Finding faith across the Belair-Edison neighborhood

The following is guest post by Johnette Richardson, Executive Director at Belair Edison Neighborhoods, Inc.

Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. (BENI) is a nonprofit community based organization that works to foster an environment where residents, business owners, and stakeholders feel confident to invest their time, energy, and money.

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From my office, I overhear my counselor in session with a client who is seeking help with buying a home. I hear him talk about credit scores and household budgets, lenders and affordability, real estate agents and home selection – the normal talking points of a pre-purchase session.

He reviews her credit and financial histories and explains the work still left to do in order for her to get ready to buy her first home.

After his spiel, his client, who in my mind had been nodding her head in agreement and taking copious notes, declares with certainty, “I have faith that this home is mine! God promised it to me!”

I smile. That level of faith is not new to me.

As the youngest of six, growing up in Camden, N.J., our parents drilled in to us that we serve a God that can do anything BUT fail! Amen.

His next client is about to lose her home to foreclosure. After stating the harsh realities, I hear my counselor stand as he goes to grab a box of tissues. I hear his client reaching for words that have failed her. All she could do was cry. I can’t help but say a silent prayer that the same God that promised the first client a home, would also deliver this client from losing hers.

That evening, I attend a community meeting where neighbors have gathered to talk about the rise in crime that is affecting the entire city. Despair hovers over the room like looming dark clouds before a storm.

I let them speak their fears, their disappointments, their frustrations, and anxieties. When I spoke, I asked one simple question, “Why did you choose to buy your home in Belair-Edison?” To answer that question meant that the residents had to think back and remember how it felt moving into their first home. Some had small children clinging to their legs, while others were newly married and planning a family. One neighbor even talked about growing up in the neighborhood and being so glad to be able to buy his own home in the community. No matter who was speaking, the common thread among all of them was love, hope, and faith. As you can imagine, the dark clouds dissipated and now our group was left with love, hope, and faith. And, believe me, planning community change from that vantage point, is much sweeter!

As I reflect on this question of religion and faith and how it impacts my work, I am reminded about my own upbringing. The fun times my siblings and I shared playing in the streets (making sure to be in the house before the street lights came on), having fun at the block parties and potlucks, eating ice cream from the truck, and playing double-dutch and street chalk games. Even the arduous task of cleaning the marble steps with Ajax – because no other cleaning detergent would do! I fondly remember watching my mother and aunt walk around the corner to the neighborhood meeting. They were active in our community.

In my work today, I see my mother and aunt in the faces of the neighbors who live in Belair-Edison. I see my family and friends in the young people who play basketball and football in the middle of the streets. In full confession, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of the adults who used to honk their horns at us to move out of the streets. Now that I am an adult trying to quickly get from one place to the next, I get it. We were annoying. To our credit, and the credit of the kids in Belair-Edison, when you drive down the street, it breaks up our game. I get that too and it gives me patience.

Faith in my line of work is not just in God but it is also in each other. It’s faith in knowing that a neighbor will keep their porchlight on just because they know their next-door neighbor gets off work late and could use the extra light. It’s a neighbor experiencing a fire in their home and other neighbors coming together to help restore items that were lost. It’s sock drives and back to school supply events. It’s leaving a key with a neighbor because you’re going on vacation and just need someone to check in on things. It’s picking up mail and front door packages for neighbors who are out of town. It’s being in a room with community members of every age, hue, and religion and hearing them united and with conviction say that prayer will change things!

That’s all faith.

This work is spiritual. It moves me. It reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun – an adage that my mother would often tell me when I thought I was getting something over on her or knew more than her. It reminds me that the reason my parents bought our humble home on Liberty Street is the same reason why many of our neighbors in Belair-Edison chose their homes. It’s about God and about People. And it all gives me inspiration and strength to continue to foster positive change in this community.

The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.
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