Last Saturday I participated in a forum called “Inventing the Future – Rebuilding Communities from the Inside Out” organized by We Are BOOST (Building Open Opportunity Structures Together) in Trenton, NJ. As I navigated my way to the event using the GPS system in my new Toyota Camry hybrid, I found a neighborhood “in transition” – some of the old houses and buildings were boarded up, but many were cared for and charming. There was a feeling of hope here.
Once inside Planet Havana, the bar/nightclub hosting the all day event, I found the people who embodied that hope. Many of them had known each other for decades. All of them were committed to collaborating to find new solutions to old problems in their under-served Trenton neighborhood. In addition to hope, there was passion – the meeting began with local children aged 5 through 17 years reading their prize-winning poems on peace. Then each forum participant shared what they were doing and fielded questions.
After listening to the stories, I have to admit that the challenges faced in this community and others like it were not at all familiar to me – prolonged unemployment, crime, violence, prejudice, poor self-image, school water with high lead levels, industrial contamination of residential neighborhoods, and the difficulties of re-entering society after prison. All mind-boggling problems, and yet, my message about the wastefulness of bottled water and the importance of drinking tap water from reusable bottles was recieved with great interest and enthusiasm.
Maybe it was because getting Back2Tap is a simple concrete step that anyone can take toward a more sustainable lifestyle. Maybe it was because people who have been exposed to environmental contamination have a greater appreciation for the limitations of our planet and its vulnerability. Maybe it was because having less discretionary income motivates people to be less wasteful. Maybe it was because there is a mindfulness here that is far too uncommon. Maybe it was because of their unflagging hope for better days ahead.
At the end of the forum, over half of the crowd came up to take a brochure and express an interest in running a Back2Tap fundraising campaign with their particular organization or group. As I left, two of my beautiful new-found sisters Amini and Sa Mut gave me warm hugs that I won’t soon forget. As soon as I got back into my car and started for home, I discovered that Planet Havana is less than two blocks from a penitentiary surrounded by towering stone walls topped with huge bales of barbed wire that must serve as a constant reminder of how wrong things can go.
My new hope is that Back2Tap will be able to help these dynamic community organizers raise money, save money, and spread sustainability in their under-served community.