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  • Writer's pictureJohn Girton

A Quiet Beauty…

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

A Resident Based Story By: Januarie York, Poet and Author

Recently, I sat on the back patio of my home, enjoying the sunshine and watching the butterfly that kept landing on the banister. My male dog tossed and turned in a dirt pit he dug for himself and played with his toys while my female rested her head sleepily against my leg. It was a typically quiet and serene moment at a place I call “Hugz Mansion”.

My house rests in an area that has its fair offering of boarded-up houses and vacant lots. From my backyard and because of a vacant lot, I can see straight through to the one-way street one block over. It’s a busy westbound street, and I watched as traffic sped by on their way to important destinations, a collection of sounds christened the air that ranged from loud trunk music, children playing and ultimately my personal favorite, stillness. There’s no shortage of trees in the back and I took special notice to the fresh spring buds sitting on high limbs that reached for the sky’s approval. Several trees were covered in purple buds that looked like a high field of lavender from where I sat. It was (and is) quite beautiful. As I sat, Cinematic Orchestra’s “The Awakening of A Woman: Burnout” played us an evening soundtrack. It was a solid warm, peaceful spring day full of the kind of sunshine that tickled the tips of the growing grass and kissed my melanin ever so gently.

I had no complaints. But according to a 2013 Fox59 report, the 46208 zip code is not only one of the most dangerous zips in Indianapolis; it is ranked as one of the most dangerous in the entire country. In this zip code, along with 46205, a person has a one in fourteen chance of becoming a victim of a homicide. While the report itself goes on to mention certain areas within these zips, or “pockets”, the zip code itself is used as a blanket statement for an entire area covered under those ten specific numbers. Butler-Tarkington, not mentioned in the 2013 article, but makes up a huge portion of 46208, was featured in the news in October 2016 for making it one year without violence after a string of unsolved murders left families broken and police stumped. It’s also been listed as high crime, dangerous areas. The MLK and Riverside communities have also been known to fall under the title of “danger zones”.

Both areas have endured a long notoriety with locals as being oppressively unstable and full of crime. I am not writing this to deny the existence of the all too frequent violence. In fact, I can easily understand how one comes to label these areas as they do. Who can forget 10-year-old Deshaun Lee Swanson, who was shot and killed during a drive-by that injured several others? That incident happened around the corner from my mother’s house and next door to the parents of a lifelong sister-friend. My stepfather was supposed to be in that house that day, but thankfully, decided to stay home. Trust me when I say I am awake, alert and aware of the violence and negativity that go on in these places.

However, doesn’t the label of “most-dangerous”, at least somewhat, eradicate the presence of love that I personally know exists in these areas? Does anyone else feel marked and thrown away under such a label, or is it just me and my feelings?

Consider this: the label of “most dangerous zip code in the country” (or even the city) doesn’t identify the isolated pockets where the violence is most prominent. One would have to read between the lines to get that. Instead, that label engulfs and speaks for the entire covered area while conveniently forgetting that despite what you see from the outside looking in, there are still families here. There are still people with goals and dreams, folks who are mentoring the teens and kids that live in these very areas. There are small, grassroots collections of people trying to combat the violence AND all the other issues plaguing our communities (food, transportation, health, etc).

I grew up in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. I have lived all over Indianapolis but I returned to the area in 2007 and have spent the last ten years in the 46208 neighborhood. I can say with certainty and experience that there is much beauty to be seen and experienced in the “hood”. Last year, I applied for a job with the INRC, a community-based organization that targets urban areas with the intention of building neighborhood awareness, communication and dialogue, as well as empowering the community to teach, grow and sustain itself through their own initiatives and talents. They use what is referred to as the ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) model to achieve this success. When using the ABCD model, you assess what are considered to be “weaknesses” and work on how to utilize them as strengths. In other words, there are no weaknesses. A person may not like to speak in public, but on the flip side, they are great listeners. That person could record information for someone. There are no vacant homes: those are potential artistic canvases OR rehabilitated meeting houses or safe places. Making use of the talents and gifts from the people within these areas; coupled with identifying ‘troubled’ areas (regarding buildings AND the people). Learning how to turn those qualities into assets, is how you revitalize a community from the inside out…without gentrifying it.

However, in order to bring respect to the fact there is talent in these so-called “urban danger Zones”, there must be a belief! There must be hope! Despite what is said about us, life still exists within our numbered boundaries.

Who knew??? Life exists in “the most dangerous zip codes” of Indianapolis!!!!

The Indy Star isn’t really good about reporting that though. The media is great for being first on the scene to capture people screaming and hollering in grief and disbelief when a dead body is discovered. They are Johnny on the Spot when a drug bust happens, even if they don’t have much information. But when over three hundred people draw together, along with the police (by happenstance), on a corner where folks are scared to make a complete stop at the four-way, no one is there but our own cell phone cameras. Even when two thousand people gather together in an event that could rival all of the summer expos and food festivals in the city, but because it is held in a neighborhood which falls under the national label of “urban danger zone”, the only stories that are written are the ones we write for ourselves.

Remember that person that doesn’t like to speak in public but is a good listener? He/She would fit well here to help create stories that live long after we do. OUR STORIES MUST BE TOLD. Now, I am part of a neighborhood organization called The Learning Tree where doing just that, telling OUR stories, is a top priority.

My point of all of this is not a list of suggestions of what we could do... but rather, an ode to what we are doing. There is great work going on in the areas that many people are afraid of based on what they’ve heard. Recently, I spoke about my neighborhood to a coworker the other day with pride, not embarrassment or shame. As I heard myself, I couldn’t help but notice the second nature of which I bragged on the incredible initiatives in my area. The block I recently moved on, is a very busy block. The street is crammed with cars parked on both sides; people hang out late at night, having loud conversations. There are vacant homes on both sides of the street. My grandfather used to own one of them. As a matter of fact, it’s the biggest on the block, and vacant. But, when I walk out my front door, I am not inundated with the negative appearances; But quite the opposite... I see duplexes with bikes on porches and older men who frequent their stoops on a regular. There is a daycare in operation right next door to me. I hear children crying as they get dropped off in the mornings and laughing outside as I pull up in the evenings.

I’ve often told people when I moved to 34th and Clifton (The Cliff), I was nervous as shit. I feared that I was making a mistake that would cost me my safety and/or peace of mind. I couldn’t have been further from reality. In the three years I stayed there, while some weird things definitely came about like the police repeatedly visiting and looking for someone who didn’t live there, or a random man knocking at my door at like 3 AM (I didn’t answer), it was a wonderful experience overall. There was a neighborhood street clean up the first year I was there. The second year led me to meet Mr. William Ryder, the artist whose home was a museum of his own incredible sculptures. He also told me how his father used to dress him up as a girl when he lived in or near Lyles Station, IN, where county officials were kidnapping black children to do radiation experiments on them. From what Mr. Ryder told me, they preferred boys hence his parent’s decision to dress him as a girl. I wouldn’t have met him, toured his home or looked into his beautiful eyes and saw all the ancestry they held with artistic pride, had I been living in the safety nets of some place like Normandy Farms (Traders Point).

There is a gas station nearby my house where I see a continued police presence and arrests nearly every day. Just last week, I watched a cop sitting behind the Double 8 building watching the station of activities from his car using binoculars. I admit, there is a lot that goes on so I can’t be too surprised. After all, this IS designated “one of the most dangerous places in the entire country”.

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