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The mural on 10th street has raised not only awareness to the intricate challenge of maintaining a balance between rights and expression but also that today’s actions have far-reaching repercussions that our future generations will pay the price for…if we’re not alert to malicious intentions. This letter was submitted to Rise Magazine | Weekly from Allison Pinto, Ph.D., a concerned member of the community:
Many have commented on why the community response to the 10th Street mural matters to artists and people who identify themselves with the arts. I am most concerned with why it matters for neighborkids.
First and foremost, I am a neighbor in Central-Cocoanut, the neighborhood of Newtown where the mural is located, and I have grown to love the neighborkids who make this place so great. We’ve explored together as neighborhood scavenger hunters, we’ve chatted over tea, we’ve discovered and invented neighborhood traditions together. We’ve become a neighborhood family.
I am also a child psychologist with a community psychology orientation. I believe kids are gifted community builders, and worth investing in as such. I also take seriously the growing body of literature that confirms what kids, parents and neighbors have known for eons – that neighborhood realities and experiences are formative in the lives of children.
In 2010, Banyan Sprout, Inc. was established in Central-Cocoanut in response to the greatness of the neighborkids. As director, I “wear two hats,” contributing as a neighbor and also as a psychologist. Through Banyan Sprout, we come together as children, families, and neighbors to discover and invent fun, new ways of promoting children’s mental health and community well-being.
It is from this particular set of coordinates that I am so disturbed by what I have seen playing out in the broader community over the past three months in relation to the 10th Street mural. Here’s what I have noticed:
Neighbor perspectives and efforts are trivialized. When Central-Cocoanut residents of different ages and ethnic identities articulated clear and compelling concerns about the mural, these were dismissed by various people outside the neighborhood as “a few people’s over-reaction.” This continued even after neighbors spoke door-to-door with over 100 fellow neighbors in over 90 households and half of the people surveyed said they disliked the mural. It also continued even after the City Commission acknowledged the legitimacy of the expressed concerns.
Neighborhood identity is denied and appropriated. When Central-Cocoanut residents voiced criticism, those responsible for the placement of the mural responded by saying, “that is not a neighborhood.” They then began saying the mural is in the Rosemary District, an inaccuracy that several local media outlets perpetuated.
Stereotypes are reinforced in the guise of “dialogue” and “freedom of expression.” Neighbors who expressed criticism were described by proponents of the mural as ignorant, unsophisticated, and fearful. To describe people of the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood of Newtown in these ways is culturally incompetent at best, and could easily be perceived by neighbors as bigoted.
“Doing to” the neighborhood continues. Those responsible for the 10th Street mural recently announced that they now plan to take down that mural. However, they also announced that they have designed and are implementing a more extensive mural art effort in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood, and intend to establish partnerships with schools, neighborhoods and organizations outside of Central-Cocoanut in order to do so. As such, this is an agenda set and controlled by people who are external to the neighborhood. It does not follow the lead of neighbors.
So what does this communicate to kids? It communicates that those people, groups and organizations perceived as powerful — in terms of money, resources and connections — presume the privilege to write history as we are living it. It communicates that the role of neighbor / neighborhood is not central in the collective mindset of the Sarasota community.
So where is the good that has come from the situation, relative to the well-being of neighborkids? Here’s what I have noticed neighbors communicating to the kids of Central-Cocoanut through an active group response:
When a neighborhood is “done to,” neighbors can speak up and take action.
When neighbors are treated disrespectfully and never receive an earnest apology, they can choose not to develop a relationship with the person or group who was disrespectful – regardless of the money, resources or connections offered. This is not a refusal to extend forgiveness; it is a sign of healthy self-respect.
There are times when your wisdom will be unrecognizable to those beyond yourself, or beyond your family or immediate community. This does not mean that your wisdom is any less legitimate.
There are times when, despite expressing your views articulately and acting competently, you will still be “done to” because power dynamics are deeply entrenched. These are times when it is important to take the long view, and to have confidence that ultimately it is still possible to prevail.
Families have been communicating these messages for generations. So have churches and faith communities. Neighborhoods can too.
Thanks to the many neighbors of Central-Cocoanut and all of Newtown who have actively communicated these truths for the sake of positive community change in the past, and to neighbors who are actively doing so today. It matters for kids and for all of us.