What Community Truly Means To Me

Sitting in Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel last week on Martin Luther King Day reminded me why I am so proud to call this area my hometown. A celebration of Dr. King’s legacy — primarily organized by the Community Coalition on Race — the event was about as quintessential Maplewood-South Orange as it gets.
The event included not only a performance by Columbia High School students, but uplifting talks by local religious leaders from a diversity of faiths who approached reflecting on Dr. King’s message and legacy by helping us gain perspective by lending us their own.
There are not many places in the country — really in the world —where a minister, an Imam, a reverend and cantor could all gather in such an absolutely positive environment. No tensions, no judgments and no negativity. I’m not sure about everyone else, but these days, that environment is an oasis of understanding and positivity compared to the relative divergence that exists in media, government and culture in our state, our country and frequently around the world.
And we are among the luckiest because we actually live in a community where not only this happens, but where it is encouraged and valued. Going to colleges in other states and meeting people from across the country both in undergraduate and graduate school reminds me that not everywhere is like our area. And when people from other places hear two CHS (Columbia High School) alum talking about how we grew up in these two towns, for example, they are immediately captivated by the stories we tell, want to know more, and often, even want to visit and see for themselves what these towns are all about.
Friends of mine who have visited often head back to their hometown filled with thoughts of picturesque gaslights, open space and parks, downtowns that should be in movies, and often are, and a community that is genuinely diverse, creative and passionate.
Now, finding a place to move to without breaking the bank is another challenge perhaps only matched by the challenge of figuring out a way to ensure that people who grow up here can afford to continue to live here, but clearly we have a rising demand as more people realize how unique our community is.
And perhaps I am just feeling reflective because it is a new year, or maybe it’s just that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and talking about our towns lately, but it seems reasonable to try and take a moment to step back and place our experiences here and now within a greater geographical and historical context.
Anyone who is reading this has probably at this point realized I am, well, a bit of a nerd about government.
And one of my favorite case-studies is the constitutional convention — an event where people from grossly different walks of life came together for a common goal, and even through disagreement and differing ideology of literally the most fundamental nature, were able to compromise and create arguably one of the best governing documents ever written. A powerful lesson indeed.
The idea that regardless of peoples’ differences – no matter how superficial or deep they may be at any given time – unity around something we all care about is the most powerful force of all.
Throughout political times that seem to favor divergence instead of convergence, remembering this theme seems of even greater importance than ever. And these towns, more specifically, the people who live, and work and go to school in these towns, should be an example for other communities.
Until then, I hope this week’s column can at least serve as a little thank you to people who make events like last weeks’ celebration and reflection happen. And again, in a national culture that seems to favor rabble rousing over civility and progress, it is inspiring to be reminded that my roots are in a place that is above the fray and sets an example of what community actually means.

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Alan Raisman


I completely agree. When I went to Lafayette College, I tried to truly embrace a community where I was only meant to be a student. I wanted to shy away from being just a student and aimed at being a neighbor and a friend. I went to City Council meetings, volunteered with the Easton Environmental Advisory Council, volunteered with the Easton Main Street Initiative and served on the Executive Committee of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. I fell in love with the city and the people, and they welcomed me as an Eastonian and not just a Lafayette College student. When I graduated last May, I was returning home to my parents, but I was losing the community I grew close to for four years of my life.

Nine months after my graduation, I am still looking for a job, and I question every possible move I consider making. I studied government/law and international affairs at Lafayette, and my internship experiences have allowed me to work in both state and federal government. I interned for two Pennsylvania State Senators and the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. Should I stay in Pennsylvania and solely apply on USAJobs? Or should I move to DC without an income, rent an apartment, and hope that me being here would allow me to network more and effectively seek employment.

I have traveled to thirty countries and have visited several small towns and communities around the world. Every community is unique, and I love that so many locals take pride in their homes. I travel because I love meeting with people and understanding why they find their community special. I have had homestay experiences, where I live with a family for several days, in France, Japan, China and Israel. Whenever I travel now, I try to stay with families rather than in hotels. I try to immerse myself in a community so I can see what makes our cities, our country and our world so special.

Thank you for sharing your story. I would love to hear where other GovLoopers are from and what makes their hometown so unique. Easton, where I went to college, is home to the Crayola Factory and Larry Holmes. Easton is also where the tallest non-wax candle in the USA stands every winter.

Alan Raisman

Aldo Bello

Great post Alex!

My father came to work for the International Monetary Fund when I was 12 years old and I’ve stayed in this area ever since (my family is originally from Santiago, Chile). We moved to Hayfield when Telegraph Road still had farms…and when you could still see cattle and horses in them. We lived close enough to Hayfield Secondary that I walked to school during all of my middle and high school years. I could walk to soccer practice, walk to band practice, walk to the pool, walk to friends’ homes (they all lived in the community of Hayfield) and walk around the neighborhood…sometimes just for the sake of walking. It’s how you get to know neighbors.

For me, I think the walking made all the difference and I’ve been fortunate enough to replicate that experience almost all of my life, wherever I found myself. I can’t say that it was ALWAYS planned but it certainly has been of late.

I attended Virginia Tech for undergraduate degrees in English and Communications and even though I had a car for most of those years, I was walking most of the time. There’s something about walking that connects you to the geography and the people in the community that can’t be replicated in a suburban environment, where homes are often separated from businesses, schools, restaurants and other civic life by distances that need to be traversed by car. Blacksburg is a great university town and it’s very easy to get by without a car there. You can walk to shops, restaurants, bars and of course, as with most universities, you get around campus by walking.

When I was completing my graduate studies at University of Maryland, I lived and worked in Virginia and for the life of me, other than the campus I walked around in, I can’t really tell you what College Park is really all about. I felt disconnected from the place. The campus is really a commuter campus and oftentimes, it feels that way.

16 years ago my wife and I moved to the Del Ray area of Alexandria and we’ve never looked back. We started our business, Mind & Media, in the basement of our townhouse and then were fortunate enough to find a commercial building to move the business into…four blocks away from where we live. We walk to work. We bring our dogs to the office (one of the perks of owning your own business) and the clients LOVE them. The Del Ray area is quirky and fun and there’s always something going on. We walk to restaurants, St Elmo’s Coffee, yoga, spas, hair salons…you name it…short of a movie house, Del Ray has almost everything you could ever need within walking distance.

We’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the community because when you walk, at least in this community, you also stop and say hello. Since we also belong to the business community of the area we know a lot of the shop owners up and down Mt. Vernon Avenue as well.

We, and Mind & Media have done well in Del Ray and we love being there. We love being a part of a community that is open, where people can walk to do things and bump into each other and chat, where people wave hello, and where our clients love to visit…not only the community itslef but the Mind & Media offices, because we’ve also tried to bring what happens out on the street into our office environment.

So Alex, I think that often it is walkable communities that build truly friendly and picturesque communities and that can be replicated. Sure, there are other things that have to be part of the mix but being able to walk to different places sure is a big part of it.

And Alan, I completely agree with you that in traveling the world, it is so much better to stay IN the communities, with the people that live there. Tourist zones and Club Meds are not for me!

I think a lot of people are now starting to wake up to these facts and more and more, I hear them yearning to live in truly vibrant communities. I hope the trend continues.

Alex Torpey

Aldo and Alan – Those are both great stories! Thanks for sharing them.. it’s always interesting to hear other peoples’ similar experience with a community that genuinely adds to their perspective or experience in some way.

And I agree Aldo, there is something amazing about truly walkable downtowns. It makes me feel like I’m back in college when I’m hanging out in a downtown in that way, and think that’s a great feeling to elicit, as most college campuses are probably the best example of walkable and person focused environment.