“I think it’s brave, you living this social experiment with your family,” an acquaintance once told me.
It wasn’t the first time someone from the outside had woven a conclusion about our life in North Minneapolis, and it wouldn’t be our last.
“I see what you’re doing,” another well-meaning soul said. “Raising your girls on the North side is admirable. I just know I couldn’t do it.”
“I’m worried sick about you,” an elderly woman said another time. “I grew up in North Minneapolis, but it was nice back then. Now… well—” And she shuddered.
“You’ve probably got drug deals going down in your back yard at night,” a man once said to me, a snicker chasing his words.
I swallowed my initial reaction. “Not every night.”
I relayed the comments to Husband, and he shrugged.
“People don’t know,” he said. “And who cares what they think?”
Shootings, drugs, gang activity, poverty. I could hear the news as well as anyone else, but I knew my neighbors in North Minneapolis. And it trumped everything.
Early one morning, someone pounded on the front door. I peeped through the window. A man I didn’t recognize stood on our steps. My gaze caught his, and he jabbed his finger toward my Honda, parked on the street. I opened the front door.
“You’ve gotta move your car right now, or you’ll get towed. Street cleaning starts at 7:00 a.m.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” I said, gratefulness swelling my chest.
“I live on the next block and do this for people all the time,” he called over his shoulder as he hustled back to his car. “You’ll probably see me again.”
He wasn’t the only one doing unto others. Between incarcerations, the neighbor across the alley acted as self-appointed watchman for us. He ran a clandestine auto repair business out of his garage, and vigilance was his gift. He alerted us when we forgot to close our garage door or left the lights on inside our vehicle by accident. I could see his heart through his grease-smudged shirt, and I told him so.
Benevolence rippled out further too. Local church groups raked leaves and picked up garbage around the neighborhood; people rushed to help those who had slipped on icy sidewalks or couldn’t start their cars; and neighbors walked out of their way to return dogs, children, mail, or briefcases to their owners. I once witnessed a man chase down a woman in her vehicle to tell her she had left her cell phone on her car’s trunk. Goodness cropped up all around, but it wasn’t showy enough to make the evening news.
At the beginning, we made the uninformed decision to move to North Minneapolis. But as the years passed, we made the choice to live there.
“It’s a good place to raise kids,” I said to anyone who asked. And because of the visible needs around us, it was a good place for kids to learn life wasn’t all about them.
Some people from outside the neighborhood suggested our family should reside elsewhere. They said they had a house for sale in their cul-de-sac where we would fit in perfectly.
But they didn’t understand we already fit in somewhere.
Inside the neighborhood, we basked in freedom. We were free to paint our wood front steps red or purple or orange, and over the years, we did all three. Our three little girls poured out their artistic expressions through colored chalk on the sidewalks, doodling all the way down to Veronica and Sergio’s place. They decorated the driveway too, but the weather had its own ideas, and rain pattered away their designs.
“This’ll last longer,” Husband said, handing them cans of spray paint for the cement slab by our garage. Giant eyeballs and neon lips emerged from those aerosol cans and spruced up our basketball court.
Inside the neighborhood, we rested in safety. We couldn’t boast that no one had ever kicked in our door or broken in or stolen from us—those things had already happened—but our sense of security was sound and our peace unshakable.
A gentleman in the neighborhood told us about a conversation he once had with his friend.
“I heard about that shooting near you last night,” his friend had said, concerned.
“Oh? We were barbecuing and had the sprinklers running,” he replied with a shrug. “There’s nothing I would’ve changed about my day.”
And there was nothing we would’ve changed about our days either. We lived alongside people we chose to love, whether or not it made sense to those peering in from the outside.
And goodness pursued us even when it didn’t look like it could.