I am a white woman living in a very culturally diverse neighborhood in Waite Park. Some people make very disparaging remarks about my neighborhood. It’s called a ghetto, the refugee camp, and a gang-infested danger zone. It makes me sad. This is not how I describe my neighborhood and I don’t think most of my neighbors would either.
People ask me: How can you feel safe living where you live? How can you be comfortable going out and walking around in the darkening evening hours? The answer is so simple, I sometimes have a hard time understanding why other people don’t get it. I know my neighbors. I make a point to say hello to each of them and create small talk about the weather, the day, the neighborhood. Those small conversations lead to bigger ones. I know the countries they’ve moved here from. I know their kids. I know some of their heartbreaking stories of how they got to St. Cloud. And by knowing my neighbors, I know that even if they don’t know my language well, they’ve got my back. They’ll help me carry packages up to my door. They’ll inform me when the tow truck is ready to tow my car away. They’ll watch after my dog when she gets loose even though their faith doesn’t allow them to touch her.
How did I make these first steps toward getting to know my neighbors? Am I super outgoing? Anyone who has read much of what I write, knows that the answer to that is a resounding NO. I am an introvert that oftentimes dreads small talk. Ugh. What do I say? Will I be awkward? Will they think I’m weird and try to avoid me from now on?
But it’s been laid upon my heart that if I want to love where I live and if I want to love my neighbors, I have to be willing to often take those first steps of getting to know them. I have to be ok with smiles sometimes not being returned, or confused looks by individuals who are not familiar with my language and thus confused about my ramblings about the beautiful cumulous clouds in the sky today. I have learned that eventually these small steps lead to smiles each time we pass and neighbors pointing to the clouds and smiling at me, saying they know I like clouds and now they’re noticing them as well. It’s lead to neighbors coming up to me months later and saying (in English!) “Hi! How are you? Do you remember me? I know English now!”
No matter where you live in the area, I highly recommend you get to #knowyourneighbor. It may be new to you, but it’s actually more old school than you know. It’s sitting-on-your-porch type of philosophy. It’s recognizing the faces around you and letting them, you know, recognize you. It’s eye-contact, not ground-contact. And it’s life and neighborhood changing!