Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not Just Another Manic Monday: A Place Where Community Happens

The evening of Monday, November 18th, 2013 is one of those evenings that could simply pass away just like countless other evenings in downtown Silver Spring... After all, nothing huge happened. No crisis. No single major event... Or, it can be reflected upon as an amazing evening when the stars aligned to cement the area as a unique place where community happens; where we are creating a sense of place that matters. 

I ask: 

  • Where else in the United States is there such a critical mass of public spaces where intentional community building happens in a routine, almost daily bases?
By now we have grown accustomed to the major outdoor community celebrations and indoor happenings that bring downtown Silver Spring alive year round. Festivals, markets, fund-raisers, and town hall meetings have gotten to be common and expected occurrences.  How we evolve these events into gatherings, dialogues, and conversations that intentionally build community, create our collective history, and welcome and engage everyone is our clear and distinct next challenge. 

Monday November 18th, 2013 might just have been a historical night that 'turned the corner' on how to do this. By the happenstance of different institutional and civic good will, five (yes, 5!) events took place last night that when taken separately do not mean much. But, when you consider that these events all happened either in the Civic Building or a block and a half away in our main cluster of venues, you realize that this didn't just 'happen by happenstance'. This happened because in this Area there are a critical mass of people, institutions, and businesses that are enthusiastically engaged in their community, volunteer their time and energy, provide resources, and care. And care deeply. Care about this place we call Silver Spring.  

In the Civic Building, two different things went on:

(1) The Citizens Advisory Board (through its Commercial Economic Development Committee) partnered with YELP and brought together small businesses and entrepreneurs interested in diving in to the world of social media to enhance their business strategy. This was all done by resident volunteers. Residents reaching out to small and independent businesses - quite a concept!

(2) The African American Health Program, Asian American Health Initiative, and Latino Health Initiative came together to hold a session to help our community understand the complexities of the new Affordable Care Act - and help people enroll... And - more importantly - empower participants with information to take back to their own networks so they can in turn help others enroll.

A block-and-a-half away from the Civic Building, in our cluster of major venues on Colesville Road, another three events were taking place simultaneously.

(3) At the American Film Institute (AFI), Docs-in-Progress held the screening of nine locally produced mini-documentaries highlighting the spirit of Silver Spring. This was the closure of the highly successful 3rd Annual Community Stories Festival held throughout Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

(4) At the Black Box Theater (next to the AFI), Forum Theater held a one-show event titled "Changing Neighborhoods: Local Artists Respond to Stories of Gentrification".  Local artists were commissioned to create short pieces inspired by stories of gentrification and sifting communities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

(5) At The Fillmore (across the street), the monthly "Fillmore Cares" Open Mic Benefit Series was going on, with proceeds benefiting Shepard's Table, the local organization that helps feed our homeless brothers and sisters.

It is critically important to understand that these six events were independently conceptualized, designed, and implemented. No central planning. No major top-down directive that would hinder or limit their innovative civic entrepreneurship. The public sector definitively helped set the table and the private sector certainly helped with resources. And - not but! - it was the individual drive to do good of the various sponsoring organizations - and their amazing leadership and volunteers - that made the events happen. 

These events that happened last night in downtown Silver Spring were not just traditional meetings or services for those in need. These events were gatherings, dialogues, and conversations more so than meetings or info-sessions. They engaged the participants in manners that spark individual and collective action to continue in this journey of creating a thriving and vibrant community in Silver Spring.

... a historic night indeed! 

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