Since we moved back to Greenville a year ago (and especially since we now live downtown), I’ve learned a few things about our city:
Greenville does a great job “hiding” its problems (such as poverty).
And (as a result of this),
It’s easier to raise money and awareness for places like Allendale than it is for Greenville.
Now, both of these observations are vast generalizations. Most of us in Greenville are aware of real problems and needs in our community. And we have had lots of supporters for our ministry in Greenville.
But when most people think of Greenville, they think of all the Top 10 lists that our city finds itself on, for food, raising a family, and more. And we are so confident in our superiority that we boast of our hashtag #yeahTHATGreenville.
Still, if you hang around long enough and open your eyes and hear, you’ll see the unseen Greenville.
At a much-publicized event, to an over-crowded room (and two standing-room-only overflow rooms), seven leaders in Greenville stood on stage to tell stories about “unseen Greenville.”
What is unseen Greenville? It’s the parts of Greenville that don’t make the “Best Places” lists. It’s the communities of Greenville that live within a half-mile of Falls Park and the Peace Center, but whose residents (some of my neighbors included) have never visited. It’s some of the oldest neighborhoods in Greenville, where life-long residents can no longer afford the property taxes because of developers building quarter- or half-million dollar houses nearby.
And, most of all, it’s about people who feel that they have no voice, no power, and no hope to change anything.
If you don’t like negativity and cynicism, skip this section. It’s ok. If you read this, you’ll be (rightly?) mad at me.
Still here? You’ve been warned.
I felt like most of this event was a big “rah rah” session. Lots of feel good talk and catchy phrases and buzzwords and big thoughts. Most people who talked (including those in the public comments part) seemed to be promoting their own agendas and organizations, however worthy they may be.
Additionally, it struck me that for one of the few questions asked by the public (about Title I funding for schools), no panelist had an answer to the question, despite the fact that at least three of them should are directly or indirectly involved with our education system. (Not to brag, but a colleague and I each knew the answer.)
But, as the event organizers explained, Unseen Greenville is intended to be a start of a bigger, year-long conversation. If this is the beginning, and they make significant atypical decisions (as Father Patrick Tuttle explained) a year from now, that’s good. But if we keep having “big thoughts” with incremental and safe changes, then we are wasting our time.
Still, there were some notable bright spots in the event, which give me hope for real change. First, Father Patrick (of St. Anthony’s) seemed to me to have the most knowledge about the widest variety of issues. And he unabashedly called out leaders, especially those involved in housing and development, and while also providing a couple of real solutions.
Mary Duckett, a community leader in the Southernside Neighborhood asked the probing question, “What are we going to do about the people who have no hope?” The issue of hope is big to me, because if solving poverty and injustice was a mere physical issue, we would have it licked.
This is where the church comes in. Only the church carries a message of real hope. That is why we need to be involved in meeting physical needs in our community. When we seek to love our neighbor and bless our city, we earn the right to be heard.
How? Because: Good deeds lead to good will, which leads to Good News.
In a sense, we all are hopeless. We all are impoverished (spiritually, if not physically). We all need the hope that can be found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we the church need to be bringing that message to the culture.
Finally, Rhonda Rawling (Summit Media) was genuine and honest about her life situation. And she challenged community leaders who have generally focused their money-making events on those who can afford it. She said, “When we plan an event, we need to think about how to include all members of the community.” In elaborating on the word inclusive, she explains that we need to be intentional and to cast a wide net.
Earlier in the evening, Ms. Duckett spoke on the same issue, saying, “One of the things we need to do is connect the people back together.” I see that around me. I live in a zip code (affectionately know as The ’05) which includes some of the wealthiest and poorest people in the city. And for the most part, those culture groups never cross paths, much less come together.
Love Our City, Love Our Neighbors
Don’t get me wrong. . . I love Greenville. I moved here 21 years ago, as an incoming freshman at Furman University, and have lived here ever since (minus 10 weeks after my freshman year, and 42 months in Allendale). Downtown Greenville has changed immensely, and significantly for the better.
But it doesn’t mean that things are perfect. We have our problems, and I know you’d agree.
But we also have the resources to address these problems. We can meet real needs of unseen Greenville, such as transportation, housing, and education.
But Ms. Rawling and Ms. Duckett hit on the core issues of community and intentionality. If we the well-resourced members of Greenville, and we the body of Christ, would think, “How can I best love my neighbor? How can I be intentional in my local community?” that would automatically lead us to tackle all the underlying issues.
If we would take atypical actions, the changes in unseen Greenville would be unheard of.