“You can change the world!” It’s a declaration we’ve all heard at one time or another and we believe it wholeheartedly. It is something we seek to instill in our children. But for children who have grown up in a world where the number of “likes” or “shares” is the primary metric of effectiveness, we offer one caveat—real change requires commitment. We tell our children that true change will only come through commitment to people and to a place.
In today’s urban landscape, neighborhoods remain one of the most important canvasses upon which to view the good that comes from a commitment to people and to a place. We began to discover this years ago when we moved into a neighborhood that had experienced a prolonged period of disinvestment and deterioration. It was in this neighborhood where we learned that committing to love is a choice. We had to choose to love our neighborhood because at first glance, there wasn’t much to love. Boarded up homes, in-your-face illegal activity, and filthy streets were all we saw; but we knew that when we chose to move into this neighborhood we were making a commitment to this place and to our new neighbors.
This commitment was one of the best decisions of our lives: to not only live in a place but to also live for a place. The Lowell neighborhood of Fresno, California, became our neighborhood. And the people who lived near us became our neighbors. We tell our children that it is because we made this commitment in our hearts that it became easy to invest our time, emotions, ideas, and financial resources.
We became part of a community of people who were no longer discouraged by graffiti on the fence or trash in the streets, because we all knew we could remove it. If we wanted a community garden, we knew we could create one. When our neighbors wanted to meet regularly to discuss our hopes for our neighborhood, we all decided to start an association. When that association wanted to prioritize housing in our community, together we formed an organization that has completed over $8 million in projects to date. And when there was collective grief over the condition of our neighborhood park, we knew that, though we did not own it, together we could change it. Ten years later this park has been completely remodeled.
We may not have changed the world, but we still believe that dream is possible... one neighborhood at a time. It’s possible when a small group of people make an uncommon commitment to the place where they live and to each other. That kind of prevailing community love provokes action, and the combination of love, commitment, and action can most certainly change the world.