Variety Helps Build Balance
National Public Radio was doing an article on gangs. Nothing generated by insidious activity in the news. It wasn’t even about the black community. It was about West Side Story, the classic gang warfare musical about the Jets and the Sharks featuring choreographed rumbles. The setting is late fifties New York City and the ethnic clash of cultures is between the white New Yorkers Anglos and immigrant Puerto Ricans. A new version of the play was being released. And in an attempt to assure authenticity of the half decade old story, an actual former member of a gang was consulted for his opinion.
Forgive me but the details are sketchy and I’m not about to double and triple guess my memory. The article aired weeks ago and it had all but faded from memory until I heard Stephen Corbert of the Corbert Report on the Comedy Channel make the claim that Supreme Court nomine Sonia Sotomayor, who was born in the Bronx, may have been a Shark. If she was a gang member, she was in diapers.
The former gang member wanted to clear up a big misconception about gangs. I know when I watched the television version of West Side Story featuring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno, I thought that gangs were about nothing but violence and it was virtually guaranteed that the members were sociopaths bent on chaos and trouble. But not everyone in a gang is about that. There are gang members who would not hesitate to resort to violence. But there are other members who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Also, I have to admit that I thought that the more empathetic members would be disrespected by the less sympathetic members. Even gangs understand the concept that it takes a variety of talent to make a community. At least the gangs back in his day had balance. Gangs now seem to be out of balance with members who only think of violence. But then again, I’m not in a gang and I’m only basing my opinion on observations. Kind of like what I did back in the day watching West Side Story for the first time.
I was reminded of the concept of variety at work. I work in an environment where all of my coworkers have medical services background in a patient care setting. My work experience is primarily in the petro chemical field and my specialty is database development and maintenance. Everyone on my team understands and interprets healthcare lingo like ducks understand water. I’m the only on the team who hears this gibberish as gibberish. They start talking and all I can think of are those computer monitors from the Matrix with the ghostly green characters that fall along the screen. The people readily admit that I was hired for my computer development skills. The fact that I don’t know medical terms has been a hindrance to my ability to get the job done. In many respects I feel inept when things go awry and information systems have to be reinstated as soon as possible.
However, my supervisor assured me that despite my lack of medical knowledge I was indeed a valued member of the team. I look at data and know exactly how to coax information out of our various database applications. I can write processes to mine through data dumps and summarize information in an hour while others might take as long as three days. I may not be on the frontline tackling problems that come to our team. But when somebody is analyzing information and they need a quick application to help them figure out what’s going on, my value to my team becomes crystal clear.
All of this reminds me of the need for complete balance in our community settings whether it is a gang trying to protect its turf from another gang or a job trying to protect its turf better known as market share. But one community that consistently suffers from not being able to retain a variety of members and talents and is constantly out of balance is the traditionally black neighborhood where people who are able to do better and make something of their life are expected to abandon their surroundings at their first opportunity.
If you were to look at my urban black neighborhood the last thing you would think of is professional people as part of this community. We have a tendency to think that the standard behavior of people in this area is one of hopelessness or helplessness or downright nastiness and so many of us will pull up steaks in search of greener pastures. That’s easy enough to do. It takes real work to roll up the sleeves and make a stand as part of the traditional black neighborhood. Schools are crumbling and churches are drying up while liquor stores are popping up like a rampant virus and vacancies abound. Balance has been thrown out the window and what is left is skewed so heavily into the negative that this black neighborhood’s survival is questionable.
Eventually, more people will recognize the fact that there is a ton of raw opportunity here. People looking for urban homesteads will come into this neighborhood, buy houses and buildings and land for pennies compared to property in other areas, and will transform the place. Eventually, more people will come to understand their role in restoring a neighborhood community. It takes all types to keep a community going.