are the ones being punished as the postal system bears the effects of increased email and social networking media. Change happens, but the cost saving should be born by the people who live in areas where they can afford to drive to a different post office, and where they have alternatives such as fedex and ups for many of their postal needs; in the 74126 we have none of that. They have been as well neglecting the post office here, cutting back hours and service, and not promoting it with signage, and now taking action they say because of low volume.

The harder shock of abandonment comes with the plan to close Cherokee which seems to have been decided in a room with a few officials from the outset who do not appear to want to say why it was decided. Or Alcott which was not on the initial plan to be closed, while Whitman like Cherokee was on all three plans to be closed but remains open. All the criteria that was said to be used in the decision do not point to closing Cherokee while keeping others nearby open who have criteria which do not meet the goals as much. The result is a plan that will group together within a half mile three elementary schools at Houston Gilcrease and Greeley while closing Cherokee; the same is true for putting two elementary schools next to each other at Penn and Monroe while closing Cherokee. There is much good in the overall plan, though the process has seemed forced and the overall fact that not a single public school administrator has been able from the time the plan was first rolled out to this weekend to tell the parents and staff and community representatives and partners in education here why it has been chosen to be closed; that is the worst offense. Justify it. Be honest about it. Open up a dialogue about the issues of race and politics and class and location and property and history that go beyond the measurement criteria facts; it is the only way that communities will heal and grow, and without communities of diversity and transparency this area will not be repaired and the emptying out will continue.

Our plan was to work toward creating an elementary school of intentional ethnic diversity and ecological diversity that we had at Cherokee and help build back the link between our area of far northside with McLain. We were willing to have a change in school leadership to help make this kind of "Anytown" magnet elementary school happen. It was a plan backed by three state legislators who represent our areas. Cherokee was already accepted into the TPS Community School program process; what is envisioned for Gilcrease could easily have been started at Cherokee since Gilcrease as a middle school was phased out; Cherokee PK to 6 with one transition going to McLain 7-12 would have helped to create the kind of natural far northside integrated schools that I experienced in my time at Cherokee, Monroe,and McLain.

At least with full disclosure Cherokee's families, used to the ethnic diversity here which attracted them in the past few years to come or remain here, may want to move to one of the schools staying open; without it, I am afraid they will send their children elsewhere; and the continuing destruction of the social infrastructure that keeps neighborhoods together will continue to unravel even as we have been working to build back those ties.

I am not objective about community renewal and the place of public education; I live in the Greeley school district, my wife and I met in kindergarden at Cherokee, we have been partners in education, and I have helped found and fund the new Mclain Foundation. I like so much about the new plan, but I am concerned that it will continue to lead to the abandonment of our area in the Cherokee school boundaries that cover both the incorporated sections of Tulsa and the unincorporated urban areas in the county. And I know this for sure: when one area, be it in city limits or not, is neglected and turned away from and left to those who would come in and exploit it, it will not stay contained in this one area; what happens in the 74126 affects all of Tulsa area.

But mostly I want someone to be honest about the decision, and to come to the school and talk about it with the people here who have given so much to turning around this school and to getting community partners. Our community foundation alone has put in more than a thousand dollars of actual gardening to create a healthy food environment and to beautify the grounds to give the children and others a lift in spirit as they come to study and to make it a place of brightness in the midst of blight. As we put together our proactive plan we were told by school officials not to present it in public at the forums but let it be considered by the school project team. Now, in the grief, people mostly want answers and they want presence. That is why I call this a Good Friday continuing movement. So many have fled; so many will want to flee now whose talents and presence we need.

Let us see what shape the area around here is in and how many families are here and how much abandonment vandalism crime despair continues without any investment here. Who will track what happens to the children at Cherokee and where they go, and what happens when you close one of the schools if not the school with the most ethnic balance coming from the area itself and not from people who live elsewhere sending their kids to school. Let us see what happens to the school building itself that houses not only all the gardens but also the historical displays and the grounds have the Memorial Arch from the school here that was built in 1920.

I was once a hospice chaplain. I know what a theology of presence is and how much it means to help people make the movement from times of loss and scarcity to times of looking forward and drawing closer together. I am not seeing any of that yet.

Sometimes Easter Alleluia's do not come on time; and yet we gather together and we sing them each year, even this year, and we tell the old old story, and we wait for Easter, and for the tomb to be what empties out. And that is the best that we can do, and together it is enough....


For my more uplifting Easter message and interpretation of the story go to the link below where I have posted one of my recent reflections for the season, which I will remind all, just begins tomorrow morning. Easter begins but does not end tomorrow; the Season has just begun, and there are resurrection appearances to come....
http://progressivechurchplanting.blogspot.com/2011/04/dont-cling-to-me-easter-immersion-in.html

blessings, Ron Robinson
The Welcome Table Center and A Third Place Community Foundation
5920 N. Owasso Ave.

1 comment:

Niharika said...

Postcode is the postcode of the United States Postal Service. US zip codes for Zone Development Plan. zip basic 5-digit ZIP again extended four to five digits after the zip code - and the four digits.