What is community
good for?

Can community make your life better? Can community make your life worse?

I never thought I was someone who wanted to live alone when I got older. But as time goes on, I wonder….

What is community good for?

by: Jeremy Rist

Trinity Park in 2009 courtesy of Open Durham

Trinity Park in 2009 courtesy of Open Durham

Trinity Park is a well-known neighborhood in Durham. Socioeconomically speaking, it’s upper middle class. The variance in style of the houses is amazing, with some unique bungalows, cool brick, and old historic homes. It’s in between Main Street and Northgate Mall, right next to Duke University’s East Campus. The famous Duke Lacrosse alleged rape house was located at the edge of the neighborhood, on Buchanan Avenue. That house was torn down years ago because it was a physical reminder of a very bad moment for the city. It showed how confused and dark this sleepy Southern town can be. Initially I took the gesture of tearing that house down to mean that we were going to move on into the future with a positive vision and not let the negativity of the past keep us down. But I look at it now as an attempt to sweep past injustices under the rug and move on.

This is what our community wants to do when something negative happens. We don’t want to act like it was that big of deal. We don’t want to address the real reasons for problems. We want to minimize the sound of people who are raising a fuss about it. We want to keep quiet and move on. We want to sweep everything under the rug.

Growing up in Trinity Park and in Durham, I was raised with a strong sense of community. To me, I identified community as something that my family and the surrounding families worked to foster. It was a safe place where kids could run around, play, and build lasting relationships in the process. Different parents had different parenting styles, but they seemed to agree on most things and promote similar values across the board to us kids. In the Disney version of this story, my friends and I all grow up and live happily ever after. But in the Durham version of the story, we all grow up into very different people and embark on an arduous, and sometimes maddening, journey into adulthood.

As a young adult, I have a very different vision of what community is now. I’m formulating my own definitions. Community is no longer about a group of adults who all get along and have children who get along. Community isn’t about fostering “play-dates.” To me, community should be a group of individuals who live in an area and attempt to promote, instill, and uphold a cohesive set of values. Communities can allow many different things to define them, but stronger communities are formed from stronger understanding about what they want to stand for, and what they want the next generation to value.

In Trinity Park, I think we tried to promote Democratic ideals, as in the values of the Democratic Party. I remember watching elections with neighborhood families. We were a gigantic community of Democrats doing everything we could to help the “good guys” win. As kids, we cheered hard for the Democrats just like we would for Duke, UNC, or any other sports team. We didn’t know any better. Thankfully, the values that the Democratic party seemed to promote: being pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and pro-science, seemed like good things to believe in.

neighborhood mugs

neighborhood mugs

When George W. Bush stole the election in 2000, I remember seeing adults from our neighborhood cry that night. They couldn’t believe it. Their little haven of Democratic ideals had technically won the election based on the popular vote, but lost the presidency based on the Electoral College. Parents were sad. It made me sad. It made all the kids sad. The bad guys had won.

Now as I’m getting older and learning more and more about politics, I’m growing less interested in looking at the two parties as good versus bad. And I’m less interested in listening or trying to understand the older generation of Democrats. They seem to have allowed this lesser of two evils argument to paralyze their ability to think outside of the box. They have allowed this to make them timid and tepid. They don’t want to start a new party that looks out for the people first foremost. They don’t want dramatic reform within the party. They want to keep staying the course. They believe the party is something that possesses intimate knowledge of governing in the best and most pragmatic way possible. They don’t want to hear anything else. Despite the obvious evidence that the party has been infiltrated and destroyed by corporate interests that are in direct conflict with the people’s interests, they remain steadfastly stubborn.

After the primary where Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders, I’ve looked at my community much in the same way Young Goodman Brown viewed the Puritan community. What is wrong with these people? How shut off and bone-headed is the older generation? How corrupt? By and large, millennials supported Sanders, so where did Clinton’s strength come from? What is that line of thinking? She could win? How can you argue for something with the belief that the future is predictable?

No longer do I view the community I grew up in to be a loving network of motivated individuals pushing for social justice. I see it as a group of tired, older people who are trying to hold on to their sense of normalcy amidst external turmoil. In the same sense that the election proved that something has to be changed within the Democratic Party (if it’s going to exist moving forward), a problem has arisen in the Trinity Park community that is challenging us and what it will mean to be a community moving forward.

A problem has arisen. The question then becomes, “What do we do about that problem?”

If your problem is that you are hungry, and you’re a member of my community, I want to help you find food. How you react to a problem says a lot about who you are as a person. I want to be seen as someone who can help solve problems.

The problem we have in our Trinity Park community is very similar to a larger problem in our country. The problem is what to do with someone who struggles with their mental health. This is obviously not an easy subject, and there’s no easy answer. But I believe that a strong community would be better equipped to handle this difficult issue than one family on their own. This is where community can help make people’s lives better. This is where we can join together  rather than isolate ourselves.

Now, in my childish understanding of community, if one person struggles with this, we all struggle. And I’ve seen it up close and personal. I’ve been harassed and bullied. I’ve had anxiety attacks. I’ve had nightmares. But I still believe that if one person needs help, we all need to help. If not, we’re actually not that strong of a community. If everyone retreats back to their bungalows when problems arise, we’re not a strong community. If the family struggling with this doesn’t feel comfortable enough to open up about it, we’re not a strong community. If we can’t turn to each other, talk, listen, and then act, we’re not a strong community.

The thing that saddens me about this is that they played like they were. My parents, their “friends,” and everyone around us growing up loved acting like a community, but they were fake. Just like the ideals of the Democratic Party that they raised us to believe in. All fake.

So instead of communicating and joining together to form a strong community that can take on difficult challenges, we do the opposite. We suppress the messages of people who are angry because anger is negative. We try to minimize the problem. We retreat back to values of “privacy” and “incrementalism”. There’s no grand vision about togetherness. There’s no communal problem solving. There’s only confusion and isolation.

We destroy the evidence and sweep it under the rug, hoping people forget.




Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist is a Durham native and a Brandeis University graduate. In between producing and MC’ing, he has guest written for the Clarion Content and is a frequent contributor on our podcast.

More Jeremy Rist.

Clarion Content

Clarion Content is a Durham-based online magazine that curates and creates the thriving culture that gives our city its identity. Our community building is only as strong as our collective contributions. Our team of curators welcomes your comments, suggestions, and concerns. We are open to all points of view, especially those that challenge and therefore stimulate our own. We also encourage reader submitted material as well as guest columnists. See something cool, outrageous, outlandish, or important? Have a great cause? Send us a note or stop by our offices at the Mothership, 401 West Geer Street inside the MotorCo complex.

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