In the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people…to fulfill the promise of being one people, necessary to abolish any government that becomes destructive of these ends, necessary to dissolve the political bans that keep us from speaking to each other, necessary to avow our interdependence, to look straight into each other’s eyes the way we behold the moon, and declare to one another: I see you. I see you. I see you.
(An excerpt from: Declaration of Inter-dependence, Poem by Richard Blanco)
On January 12, 2017, Center Church Hartford, UCC and The First Church in Simsbury, UCC, embarked on an Urban Immersion in the City of Hartford. Together we were in search of Signs of Hope. About Twenty-Five participants from both churches and Charter Oak Cultural Center, boarded a bus, united by the belief that, now more than ever, in the words of Richard Blanco, we needed to “declare to one another: I see you. I see you. I see you.”
Our journey began at the Center Church’s Warburton Resource Center. Our next stop, Imma-Care. There we visited the no-freeze shelter.
We walked two blocks from Imma-Care to the Hartford Public Library, Park Street Branch and we concluded with lunch at Hands on Hartford, followed by a presentation from the Christian Activities Council. It was a comprehensive immersion. We examined homelessness, education and community organizing in the context of the city. All of the organizations visited provide us with opportunities to link these three most important issues.
Our visit to the Park Street Branch of the Hartford Public Library, left many of our participants wondering, Why are the children and the poor so often forgotten? Why in the words of Dr. King, are they made to “quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait?” The Park Street library branch, is not much larger than my minister study at Center Church, yet, it serves over 10,000 residents. It is clean and well organized. However, there is not enough space to have a comprehensive collection. There are no separate areas for the many activities that take place and, evidently, it is too small for the demand of the population it serves–everything happens in one room.We were most impressed, however, by the extraordinary work that the staff is doing. They have managed to, not only be a library, but also a community center. The residents in the Frog Hollow neighborhood visit this library branch, to study, check out books and materials, and to find community–to be in community. I had visited the library prior to the immersion, and was able to observe the commitment of the staff in making sure the children and youth are served appropriately. They are all-hands-on-deck after 2:00pm tutoring when mothers/parents are unable, because of language barriers or academic limitations. They are also attentive to the needs of the adults, guiding them in their, often, new neighborhood, in this foreign land. Wilderness means different things for all of us. Leaving a beautiful island or the country that witnessed our birth–la tierra que nos vio nacer–in an effort to find a better life in an unknown country, in an unfamiliar city, often feels like being lost in the wilderness.
In my mind, Leticia Cotto is one of the most influential people in the City of Hartford. Ms. Cotto is, all day, every day, working to change lives and providing educational opportunities, with very little resources. She attends to the needs of a community that has been disregarded and often forgotten. She provides a space for learning and also belonging.
For over twenty years, the Frog Hollow community has been promised an adequate location for the library. For over twenty years, many reasons have been offered as to why it cannot happen. For over twenty years, a community has been asked to “quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait.” Most recently, we learned that the City of Hartford is moving forward with plans to provide a new space for the library. This time, we are told it will finally happen. Nonetheless, promises have been made before. Plans had been drafted before. I invite you to join me in supporting the Hartford Public Library, Park Street Branch. The education of our children cannot wait. Persistence is in order.
Finally, it is prophetic that one of the murals in the library, has this message: “estamos a la orilla del mundo…trabajemos juntos para sobrevivir.”
“We are at the edge of the world, let us work together to survive.” Certainly, the Frog Hollow community knows first hand what it is to be “en la orilla” at the edge–in the margins. It is time for us to say to them: “I see you. I see you. I see you.”