Yesterday I was the unwilling witness, through the closed office window at the Center, to an incident of ethnically inspired bullying. At first, I didn't understand what was going on when I heard the muffled voices. A black college student was walking past toward the village - which is not an unusual sight. I could only see him, so I was confused to hear voices. Then I saw him turn around, facing the house next door, gesture to himself, say something, shrug, shake his head, and proceed to walk backward a bit, still shaking his head, before turning around to continue his trek down the street.
It was only after he was past our property that I realized what I had heard. At the moment that it hit me, I was absolutely rip-roaring, madly furious. Fortunately, I stopped for a moment to consider the fallout before instinctively running out to confront the person on the neighboring porch.
DRC is a haven for children. The building is empty for days on end (especially now, during the pandemic). Those two facts were enough to stop me from standing up against bigotry and hate speech in our neighborhood.
I could not stop thinking about it, though - driving to the grocery store and then home. The same thoughts kept circling my head - these unfortunate SUNY Canton students have to run that gauntlet every damn time they have to walk to the store or work. How many times do they have to listen to that bullshit in a given day? What does that do to their psyche? And, what does that say about our village and the North Country, in general?
I grew up here - So, yes, I know this is nothing new. But, between the confederate flags flying high (the hypocrisy astounds) from the coal-rolling, "big ass" pickup trucks covered with offensive stickers, the racial slur laced epitaphs spray painted and chalked throughout the NoCo, and everything in between (social media comments), this is an entirely different level of hate. I won't even touch the PR coming out of the local law enforcement agencies in response to police reforms. If you would like to read some of the garbage, this is a recent report about the Malone Police from NCPR.
So the question circling my mind last evening is: what can I (we) do, without endangering DRC or our students, to help the BIOPIC, and other people at risk, who have no option but to walk by that one house every time they need to go to town? I understand that in the grand scheme of things - this is infinitesimal. However, is there a way we can make their lives just a little bit better? Is there something we can do to put a smile on their face (and heart) and let them know we appreciate them and they are welcome here? I also want them (and the perpetrators) to understand that we will not tolerate bullying or hate speech in our front yard (or, our community).
Then I had an idea - which is related to another incident from last December. Bear with me through the background story:
Last spring, the front yard became a huge mud hole that trapped two vehicles at different times. One required a tow truck. I decided to install a pallet fence as a barrier to stop people from parking on the lawn. A few St. Lawrence students worked hard during "make a difference day" in October to hammer in the t-posts and slip the pallets over them to create the fence. Before we could hang flower boxes and create a beautiful art installation with them, as intended, we closed the Center for COVID in mid-November. In early December, I got a call from the code-enforcer telling me to take down the pallets because someone had complained that they were not in keeping with the "character of the neighborhood." Instead of arguing or pleading our case, we complied.
When we go back in April, I want to use those pallets to create a different kind of art installation - one that has social justice and anti-racism at its core. The kids can design this beautiful statement to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of each individual. It will serve as a testament to the fact that we will not tolerate hate speech or bigotry in our front yard.
I can imagine children throughout the NoCo, taking on this project as a community effort. With beautifully hand-painted signs covered in messages of inclusivity, kindness, and hope, you, too, can proclaim, "not in my front yard!"
These are some examples of what I have in mind. You can be sure DRC members will come up with ideas much more creative and beautiful.
As mentioned last Sunday, we will be back in-person at both centers for two days each week, beginning the week of April 12th.
If you would like to help with the above plan or other outdoor gardening and carpentry projects, please get in touch.