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Coming Events You Won't Want To Miss: Building Community From Ground Up

All Are Welcome. Share This and Pass it on to others in the TNT area of Turley/NorthTulsa.

Fundraiser Trivia Game Night For A Third Place, Thursday, Oct. 28, 8 to 10 pm, Joe Momma’s Pizza, 112 S. Elgin. Meal proceeds and direct donations taken.

Park Meadows Community Party, Sat. Oct. 30, Noon to 3 for Park Residents

Community Free Old Fashioned Halloween Party, Sat. Oct. 30 6 to 8 pm A Third Place

OU Community Medicine Clinic Friday mornings. A Third Place. Call 660-4419 for appt.

Turley Public Meeting—Tuesday Nov. 30 7 pm O’Brien Center

Community Arts and Crafts. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 6:30 pm at the Center.

Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 7 am to 7 pm.

"From Turley to TU" meeting, Nov. 5, 5:30 pm TCC NE campus Apache and Harvard

Forum on Schools, Thurs, Nov. 11, 5:30 dinner, 6 pm mtg. Gilcrease, 56th and Cincinnati

Diversity Movie Night Honoring Veterans, Tues. Nov. 9, 6:30 pm, A Third Place

Veterans Community Leader Appreciation Dinner, Wed. Nov. 10, 6 to 8 pm, A Third Place

Community Gardening, Mentoring, Random Acts of Kindness, Saturday Nov. 13, 10 am to noon, Free Lunch. Meet at Cherokee School, 6001 N. Peoria, Back Garden.
McLain Alumni & Foundation Dinner, Thursday, Nov. 18, 6 pm, 4929 N. Peoria Ave.

Thanksgiving Community Meal, Thursday, Nov. 25, Noon, A Third Place
Weekly Missional Church Gathering in A Third Place, Rev. Ron Robinson, 10 am, Sundays, communion, conversation, common meal, community projects.

Weekly 12 Step Recovery Group at the Center, Saturdays 7:30 pm

Weekly Volunteer Fire Department public meetings, Thursdays 7 pm, 6404 N. Peoria Ave.

Turley Water Board meeting last working day of each month 8:30 am, 6108 N. Peoria


OU Lecture: The Pragmatics of Collaboration, and Hope: The Example and Story of the Turley/Far North Tulsa Area

The longer draft of a somewhat shorter lecture given at the University of Oklahoma National Association of Social Work Conference, Friday, Oct. 22, 2010, by Rev. Ron Robinson, Executive Director, A Third Place Community Foundation.

I had finished a nice long keynote paper and was prepared to deliver it today, but then it occurred to me that since it was on the topic of collaborations, it would be rather contradictory to have me talking the whole time….So, in the spirit of The Daily Show with John Stewart’s Extended Interviews that run longer than television allows but are posted on the website, so too I have posted the longer version on our website… I hope this will be more fun and I will still talk too much…

I want to leave lots of room for Questions, also precisely Because one of the fundamental gifts of the collaboration between OU programs and our community renewal center is the questions the students and faculty ask. Not only because of what I learn from the questions, but even moreso because this gets our neighbors eventually starting to ask questions too..And one of the first things to be abandoned when you live in a place that has been abandoned by others is the practice of questioning. As long as you can keep coming up with questions, there is still hope for change. Once you give up questions, the status quo of cynicism and helplessness sets in.

It takes effort, though, to ask questions, especially if you aren’t getting paid to ask them, or not getting a grade to ask them, or have been raised not to ask them, then questioning the how and the why of the world in which you live, even the what of what you have to give back to that world, is all a pretty strenuous thing. In our culture of convenience, ours not to question why, to rephrase the old poem, but to consume and die.

The first question for us today will be why talk about the Turley, Far North Tulsa, Oklahoma area? The quick answer, and it is fitting for the place we are gathered in or coming to you from today, is that there has been “a perfect storm” that hit our edge community, where urban and rural and small town literally bleed into one another, and made it a shadow of a community, fitting for the downtown skyscrapers that you can see off and on from our place. This collision of forces and events over the course of little more than one generation turned the area from a mostly blue collar working class fairly cohesive and fairly homogenously ethnic community with a culture of collaboration and a core of social groups, into a place of great social fragmentation, where our main zipcode of 74126 has the lowest life expectancy in the wider area, 14 years lower than a zipcode just six miles due south of us on the same street. There has been a great emptying out of both people and places for community to happen. So much so that we used to think of community as a simple noun, as a thing. Now we are learning to think of it as a verb, as something that must be continually enacted for it to actually exist. We will look at more of how this happened. But keep in mind it is not a case of the past was better and something we want to get back to—not at all; and likewise we will see how the current state, the real and perceived weaknesses and scarcity, can actually be an advantage for creating the kind of community that our emerging future will favor.

Then we will lift up some of the ways collaboration is happening as a response to the social decay, bearing in mind our own initiative called A Third Place Community has inherited the efforts of others before us, and we are just a few years old, the new kid.

Finally, we will consider the deep nature of the collaboration needed for such a place as ours, and know there are many such places, and not all of them are geographic ones, and how these new more radical approaches can, may, can enable us to go from surface connections to sustainable community.

The longer original draft, from which I excerpted for the lecture (some additions not here will be added in later:

One of the favorite things I like to do with social work students, faculty, visitors of all kinds, and even long-time residents of what I sometimes call the “Greater Turley area” or “Far North Edge of Tulsa” is to go on a local tour. Especially if we have time to do more than a windshield tour, but can stop and look and listen and talk. Like any tour guide I usually learn something from what people see and ask, and in the responding to the questions even deeper questions and answers come to me that I can later dive into. I love surprises and stories and every new tour is full of them.
I also love the questions that students ask; in fact, one of the fundamental gifts that the OU Social Work students bring to our area and residents is the gift and model of questioning. The questions the residents hear get them to thinking and asking their own questions. To wondering why really something has happened, what really might be done, what really can’t be done, who might be involved in decisions, and how they might find a way to be involved too. One of the first things to be abandoned when you live in a place that has been abandoned by others is the practice of questioning. Because as long as you can question, as long as you feel the drive to question, then there is still hope. Once you give up questions, the status quo of cynicism and helplessness becomes the dominant culture.
But it takes effort to ask questions too. Each question begins a journey and it might not end the way you hope, or it might not end. And so it takes energy to ask questions. And if you aren’t getting paid to ask questions, or not getting a grade to ask questions, then questioning the whys of the world in which you live, and the whats of what you have to give to that world, is all a pretty strenuous thing. Especially when your culture is geared around taking the convenient route. Ours not to question why, to re-phrase the old poem, just to consume and die.
All of which is my way to introduce my talk. It will be like one of those tours of our area. But instead of stopping at specific landmarks, we will stop at a series of question locations. My former graduate seminary professor, the author scholar and lecturer Dr. Brandon Scott, has said that the deepest quest and commitment and hardest task for the scholar is to come up with the at most three questions in her field that will guide the rest of her career. I am not a scholar (I had two choices in my life where I was about to launch into PhD work, one in English and later one in Biblical Interpretation, and the first time my own passion took me in another direction, and the latter time Dr. Scott thankfully saved the academia from me when he asked me if I was in love with footnotes...I said I love to read them, but not research them.) I am not a scholar but I believe he is right and that it applies to the world of community renewers too. What are the guiding questions for our community? For us today they are also the places we will visit on our verbal tour.
1. Why Turley? Which has buried within it the questions What is Turley and Who are Turley? And why does it matter?
2. Why focus on collaboration? Its problems and its promise as well as its pragmatics?
3. Why are we an area with the greatest health care needs, including food and nutrition of course, and the least resources, and how is collaboration the only true route toward survival and sustainability?

Why talk about the Turley area? I believe nearly every metropolitan area has a two mile radius area like ours, but we are especially representative of a perfect storm of cultural forces that make us a teachable place, at this teachable moment. For me, as for the Community Services Council in Tulsa, Turley is a part of Far North Tulsa. Turley is the unincorporated, past the end of the sidewalk,literally, part of Far North Tulsa.

Once upon a time, when I was very very little even before starting school, Turley was for all of Far North Tulsa the closest concentration of businesses including movie theater, pharmacies, several groceries, a doctor and dentist, homes, civic groups, churches, schools up to ninth grade, park, small airport, children’s home, water department, fire department, community center, merchants association, rodeo grounds, skating rink, and small farms. There was at this time before the building of McLain High School in the late 1950s a few miles of relatively undeveloped land between Turley, which was mostly white and American Indian, and the other parts of North Tulsa, primarily the segregated African American section closer toward downtown and the wealthy white Reservoir Hill housing community, and then toward the other working class white neighborhood to the east called Dawson. Dawson was in the city limits of Tulsa where Turley was not. Nor was Turley, like the other fairly separate towns in north Tulsa County like Sperry and Skiatook and Owasso, incorporated as its own town though it was as large or larger than they were. Also Unlike them, and unlike the other unincorporated neighboring community to the west over into the Osage County called Barnsdall 55, which kept its own school district until it closed, Turley had ended its independent school district back before World War Two and became a part of Tulsa Public Schools. I would love to have time to do some historical research into the discussions that went into that decision, and into the decisions about why Turley never incorporated in its formative and growing years.

I have been told by family that there was fear from merchants that taxes would be levied to support the school in the future and for the growth like for a football stadium that would mean taking land from around the school to expand it. That would mean there was in the town’s DNA, and this was just coming out of the Great Depressioin, a sense of scarcity or fear, of collaborating for greater community benefit. It might have been part of the reason for not seeking to incorporate the town, though of late when community association members sought to incorporate it took them three times through the state legislature to get the approval because of the nearness of the boundaries of existing cities and towns. I have a hunch that in the past my ancestors simply felt that it was too much bother for too little gain given that the town looked and acted like a self governing community. They had no idea of the changes that would come that would begin decimating all the community social capital and infrastructure and connections that they took for granted.

So coming out of World War Two, and with the rise of the baby boom population, the community had no local self government and no local control of its schools. But the business owners lived in town; the churches were full and ministers lived in town; the schools were full and teachers for a large part lived in town or nearby; the Sheriff’s deputy lived in town; the fire department volunteers worked and lived in town; and the children of the area by and large went to school together and to churches in their areas and played sports or were in scouting groups in after school leagues and groups with their classmates who lived within walking distance of one another. All of that is now gone.

The community had been built by those of the Builders generation who had a forward looking frontier settling vision, sustained by The Greatest Generation that went off to fight World War Two and Korea or to maintain homes and community during it. And then came Television, and our world got both bigger, transporting us to so many places—Vietnam, Watts, the moon; and smaller, making us feel attached to those places, all at the same time. Communication changes precede culture changes and worldview changes. As we know there soon became with the Baby Boom generation, my generation, a preference for all things bigger and bigger and bigger: schools, rock concerts, churches, stores. Small communities were dissipated in the wake. Dislocation, meaning our sense of community was no longer what it had been, happened first to us culturally and then to us physically. Everything began to get bigger, to inflate, right before all the air went out.

The Turley Methodist Church, the first Turley church, grew so much during this time that in the early to mid 60s it moved out of its place in the middle of the community where it had begun and moved halfmile west to a hilltop where a new building was constructed with a great view near a newly built subdivision. It could assume that everyone would still go out of their way to find it and the folks in the new housing edition, which was annexed by the city of Tulsa by the way, would flood into it. Which they did at first. And then, the year after the new church building opened, probably the largest square foot building in the community, the Tulsa Public Schools integrated. Began, I should say, to integrate the far northern schools as the first areas.

The perfect storm hit. Integration was good, long overdue. But Racism created the phenomenon of white flight as residents fled to the other parts of Tulsa and especially to the suburban towns which began their great rise in population at that time, and concurrently with that as more families of color moved nearer the schools where their children could now attend, few new white families moved into the area. Between 1960 and 2000 the white population in North Tulsa declined by 50 and 60 percent or more; the black population in some segments of North Tulsa, particularly the old north or previously segregated area, also declined by fairly similar percentages. Along with this occurred the departure of the major oil companies from Tulsa to Houston and elsewhere, and with them the trickle down to the blue collar jobs of the ones who lived in the Turley area. And the pressures on working class families became more intense as prices rose, salaries didn’t keep pace, unions were marginalized, the gap between those with “just” high school education and college education grew wider, as a culture of consumerism and acquiring stuff grew dominant, and in part as a result of those pressures addictions of many kinds, and gangs, increased. And other companies as they grew began to move farther away from downtown and near Westside and further out on the edges of Tulsa making the commute harder for those remaining in Turley, and for all the kids who grew up and went to school in Turley their jobs were elsewhere for the most part so they went where those were, and as they had young families too at that time, they also succumbed to the white flight and new places to where the new schools and money was flowing. It was both the American Dream, and its shadow side. I think of the Perfect Storm forces as a kind of collaboration itself, like that between low education unemployment addictions and gangs, that fed the abandonment of our place; and why a kind of collaboration that puts communities, neighborhoods and land and people first is the antidote.

Even as my wife and I were finishing up at McLain High, the college prep classes of advanced science and math and other advanced courses were being cut from the curriculum. And soon after we were graduated, and our senior school year was the first for McLain to have a black homecoming queen (just about all after that were), and we had at the time a fairly well integrated school, by the numbers if not by the spirit, but soon after that the school system transformed the historic segregated black high school in town also on the northside into a magnet integrated school that attracted many students with the best grades and discipline records to it, both black and white, many that would have kept going to McLain and to other schools in the area. The magnet high school had white students from all sides of Tulsa attending it along with core black students from the local area, but, of course, the white families who sent their children to school on the northside did not move to the community surrounding the school, nor invest in it. So the communities continued to decline. Pretty soon you had a situation with McLain High School where at one time when it was founded in 1959 it was virtually all white, and American Indian; and by one generation later, it was virtually all black and was being treated in large part as a glorified technical school, not bad in itself of course, but it was not all that different from the way the previously segregated black high schools had been treated in cities across America. McLain even lost its name for several years; becoming the Tulsa School For Science and Technology; not it has the McLain name back, but alone among the Tulsa schools, all of whom like it now have some form of magnet programs, it still has the added on descriptor of Science and Technology.

This has lasting effects. As at McLain we sometimes have reunions for the same class years with black alumni and white alumni meeting and celebrating separately, and little connection between the grades from the years when it was all white to all black; with just a few of those years such as in my time when it had a nearly equal mix of students based on ethnicity. McLain was the last school in the Tulsa system to have an alumni and community foundation, and it just got started this past summer, in an effort to begin the slow process of reversing all of this disconnection. McLain is the high school for our area; there are no private high schools in the area unlike in other areas. The school has a real and symbolic effect on the life of the community and down into the elementary schools in the neighborhoods.

The re-segregation of our schools and area is both real and an illusion. When people think of North Tulsa they often think Black Tulsa and only of that which is in the city limits. But North Tulsa has always been, as we have seen, a place of great ethnic diversity, at first a segregated diversity, but now you will find all races in the section 8 housing, the neighborhoods, the stores, and some of the schools. When people think of Turley they often think of Poor Whites. But over the years more and more black residents have been moving in and staying in all of the neighborhoods. And we have always had sizable numbers of our original American Indian inhabitants. These stereotypes, rooted in some real statistics, are held by people within Far North themselves, both white and black, both in city limits and outside. The other night I was at an event at McLain and met African Americans who thanked me for coming across town to support the school; I set them straight and that confounded them even more, I think, because, to their defense, there has been a real lack of support, or collaboration, between whites and blacks who are both living in Far North Tulsa. This is embedded early in life. For example, the students who begin school at the elementary school in Turley’s unincorporated side, a majority now of white students, will not go on to the predominantly black middle school and if they do they won’t by and large go on to McLain, predominantly black. In fact many of the white children who live in the Turley area transfer now to nearby Sperry public school, or to private schools, or charter schools and never enter into the traditional Tulsa public schools that are feeder schools to McLain.

Between 1960 and 2000: the population of Far North in general declined 15 percent, but the population of those under the age of four years old, young families, fell 53 percent; the population over 65 percent gained 205 percent.

In just the past ten years The elementary schools in our area declined 31.5 percent; the two closest to us declined 55 and 42 percent. In just seven years between 2002 and 2009, the two elementary schools closest to us drifted apart in ethnicity; at one school, Cherokee, the historic Turley school, black students declined in this period 52.9 percent having 65 such students out of a total 221; however, school officials tell me this year the figures have changed a bit again and there is a more equitable balance and the school is one of the most diverse in the system with a third white students, a third black students, and a combined third Hispanic and American Indian; during the past ten years the other elementary school, the newer one built in the late 60s early 70s to handle that growth that had just occurred but was about to bottom out, retained an overwhelming black student population with just 12 white students out of 147. In the middle and high school level, the racial and ethnic concentration is also evident: In 2009 there were 523 students at McLain, 27 of whom were white. Compare that with the historic black high school Booker T. Washington, an academic magnet school that draws from all across the city, which had the same year 1270 students, 515 of whom were white and 512 of whom were black. Adding in the far north public middle school with its 379 students, of which 46 were white, and for the two Far North schools in our area sixth grade to twelth there are 902 students, of which 73 are white students.

The upshot of this, of all this, is the continuing deepening fragmentation of all parts of the surrounding community from each other. And that race and class issues are a part of it, but not all of it. Still, we will not undo what has been done until we can, in the spirit of abundance, talk about race and class. For what keeps much collaboration from happening among residents who remain is the old shame that we have missed the boat of the American Dream; as civil rights leader John Perkins of Mississippi has described it about the areas he lives in, among blacks and whites, if we are still living here, we begin to think that there is something wrong with us; otherwise like other whites or others of color with money and education we would live somewhere else; and if there is something wrong with us than we must deserve what we get, or rather what we don’t get, for living here. We embed shame and that keeps us silent and silence preserves the status quo.

So, that Methodist Church I was telling you about, the harbinger of the growth in the area after WWII and up to the mid Sixties? As the neighborhoods changed ethnic makeup around it, and as the culture of church going shifted, it began to shrink in numbers as soon as it hit its peak; now in its big building, few attend on Sunday and some of those drive back into the community to do so. And its building from the 1920s that it had left when it had outgrown it? Well it housed different ethnic oriented congregations for the next forty years then has sit empty for the last few years, a kind of ghost witness to all that used to be growing and thriving around it but which has also been abandoned and in many instances demolished so there is no physical trace of what once was. This includes one of the original Turley High School buildings, the tallest building in the area for years and years, built in 1920 and demolished in 2005, with, I must add, a lot of wonderful architectural elements and history and even school books still inside.

When my wife and I moved back in 2005, though we had been back all the time with my extended family having remained in the area, Gone were the local owned groceries and lumber companies and most cafes, movie theater, pharmacies, doctor and dentist, gone were the civic groups (except the odd fellows lodge which still meets but most of its members are from elsewhere), the churches as noted were struggling, other churches mostly African American in culture would rent storefronts or buildings in the area for the cheap rent but as they grew they moved into the city side of the area to be available for community development block grants and to be closer to where the ministers lived; the schools were now down to the fifth grade and each year enrollment was a challenge and attendance maintaining a chore; when we moved back there was a 80 percent mobility rate for the elementary school during the year; gone was the community center, airport, the children’s home was a correctional facility privately owned, no merchants association for decades and only a small few who supported the community; the water department and fire department continue but continue to struggle. The rodeo grounds continue but for those who live outside the community mostly, just like the county park has been gutted of shelters that were attractive for local area families and in their place were put larger sports complexes that draw in people from the suburbs; the youth have to leave the area to be in sports leagues now and to play outside of their community; and the small farms have been changed into auto salvage yards. The post office in Turley moved from near the school to a small strip of businesses and is threatened now with closure. And as I like to mention there is no pizza delivery for most of the northside just a few miles away from downtown in Tulsa, one of those taken for granted community building especially for youth aspects of life. Such a small thing, I know, but related I believe indirectly to a very big thing. That just between May 1 and August 4 of this year, there were 311 reported shootings, the bulk of them in or near our zipcode. That doesn’t count the ones on the unincorporated side; and doesn’t include the unreported ones.
This is why our zipcode has the lowest life expectancy in the Tulsa area, fourteen years lower than that of the zipcode with the highest, just six miles south of us, right along the same street.

So all that history to give you a sense of the place as it was and as it is. A perfect microcosm of the cultural changes and forces that have created the fault lines in community. And remember, as the theologian Jorgen Moltmann puts it, that the opposite of poverty is not property, but the opposite of both is community. ….

2. The Collaborative Response: Why and How?
Into the world of fragmentation, against the status quo, there have always been a few in our Far North area living and working against the grain of the culture. Starting a community association, or a local small business, or working within the parks or school system to be a voice for community, or just choosing not to move. When we began operating A Third Place Community Center and Foundation in 2007, there were people ready for a catalyst just about of any sort. I am not sure any were used to our kind of radical collaboration though. For the first thing we did, as an act of building trust and vulnerability, which are the key foundations of collaboration, was to collaborate with strangers, to turn our newly rented building and space over to neighbors whom we barely knew.
We few residents who created the center, created a library and computer center and clothing room and food pantry and community gathering and meeting space and meals out of our own combined resources. And we said come and take what you need, no questions asked, and leave what you can to help us support what we do. To help us make the rent and utilities most months. No one gets paid. We put it all into operations. We want to be broke at the end of the month, like most of our neighbors. We trust that we will have enough to go around. And we trusted people with keys. We had our bumps and our welcoming and safe and civil space culture to protect in its fragile stage, and still do, but we began by a radical openness to collaboration, even if you had a not so good reputation, even if you were just out of jail, even if you were homeless, even if you had a very different religious or political persuasion than we did. That is the mission of Third Places; vital to our lives are not only first places like homes, or second places like jobs or affinity groups or churches where we gather along some designated lines, but we need those third places of real trusting radical community where diversity can flourish and authentic community can find roots and begin to grow again.
With that culture beginning to be seeded, we began to collaborate with the University of Oklahoma. First to bring in health care providers. Then with the Social Work department, which had helped to bring in the health care providers, we began to collaborate on some of the Center’s mission to help bring residents together and in a safe space and structured way (which was unique for most in their experience with community gatherings here) for them to listen to one another and lament and to hope and to plan and to share ideas and resources. From these we began collaborating each semester with different classes working in different areas on the topics of interest that had emerged from the grassroots meetings: abandoned properties, blighted neighborhoods, food insecurity, poor health, fear of crime, youth needs, job needs, stray and wild animals, better schools and support for our schools and for our local groups. We began to see the overlap in many of those areas, resulting in one of our collaborative projects, The WelcomeTable Community GardenKitchenPark project where we, residents and social work students, identified abandoned homes in a block, purchased the block, and have a design thanks to OU Graduate Design Studio, for how to create a kind of outdoors A Third Place Center that can be beautiful, inspire community events, grow relationships through food production, and more.
Through first our collaboration with one another, with radical trust and vulnerability, which means we know we will fail each other and have our hearts broken, but will try again and show up with one another again;., this led to our second collaboration with OU and some of its varying disciplines and departments, and I know we could collaborate with so many more OU departments and classes that have a connection between their fields and the areas of our service; and this collaboration led to our third level of collaboration, our wider sphere, as we began to meet with other individuals and groups throughout our Far North area, what has been called From TU to Turley area, with community coalition meetings, with joint projects like the McLain High School initiative, the Food For Life initiative of the Indian Health Care Resource Center, and with other partners small and large who have a dream for making life better for our residents by growing the spirit of community and making it real through real collaborations.
Which has led us, after just three years, into our next phase where we will create a house for these collaborations, a house for hope itself. We are in the process of buying that old abandoned Turley Methodist building that has stood at the center of our part of Far North Tulsa since it was constructed in the 1920s. We are doing so, I am pleased to say particularly here and with you all, with the kind and generous help of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. It will allow us to expand three times our current size. Our vision is that one third of it will be a Community Academy space, a hub especially for new visions of community health and nutrition, a place for classrooms and group clinics, a specialty library, for partners like OU and many others to do service learning in the neighborhoods of most need, to connect their students with our residents for the mutual transformation of both. Another one third of the space will be a Community Center with many of our current services plus an expanded Food Justice Focus, and one third of it will be a place, a quiet chapel, for individual and group meditation and prayer and spiritual renewal. And an adjacent building will be a Center for Community Gardening and Sustainability. And someday in many rooms in the basement we hope to provide spaces for people to sojourn with us temporarily as they serve with us at the center and out in the community. Our vision is also that even this new bigger building won’t be the end, just as the outdoor garden park won’t be the end, but that all across our area, in what we call our Four Directions Initiative, we will find a diversity of ways to create “third places” in every neighborhood.
The social fragmentation described at the beginning of my talk was the byproduct of the abandonment of institutions and neighborhoods in our area, along with the general cultural changes of wider society, in the last few decades of the 20th century. In these first decades of the 21st century, to change that, we can’t jump straight to bringing back or recreating new institutions and thriving healthy neighborhoods in our area. We must first address the result of social and community fragmentation, isolation, fear and mistrust of one another, and of others, especially in ethnic relationships. And only then can we have the soil full of life in which all the surface level things like businesses and civic groups can grow. I have often said that it will do no good to have an official incorporated town for Turley unless the values of community, of collaboration, are what first are incorporated.

3. The Challenge of Collaboration and Hope: or, Why Is Our Area The Place of Greatest Health Needs, lowest life expectancy, and the fewest resources located within it?
Collaborations, especially when people into voluntary association with one another, are based on covenant, or promises, and not on contracts, which are set quid pro quo type agreements that guide much of the rest of our lives, such as jobs and sometimes where we live. To paraphrase another theologian, Martin Buber of the Jewish tradition, we are the promise making, promise breaking, promise renewing people. This means what we do isn’t easy, especially now. The kinds of collaborations that happened in the days of homogeneity and stability in the Turley area, the days of growth, those that some of us are tempted to recall with nostalgia, occurred under the best of social circumstances and with a culture that reinforced them. What we do now and attempt now together in this world of social fragmentation has echoes only in the faroff days of the early Builders generation, the frontier, when the community was first forming; but in fact, it is much harder even than that in many ways because there is not an empty canvas and because we must wrestle with the legacies, especially ethnically, of all that has happened since then, and without the kinds of commonalities that shaped the founders and their world, a world before television, when the most common communication mode for our community was only face to face, for all intents and purposes, since there was no local newspaper or mass media, it leaned heavily toward being an oral culture. And in oral cultures, where individuals are dependent upon one another for knowledge, collaboration is a necessity for survival. Contrast that, these 100 years later, with our electronic web culture, with virtually everyone having their own mass media carrying around with them, and you see why collaboration is itself so against the grain of postmodern life.

And yet, as mentioned, in the world of social fragmentation such as in our zipcodes, collaborating with others is also a necessity if another kind of world is going to be possible. The redeeming aspect, the gift we have been given, is that in such a world of abandonment and isolation, a little collaboration goes a very long way. Our initiative with A Third Place is a testament to that. When just a few people collaborate to plant a small wildflower bed along the bike path where strangers to our area ride through our area without riding just a block or two off the path into our area because we have no sidewalks, then such a small act of welcoming, or reminding the stranger that there is a community of people here, such a very small act really stands out in ways that would be lost if the same thing were done in other areas. So it is when just a few become the defacto city waste management and go pick up the littered furniture along the streets where they have been illegally dumped, when they are seen picking up trash along the street because it is their street and not because they have community service hours. Or when we throw free communities parties, offer free community meals, collect food from those who others think can only be given it, plant gardens at schools, organize public forums, keep an open place where people can come with their questions or offerings of help. Small acts of justice, of random kindness and beauty, done with great love, and hope, and faithfulness, done with one or two or more people, all of these change the world. At a time when so many people feel they have so little to give back, where they choose to give of themselves can make a big difference, and places such as ours are ripe for their investments.

Just know there will be setbacks and reactions to every transformation; and every collaboration carries with it the possibility, probability, of being hurt so that the doorway to cynicism and retreat back into the status quo of the fragmented world is always open and beckoning. Our challenge is to respond by living more fully in the “as if” world where each setback allows us to see the horizon clearer and more partners possible.

So, just as we are getting close to owning that new house of hope, the old abandoned church building, as a site of transformation itself, after all these years it was hit with extensive vandalism. It was a gut punch, but we’d been there before and it dawns on us that we now will need to rely on many others than we thought we would at first, just to do clean up and get the building back into the rundown shape it was in. We know the collaborators are there though. We set our sights higher. Just as when we were beginning to transform an empty vacant lot into a native plant nature trails area. This site is situated strategically by our gardenkitchenpark site, and in a bridge location between groups within our area, alongside where people walk quite a distance to school and stores. Just when we were about to unveil it, a new person mowing grassy areas nearby mowed it all down; but we know being native plants they will return in beauty, and this time we know we will be better prepared with better collaboration, and signs ahead of time, so it will be a new, easily maintained, site of beauty where before people would have only seen what was there as weeds, and waste. What a metaphor for our whole area. Just as when we decided to surprise our community on Easter Sunday morning with a row of flowers along Peoria Ave. in big pots, so that in the morning they would drive by and see these gifts of hope, but during the night, someone went along and dumped the flowers and dirt on the ground and took the pots, and so the residents were greeted with little piles of discarded dirt and trampled flowers; we learned from that we have a deep culture of kicking things to the curb in our area so people just think automatically they are there for the taking, and not for the giving (at least in our better days we give them such a benefit of the doubt); besides nothing like that, nothing like us, had ever happened in the area before. Out of that, came the Let Turley Bloom initiative where we would create such areas more securely by planting in the ground itself rather than in pots. And of course there are many more even smaller ways that changing the culture takes perseverance.

Our latest setback from collaboration itself, which we are using to help us to see wider and collaborate even more, comes from the presumed pending closure of our community health clinic which OU has operated with us as one of our first joint ventures. This past summer all of the similar clinics on the northside were closed; ours was the only one left open but our contract was redone for just one more year. We had gradually been reduced from up to three days a week at one point down to just one morning a week. Funders hit by the recession…Difficulties in getting people who aren’t used to preventive care as part of something one does or can do to take advantage of the clinic…turnover of staff…mutual lack of communication about needs…perhaps a concern about a duplication of services of primary care with other institutions? Only in areas of scarcity does it seem duplication of services is an issue; not in places of more wealth and insurance. For Still you come back to the facts on the ground that we have the lowest life expectancy; our residents, because they have been without health care, were sicker and so in more need of referrals and that costs more, and they did not have health insurance as they were unemployed. So there are higher costs and little income to care for them. Of course they are going to keep going to the emergency rooms for their urgent care and being admitted there and so the costs for someone is going to be even higher.

Our response could be, drawing from the history of institutions and our area, see, we shouldn’t have trusted in the first place; we are now losing something again, and literally nurse our wounds and grow our grudges. Instead, we choose the collaborative response and say how can we turn this weakness into a strength?

First, I am not 100 percent given up on the idea that some form of direct care providing can’t continue, given that other clinics in the other parts of Tulsa where there are more people and more insurance streams are still operating full days (maybe a bit of resource shifting is possible, in order to see and show that the patient you are caring for in community health is not just an individual, but is the community itself); and there are some developments through other institutions nearby which might over time open up some traditional care opportunities in our zipcode; we are hopeful….But beyond all this our attention is being drawn to how we can take a loss and make it a tremendous gain, how we can actually help form a new response to health care that will get to the root causes of what lands people even in primary care clinics in the first place; a new network of lay health leaders who live in the neighborhoods of need themselves, who can connect their communities with institutions of health, being two-way teachers, to providers about neighborhoods, and to residents about health literacy, self-care and monitoring, and when they do get to see doctors and providers how to be better patients and get the most out of those encounters. For we know that just getting persons and physicians together doesn’t magically make health happen. We are working on grants, and looking at somewhat similar models elsewhere, and hope that our area, even at a time of losing a modern-era medical clinic, can create a gift not only for our area but for others of a way of growing healthy lives and neighborhoods that is both post-modern, truly communal, and draws on the wisdom of the frontier….This vision had its roots in a collaborative brainstorming Sunday afternoon at A Third Place Center with various members of the OU community when we were looking at being a site for a competition known as the X Prize for Revolutionizing Health Care; we said then that if we didn’t win the prize, or as the case turned out, weren’t even eligible for it, that the ideas were too wonderful, too “disruptively innovative” that they would have a life beyond…And so they are again with these plans…And we know again that if the grants don’t come, that they will continue to find a way in our new place to become seeds of what can be created out of the heart of hope, the heart of collaboration, for the heart of the real issues that have kept us apart, kept us struggling, kept us sick.

I close with the full quote from theologian of hope Moltmann, who witnessed the destruction of whole communities in firebombing and other acts of horror throughout Europe during World War Two. He writes: “The ideology of “there is never enough for everyone” makes people lonely. It isolates them and robs them of relationships. The opposite of poverty isn’t property. The opposite of both poverty and property is community. For in community we become rich: rich in friends, in neighbours, in colleagues, in comrades, in brothers and sisters. Together, as a community, we can help ourselves in most of our difficulties. For after all, there are enough people and enough ideas, capabilities and energies to be had. They are only lying fallow, or are stunted and suppressed. So let us discover our wealth; let us discover our solidarity; let us build up communities; let us take our lives into our own hands and at long last out of the hands of the people who want to dominate and exploit us. (Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and The Theology of Life, Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1997; English translation, SCM Press, Ltd: London, p. 109-110.

Our hands, from many places, many colors, that do many kinds of work; Our hope, Our health, Our Community.