A few weeks ago I watched an online video about a woman who, from her front window, waved to the high school students who walked past her house day after day, morning and afternoon. Because they were accustomed to her being at the window, the young people waved back. After years of this interchange, the students invited their friend – a woman in her 90’s! – to their school to honor her.
Take a look out the window!
In some neighborhoods in most cities, people are afraid to look out their windows. That’s hard for me to imagine, and maybe it is for you, too. But it’s true. Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they might be seen by the crack dealer who walks the street, the crack dealer who carries a gun. Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they are afraid to be called as witnesses to the crime that is living in the streets.
That can happen to any of us. Unless we take a few moments today to look out our windows, to see what is happening on the street, to witness who is passing by, or to see who is missing today, we’ll lose control of our communities.
Over the past several months, students from a nearby high school have taken to climbing up the hill from the main drag that runs through this part of the city, to walking across the quiet street that leads to a cul de sac, and to sitting on the wall that marks the edge of my yard. I took a look at the kids as I parked my car, making sure they noticed me, as I had noticed them. When I came into the house, I went over to the window that looks out onto the wall. There they have gathered, talking, laughing, playing music. They look like young kids to me, and they look like kids just young enough to pay attention to adults.
That day, I opened the window and told them that this is private property. They looked up at me – ! – and answered politely that they weren’t harming anything. But I wanted them to know I’d noticed. A few minutes later, I heard a loud “pop!”, and laughter. Again I opened the window, but this time, in a firmer voice, I told them they’d have to go. When they didn’t leave, I opened the window a third time and told them I’d call the police if they didn’t leave.
Wow! young people can certainly run fast! I saw about 7 or 8 kids go running back across the street and down the hill onto the sidewalk of the main drag! Whew! That didn’t take much!
I know I’m just another old person to those kids. Anyone over 30 is old to them, after all! But I also know that I’m doing my best to keep my own community safe. I can’t do that alone. I need other well-meaning folks to keep an eye on the street, like I do. I need other kind people to point out clear boundaries to young people who are simply doing what young people do – hanging out together, maybe skipping afternoon classes.
When I was in junior high at Peckham (now Jackie Robinson) Junior High School in Milwaukee, I lived in an upper flat on Medford Avenue. I walked the mile to school, morning and afternoon. My parents rented that flat from Mrs. Schmidt, a widow who seemed very old to me at the time. Every day when I walked up the driveway next to the house to the back door and into the narrow hallway to take the steps to the second floor, I saw Mrs. Schmidt sitting in her chair by the front room window. Recognizing me, she waved – every single day.
I think adults weren’t as leery of young people those days as we are now. But Mrs. Schmidt was keeping watch, in her own way, of who walked up the driveway. One time she knocked menacingly on the window when my friend Sharon came to see me; later, my mother told Mrs. Schmidt that Sharon was the daughter of the Baptist minister, and Mrs. Schmidt didn’t try to motion her away again!
Sometimes we do what’s right, and sometimes we don’t do what’s right. How do we ever know for sure? At the very least, take a look out the window – today!