Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2001 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Lessons about terror from the 'hood -- AS America struggles to adjust to a new era of terrorism, I turned for advice to some voices of experience.

They are unfortunately easy to find.

In a country where one in six children still live in poverty, despite some gains in the prosperous 1990s, many families have learned to live with the terror that the entire country is beginning to share.

In neighborhoods where parents routinely fear for themselves and their children as they go about their daily lives, the "new normalcy," as Vice President Cheney called it, is not much different from the old normalcy.

Kerron Weston knows. In 1993, the Washington woman's 28-year-old brother, Gary, was shot to death in a quarrel in a District of Columbia alley.

Six months later, she, too, was shot. She was hit in the neck by a bullet from a shootout near the Environmental Protection Agency office where she works as a program analyst.

The bullet barely missed a major blood vessel, but she dismisses the suggestion that she was lucky to be alive.

"Luck is for people who believe in the lottery and scratch tickets," she told me. "I don't believe in luck. I believe in G-d!"

A few months later, in 1994, her faith was tested further when her nephew, Leroy, was shot and killed for a jacket he was wearing. How does she cope?

"Tragedy helped draw our family that much closer," she said. "We try to help each other understand what love and life is about, control our anger and figure out what to do with it. "

She "threw" herself into community work. She volunteered to counsel other survivors of violence at a community service center at Hunter Pines, a local subsidized Section 8 low-income apartment development.

She also helped organize Survivors of Homicide Inc. to help members through their grief.

"The community work I do came out of that experience of teaching the value of life, of conflict reaction and of not reacting with violence to every negative word," she said. "That's kind of what I do to try to heal."

Her story echoes three themes I have heard repeatedly from those who have experienced neighborhood violence: faith, family and community.

"Make the best of a bad situation," said Tyrone Parker, who helped organize the Alliance of Concerned Men in Washington after his son was shot to death in 1991. Six years later, the organization mediated a truce in a war between two gangs in the District's Benning Terrace housing development that had claimed nine lives and terrorized the neighborhood.

Acting as mentors, the alliance members, some of whom were reformed ex-offenders, helped some youths quit the gangs, find jobs and reduce the development's homicide rate to zero in 1999.

"Americans should be encouraged by the stories of those who have had troubles, yet still march on," Parker said.

Yes, they should. Since Sept. 11 the entire country has begun to learn a little more what that terror feels like. Terror attacks and anthrax scares have made the future feel less certain, more fragile, more threatening.

In neighborhoods where violence is not new, residents turn to whatever resources they have at hand, beginning with family, friends, churches and other neighborhood networks.

"Ground zero is happening every day for the grassroots people we work with in violent neighborhoods," said Robert Woodson, head of the Washington-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which helps neighborhood-based community groups. "Every day is their version of Afghanistan."

"They have a choice," he said. "They either become apathetic or they organize and they reach out to help save their community and themselves."

That pretty well describes the task that lies before us Americans today. Many Americans have made a habit of avoiding neighborhoods that have been plagued by crime and violence. But they may have a lot to teach us.

Today we Americans are faced with outsiders who want to kill us for no other reason than the fact that we are Americans. The world has become a dangerous neighborhood. We can't run away from it. We can only try to improve it - with faith, family and sense of community that tries to embrace all of us.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks

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