There’s a song by the group Bastille called, “Flaws.” I have been listening to it lately (on repeat). “All of your flaws and all of my flaws, they lie there hand in hand/ Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learn/ They pass from man to man.”
This is my first official column as the Executive Director of the Northside Planning Council (NPC), a role I have inhabited for the last 18 months in an interim capacity. It may seem odd to start it talking about flaws, but it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about in my now official position. I am acutely aware of all the ways in which we — NPC as an organization and each of its programs, and me, as its director -— are not all that we could be.
To be sure, there are many things we do well; in fact, there are many ways in which we are a ground-breaking, innovative, dynamic organization. But there are many things we could do better.
More lyrics: “Dig them [our flaws] up – let’s finish what we started/ Dig them up – so nothing’s left unturned.”
I am acutely aware, every day, of all the voices in our community that are not represented, that are not at the table. For all the people that we reach, there are 10 times as many that we don’t. I am aware that to truly integrate new voices into our work, we have to take a long, hard look at how we do things and be willing to change, to make mistakes, to fail. I am aware that if we sincerely want to strive for racial and economic justice, we are going to have to commit significant resources to the work, and that means there are other things we will have to choose not to do. We are going to have to be smarter, more aware and more creative than we’ve ever been to achieve something we’ve always struggled with.
NPC is now a significant employer, with 16 employees and growing. But I am aware that most of those are not full-time positions and that we cannot yet afford health benefits. I am aware of how vulnerable our employees are to capricious changes in the social safety net. I am aware of how the decisions I make everyday affect whether we can afford payroll for these individuals who work so hard for us. We ask a lot of our employees, so we carry some responsibility to ensure their growth and wellbeing.
I am acutely aware of our neighborhoods that are underserved, of the hundreds of families in Brentwood Village that only receive fragmented services that come and go. I am aware of the stark contrast between the quality of life in that neighborhood and the quality of life just six blocks away. Every day that passes is another missed opportunity for turning around the life of a child — in our own backyard. NPC wants to be there, wants to play its proper role, but months goes by while we work to cobble together the resources we need. Time keeps slipping by, children keep slipping through the cracks.
“All of your flaws and all of my flaws, when they have been exhumed/ We’ll see that we need them to be who we are/Without them we’d be doomed.”
We need our flaws and our limitations. We need to see them and own them. They help us push the boundaries of what we can accomplish, of the challenges we’re willing to take on. Knowing our flaws helps us be tolerant of others’ flaws; they bring us together in our imperfection.
At this time in history, when many of us feel a deep sense of helplessness about the things happening in our country and in our world, this is something we can do: we can work to build better communities, right here, right now. We can work to weave a tighter safety net, to protect those whose lives we do have the power to change. And we start by being honest with ourselves about what those platitudes really mean and how far we are from them.
But don’t think for a moment that these platitudes are too grandiose for a little community organization serving a little corner of the world. Justice, equity, compassion, inclusion, power — it all applies to us. If we can’t do it on this scale, in this place that we live and love, we won’t do it anywhere. This is the grand experiment. There’s work to be done.